Thursday 22 February 2018

Myth: High Maintenance vs Low Maintenance

Forgive me for a moment while I share something that has always bugged me.  In When Harry Met Sally, there is a scene where the two title characters are watching the end of Casablanca together over the phone and Harry comments that Ingrid Bergman is a "low-maintenance" woman and explains his theory about high-maintenance vs low-maintenance women.

Sally then asks which one she is and he casually tells her that she's the worst kind, a high-maintenance who thinks that she's low-maintenance.  Then as an example, he points out how she orders things on the side so that she can control her food.  Her response is "I want what I want, the way I want it."  And he accepts that as a confirmation that she is high-maintenance.

This scene stuck in my head when I first saw it and my takeaway from the scene was that it was not a good idea to be a high-maintenance woman, i.e., one who insisted on having things her way rather than going with the flow (even if the flow wasn't going somewhere that she wanted to be).  Now, granted, in the end, the two characters end up falling in love but I always got the sense that it was in spite of her high-maintenance rather than a genuine acceptance of it.

Looking back at it from a more aware distance, it was only one of a wide variety of messages encouraging girls (and the women they would become) to not make a fuss, and as a side-effect (or underlying purpose, depending on how cynical you are), it also encouraged them not to seek out what they wanted.  To put aside their desires and needs in favour of not inconveniencing others.

I've heard other men citing the high vs low maintenance distinction and it's made me want to share a little jolt of reality.  The distinction is a myth.  All women have their own wants and dreams.  And bluntly, it's time that, as a society, we stopped pretending that's a bad thing.

Insisting on getting what we want, the way we want it, is a perfectly good way of going about life.  And I cannot see why that would be a deterrent to any partner who genuinely cared about the person in question.  Being with a person who is open about what he or she desires is much easier than one who hides behind a mask of what they think the partner wants.  "High-maintenance" should be the preferred choice because everything is out in the open and there are no games being played.

There is still an undercurrent of "don't get greedy" in a lot of media today.  I'm particularly sensitive to it when it comes to the current rush of superhero movies, which have chosen to perpetuate the comic books' "happiness is only a prelude to disaster" approach to relationships and dreams.  If someone is happy in a healthy relationship, or has achieved a dream, it's a safe bet that it will all be undermined later.  

If a heroine falls in love (and it's not a romance), there's a good chance that her partner will either leave or die, leaving the relationship as an idyllic interlude.  If she gets her dream job or career, she will likely discover that it isn't what she wanted anyway.  Women who are demanding are cast in the role of villains.  Even romance isn't entirely free of this bias.  There are a number of stories where the heroine stumbles into her heart's desire without any intention or idea of what it was in the first place.  Or the heroine is working hard at achieving a dream only to discover it isn't what she really wanted.  There aren't many where a woman is working hard to achieve her dreams and ends up achieving them, plus a bonus round of things she didn't think she was going to get and also wants.

At least romances do end with a happily ever after which implies that the heroines have gotten what they wanted and are satisfied.  That means a lot and is infinitely better than the bravely going forward and learning to live with lesser dreams approach that dominates outside romance.

But I also think that maybe it's time to start celebrating the high-maintenance heroine and her open desires, whatever they may be.  It's time to start believing that what we want is worth pursuing and definitely worth a little outsourced inconvenience.  And even more importantly, that we have every right to have what we want, the way we want it.  And more.

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