How denying our needs, hurts us all.
Remember that movie “When Harry Met Sally”? Most people who have seen it do, and I know exactly why. The orgasm scene in the restaurant was pretty groundbreaking at the time and Meg Ryan was adorable doing it. However, this is also the movie that gave us the legacy of and cultural shorthand for the myth of the “high maintenance woman”.
One of the reasons I feel conflicted about this moment in movie history is because so many women, as well as men, bought into the idea that being high maintenance is bad and being low maintenance is good.
When women talk to each other about a mutual friend with relationship problems, one might say, “yeah, but she is pretty high maintenance. I mean, she really expects a lot of that guy…” This idea of high maintenance, this negative view of having needs, requirements, boundaries, and standards, became just one more thing that women get criticized for.
In my work as a psychologist and matchmaker, I have met women who decided early on that they wanted to strive to be the ultimate low maintenance woman, to have so few needs that it almost seems like they have none. Because that’s what men want, isn’t it? These women require so little from partners that they are barely there at all. A woman like this becomes the ghost of a girlfriend, trying to feel satisfied with her own dissatisfaction in her anemic relationship by complaining about it to girlfriends over drinks once a week. Girlfriends who usually have similar complaints.
It might seem that a woman who wants nothing would be easy to please, but really, the opposite is true.
It may be easy enough to not displease such a person, but it is also impossible to truly please them. Whatever positive thing a partner might do can be all well and good, but none of it will be anything they deeply want. Because they don’t let themselves deeply want anything. Dates, dinner, presents, sex, these women can take or leave it any of it on any given day. And as the initial excitement of being in a new relationship wears off, they may start leaving it all more often than they take it.
What’s so wrong with having needs and goals anyway?
On the one hand, some of this is understandable: you don’t want to scare off a potential soulmate by telling them you want to get married and have children on the first date. But if you find yourself afraid to express even the little things, like where you want to go, what you want to do, and more importantly, whether or not you’re comfortable taking your date back to your place, and once you get there, what you do and don’t like in bed, you could be sabotaging the relationship from the very start.
Having wants and needs is part of being human. We all have them. They are important. They are part of what makes each one of us unique. Denying yours, pretending to like things you don’t or being afraid to claim the things you do, is the kind of dishonesty that grows with time and can eat away at what otherwise might have been a promising relationship.
Most betrayals feel small at first.
Imagine, for example, letting a date think you like eating raw oysters on a half shell because they excitedly ordered two dozen on your first date. They thought you’d appreciate their sophistication and maybe hoped the oysters would have an aphrodisiac effect to get you in the mood. You smile and try not to throw up as you choke down a few and maybe dump a few discreetly into your napkin. But you like this person anyway and they like you. How much can that one little white lie hurt? For your birthday, they get you oysters again. And again, when they take you out to celebrate your promotion. Then, for your anniversary too. Now it feels way too late to say you don’t like them. So, you keep eating them and hating them, while you try not to vomit. How many special occasions will you spend feeling nauseous just to save face? If you eventually get married, how will your beloved feel when they finally realize they’ve been forcing you to eat something you detest on every special date? They may even wonder, if you lied about that, what else have you been lying about all along?
Let’s circle back to Sally and her orgasm again for some honestly in the bedroom.
Sally showed us all how easy it is to fake an orgasm. Even in the middle of a busy restaurant. And everyone laughed. Maybe a little uncomfortably, but they laughed, because it’s funny. And it’s funny because, on some level, it’s true. Don’t most women fake it? At least some of the time? Women who are used to denying or pretending away their needs might tell themselves, it’s not that big a deal. It’s not that bad. No woman orgasms every time. Why make a big deal out of it? Besides, who wants to tell their lover they’ve been missing the mark and might need a little help finding it?
Well, just as with the raw oysters example, the longer you let this something like this go, the harder it will be to ever admit the truth. Some spouses don’t know their partner is sexually unfulfilled until they find themselves on a couch in couple’s counseling, trying to solve a problem they didn’t even know they had. Now they feel blind-sided and betrayed, as well as feeling the shame of not being the attentive lover they may have always thought they were.
If you are nodding your head reading this as you recognize something of yourself in some of these lines, don’t despair. Self-awareness is the first step to positive change. Start to notice anytime you are dishonest about your wants and needs, even in the smallest ways. This includes through omission, by not raising your hand at work or at home to say, I don’t want to do that, or that doesn’t work for me. You don’t have to take the step to correct it right away. Notice it first. Start making a list. Beside each entry, write down the flip side, what you could have said or done to clearly and honestly express your wants and needs. The next time something similar comes up, pause a moment to think about what you could do to be more honest in this situation. They start trying it out.
Having wants and needs that you honestly express doesn’t make you difficult.
It doesn’t make you undesirable. It doesn’t make you “high maintenance”. It means that you are an honest and mature adult who is taking responsibility for their own wellbeing and expects the same of any partner.
So, stop being dishonest about your wants and needs because you’re trying to be low maintenance or you don’t think your needs are important enough. It wastes your valuable time and the time of the person you’re trying to impress. Honesty is the best gift you can give anyone, because only with honesty can you build a firm foundation for a future life you’re both going to love.