The Case For Being High Maintenance


 There’s this scene in When Harry Met Sally.

The two main characters are lying in bed, in their separate apartments, talking on the phone late at night. Harry claims there are two kinds of women in the world; those that are high maintenance and those that are low maintenance. And he reckons Sally is “The worst kind. You’re high maintenance but you think you’re low maintenance.” He uses the way she orders food at a restaurant as his example. Sally needs to have the salad dressing on the side. And not the house dressing. The balsamic dressing. And she wants the salmon but she wants to add the mustard dressing. On the side also.

“On the side” is a big thing for our girl Sall. And it’s a big thing for me too.

I’ve always said – partly as a joke and partly as a defence mechanism – that I’m not high maintenance, I’m just highly maintained. But I never really knew what that meant, it just sounded a lot better than admitting you’re a fussy person.

I’m not hard to please. I’m not hard to impress. I won’t make you change your plans or take a different route. I won’t inconvenience you (this one might be debatable). There are just a few areas of my life where it takes a little extra work and effort to keep me running smoothly.

Just like Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally, I will seldom order a meal without changing a couple of things. No chilli please. And could I add avocado. Does the dressing have soy in it? Is there any gluten-free toast available? I have to sit in an aisle seat on airplanes because I’ll go to the bathroom between 6 and 9 times. I have to wear specific rings on specific fingers. I can only wear nail polishes that match everything in my wardrobe (which limits my options to some ground-breaking colours like “Nude” and “Black”). I can’t go to my beach house for the weekend with only one change of clothes. What if someone surprises me and I’m not dressed appropriately? What if there’s a hurricane and I don’t have a rain jacket? What if someone invites me on a hike (this would literally never happen) and I don’t have a hat and then I get sunburnt?

And then there’s the maintenance of appearance.

As women it’s become this default to say you’re low maintenance because it sounds cooler. “Oh I just throw on whatever and don’t even look in the mirror.” “Just a bit of moisturiser and that’s it!” “I don’t even own a hairdryer it just air-dries this way and looks perfect!”I honestly don’t even think about it.”

Surely this was the alternative storyline to HBO’s Big Little Lies.

In our defence, it’s not our fault that we feel the need to lie about this stuff. Women are required to look incredible at all times but to completely conceal how much effort it took to look that way. We’re made to feel self-conscious about the routines and rituals we have and to what extent we utilise them. It’s ingrained in us to look perfect but not talk about how we got there. The waxing. The tinting. The peeling. The plucking. The filing. The painting. The scrubbing. The smoothing.

Do it all but speak of none of it.

2018 is this weird time in society where women are literally screaming “SELF CARE” out their bedroom windows (a term I now can’t stand like just have a hot bath and be done with it Laura) and simultaneously hiding all the receipts from their facials and lash lifts. But isn’t self-care and maintenance essentially the same thing?

Isn’t being high maintenance just having autonomy over the way you live? The way you look, the way you take care of yourself, what you consume and how you consume it?

What if it was actually something worth celebrating? When you admit to having specific rituals and routines, like those of the skincare and beauty variety, you’re suddenly open to the possibility of engaging with people who share the same interests. By lying about your level of maintenance you’re likely missing out on making connections and creating unity with other women. You miss out on community.

Plus, even with all of that to one side – what do you really have to lose by taking care of the only face you’ll ever own?

 Header image by Wono Kim for The Twenties Club