The Debate Women Can't Win: High Maintenance vs. Low Maintenance

by Maura Hughes

We live in a world full of different kinds of relationships.

We have open relationships, friends with benefits, online relationships, long-distance relationships, civil unions, domestic partnerships and the list goes on.

You can meet your life partner in your freshman year homeroom, at a college frat party, in a board meeting, online, through a mobile app, a blind date or standing in line at Starbucks.

We can call off engagements, have second or third marriages, renew our vowels or even get married for a reality TV show.

The landscape of the dating world and the way we connect, date and fall in love have never been more diverse.

With so much growth and acceptance, it’s hard to believe the one thing that has not changed is the outdated method of categorizing women as high maintenance and low maintenance.

You will find the ideas of high maintenance and low maintenance all over our culture. Most notably it was referred to in the classic film, "When Harry Met Sally." The character Harry, played by Billy Crystal, tells Sally, played by Meg Ryan,

"There are two kinds of women: high maintenance and low maintenance."

This exchange has propelled hundreds of articles, comparisons and debates over the high maintenance woman versus the low maintenance woman for two decades. It's a debate women can't win, no matter which side you choose to support.

The terms seem fairly harmless when you simply look at their definitions: High maintenance means “needing a lot of work to keep in good condition;” low maintenance means “requiring little work to keep in good condition.”

These classifications take on an unhealthy tone when we assign descriptors to them.

High maintenance women are described as needy, demanding and challenging. They are expected to care about their looks and spend more money on clothes and makeup. They’re supposed to be bossy and dramatic and are used to having things their way.

Two popular examples of high maintenance women are Kim Kardashian and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Low maintenance women are described as laid-back, chill and easygoing. They’re easy to please and never ask for too much (or anything). They drink beer and love sports and are always down for a good prank or a good laugh.

Two popular examples of low maintenance women are Mila Kunis and Jennifer Lawrence.

The descriptors don’t stop there. Some articles and descriptions take it even further, claiming high maintenance women are selfish and money-obsessed, or low maintenance women have low self-esteem and are pushovers.

On their own, these traits are nothing more than just that: personality traits. It’s when we group them together and identify them as one that we begin to do a disservice to ourselves and our relationships.

For example, you categorize yourself as low maintenance and you partner is constantly telling you how he loves how laid-back you are, so then you hold back your frustration when your partner does something that really makes you angry.

Or, let’s say say you claim your high maintenance status and repeatedly tell you partner you only want the best, but a small disagreement blows up because you are unable to compromise.

That’s when we allow these classifiers to overtake who we are, and we start creating unhealthy relationship patterns.

It’s oddly fascinating how men and women have taken to these generalizations and clung to them. A quick Google search will bring up hundreds of articles and quizzes about the subject, and there are arguments for both sides.

There are supporters of high maintenance women and there are supporters of low maintenance women. No one can agree who attracts more love, who achieves more or who is preferred overall.

I think the reason for this disagreement is due to the fact that the categories themselves lack any depth and, therefore, cannot accurately describe anyone. We are all high maintenance, low maintenance and somewhere in-between.

Depending on the day, circumstance or subject, we all have things we care about and things we don’t, and it’s just a matter of figuring out what’s important and what’s not.

When it comes to relationships, we don’t need to force ourselves into one group or the other. We just have to admit people are complicated, confident, insecure, needy and distant all at once, and part of being in a relationship is accepting all of those attributes.

No matter who you are dating and what he or she needs, no relationship is going to be easy. If you’re choosing to be in a partnership, you will have to understand and work with someone else’s needs, expectations and struggles, and he or she needs to work with yours.

I don’t care if you are low maintenance, high maintenance, anxious, laid-back or whatever descriptor you want to use; you’re going to expect certain things and have certain needs.

Stop assigning yourself a label, and stop trying to fall under a certain label. When it comes to maintaining a healthy and happy relationship, we are all on the same level playing field. It's hard for every relationship.

The best way to overcome this high maintenance versus low maintenance nonsense is to figure out who you are and what you want. Get clear on your needs. Discover what you love, what you don’t, what you can tolerate and what you can’t.

Learn to balance your self-worth with compassion. Start believing you are worth someone’s best effort and the person you are with is also worth your best effort.

Accept people for who they are, and don’t settle for anything that does not make you happy.