At dinner with Bob one night, I averred that I’m low maintenance. He regarded me skeptically.
“What?” I said. “You think I’m high maintenance? You think this [thumping two flattened hands against my chest] is high maintenance?”
He didn’t answer, but I presume he was thinking something like what Billy Crystal’s Harry said to Meg Ryan’s Sally in When Harry Met Sally:
Harry: There are two kinds of women: high maintenance and low maintenance.
Sally: Which one am I?
Harry: You’re the worst kind. You’re high maintenance but you think you’re low maintenance.
What does “high maintenance” even mean? It’s subjective, but here’s what I think:
- A high-maintenance woman can’t go out until she’s finished her beauty routine, which takes a half hour or more. She has manicures, pedicures, and various parts of her body waxed.
- A high-maintenance woman wants you to guess at her highly particular needs and pouts when you don’t get it right.
- She expects the world to revolve around satisfying those needs.
- She’s difficult to please.
- She requires a lot of attention.
Let’s look at the evidence and see if Bob was on to something.
Item 1: I’ve had one manicure—for my wedding. I do like hot wax, but only when poured off a candle onto my skin. (The pleasure of peeling it off it is worth the moment of pain.) I haven’t used wax for cosmetic purposes, though no doubt many will argue I should. At a party, I was the only woman out of 30 who had never had a pedicure. The guys I date use more personal care products than I do.
Items 2 and 3: I don’t like asking for anything from anyone. I sure don’t want people running around in the dark trying to figure out what I want.
Item 4: You could argue that I’m difficult to please. I would say I’m selective. It’s true that the chance of pleasing me is low unless I’ve made the plans or I’m with someone simpatico. But I’ll go along with someone else’s plans (within reason), and make a sincere effort to enjoy myself. So in this regard, I’m theoretically high maintenance but on a practical basis I’m low maintenance.
Item 5: I might be accused of requiring a lot of attention. Surely that was what Bob was getting at when he gave me that look.
In fact, I don’t require much attention. What I require is enough attention, which varies with each guy. Jonathan never called me two days in a row or the day after seeing me. Dale called me every day, without fail. Mike’s contact was sporadic, but he’d never go two days in a row without some form of contact. Gary called every night between 10 and 10:15. I was never the one to set the parameters, and I was fine with all of it.
In terms of maintenance, all I need is to know the guy is thinking of me. And as long as he’s consistent, I have no reason to think he isn’t or that his feelings have changed. For example, Gary wanted to eliminate the nightly call, and that made me feel insecure, because what he was really saying was that daily contact had become a chore. He also wanted freedom; calling me every night was the antithesis of that. I was right to feel as I did: it signaled the beginning of the end.
For months, Bob contacted me throughout the day—by e-mail, text, or IM. When he was walking to the train after work, he’d snap a picture and send it to me or tell me which train he caught. He shared the mundane details of his day with me, and I responded in kind. The communication was essentially constant, in both directions.
And then suddenly it changed. He said he was just busy, but I honestly could not understand how he could be so busy that he couldn’t take one minute to text when he did so readily before. I let him know it bothered me, and thus the look: if I needed contact all day, every day, I must be high maintenance.
Do I need that much attention? Unequivocally, no. But I don’t respond well to the withdrawal of attention I’ve come to expect. It seems to mean something, and so far I’m two for two that it does. Wanting reassurance that everything is all right in the face of quantifiable evidence that it’s not isn’t high maintenance.