The worst thing you can call a woman is “crazy”. But since most people know that now – I hope – there are a few new contenders. Personally, I think these include “baby” (infantilising), “cow” (sexist), and “psycho” (see “crazy”). But another, less discussed, term has emerged, and it was recently bandied around by Selena Gomez.
Introducing “high maintenance”, a label that has become every woman’s worst fear, particularly when attributed to her by a man she’s sleeping with. Or maybe it’s just mine.
You might think you know all about this phrase. Heck, you might not even think it’s that bad. Perhaps you’d even use it to describe yourself. If that’s the case, I’m afraid you’re in denial.
But let’s go back to Gomez. This week, the actor and musician opened up about her dating life during an interview on SiriusXM’s Hits 1 LA, following the release of her latest song “Single Soon”. In the conversation, the 31-year-old explained that while she refers to herself as “high maintenance” in the lyrics of her new song, that isn’t how she perceives herself.
Instead, Gomez insists that she sets certain standards when she’s dating, which influences the way men think of her. “I think I have standards, and I think I live in a world right now where boys confuse standards with high maintenance,” she said. “But the line was really fun because I’m not ashamed to say, ‘I actually require X, Y, and Z for you to be with me.’”
The actual lyrics – “I know I’m a little high maintenance, but I’m worth a try” – mimics something Gomez said in a viral video from June 2023 in which she’s filmed sitting on the sidelines of a football pitch, shouting at the players: “I’m single! I’m just a little high maintenance. But I’ll love you so much!”
Everything about this alarmed me. It’s not because Gomez believes she has high standards in her dating life. Nor is it because she was filmed yelling that she was single at possible strangers – we’ve all been there. No. It’s because she seems fixated on the fact that she is high maintenance, which, in the context of romantic relationships, can be a very loaded term indeed, especially if, as Gomez does, it’s implied to be a negative trait.
Consider what the phrase actually means. Merriam-Webster defines it as “requiring a large amount of care or maintenance” and “tending to cause problems or demand attention: extremely sensitive, demanding, or temperamental”. To be clear, these are not positive behavioural patterns. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t normal within a relationship. We all have our moments, don’t we? You know, the times when we’ve come home after a gruelling day at work, and feel a little snappy, bossy, or irritable. That doesn’t make you a terrible person, it makes you human.
When we’re in love, don’t we all require a large amount of care and, well, maintenance? Isn’t a relationship something that requires both of those things, and on a fairly regular basis? It is. Why, then, is Gomez seemingly ashamed of the high maintenance label she has attributed to herself?
If you break it down, you’ll see that when used to describe a woman, high maintenance is often just another synonym for “crazy”. Not necessarily in the sense of mentally unwell, but in the sense of there being something unhinged, over the top, and somewhat hysterical about you. All of which are terms that strip women of their autonomy and power, reducing them to whinging, floundering nightmares.
All this becomes even more complex when you consider that women (particularly straight women) have been conditioned to play it as cool as possible when entering into a romantic relationship. Growing up, TV and movies taught us to be insouciant, laid-back, and mellow with men. Anything else (opinions! expectations! concerns!) would scare them away. In other words: we all want to be low maintenance.
I can’t help but think that Gomez is using the label for herself in fear that others will use it behind her back. It’s a classic defence mechanism, isn’t it? And given the context, I don’t blame her.
But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being high maintenance. Not even a little. The truth is that in order to have a successful relationship, being uber laissez-faire without questioning a thing probably isn’t going to get you anywhere. In fact, we could probably all do with being a little high maintenance.