For most of my life, I prided myself on being low maintenance. I was always more likely to go camping than shopping, hated the idea of asking for help (especially if it meant playing the “damsel in distress”), and tried to be the kind of person who never needed too much of anything from anyone.
I thought this made me the best kind of friend, sister, daughter and even girlfriend anyone could ever ask for. I was “so easy to be around,” I thought. I never took more than I gave. I never took much of anything.
Who wouldn’t want to be friends with me?
Then, one day I was telling a friend about a relationship I was in where I felt like I was being manipulated and taken advantage of.
Actually, I didn’t use those words.
I just told her story after story about how my needs would somehow get overlooked, how I felt I was constantly picking up the slack for this person, and how even when I did something really kind or generous, it seemed like my kindness and generosity were dismissed.
She asked me a question that stopped me dead in my tracks.
She said: Have you told this person what you need?
The truth was I hadn’t asked for what I needed. In fact, even just the thought of asking for what I needed made me feel sort of terrified. I knew she was right, but her words touched a tender place in me and I broke down into tears, exclaiming:
“I don’t want to be high maintenance!”
Her response will stay with me forever. She said, “you’re not high maintenance.” Then she went on to say that there’s a difference between being needy and having needs.
Suddenly, in that moment, I realized something important.
My tendency to pretend like I didn’t need anything from anyone wasn’t healthy. It didn’t make me low-maintenance. It made me a liar. Because I did need some things.
- I needed to be treated with respect
- I needed to be appreciated
- I needed to be seen and acknowledged
- I needed to be cared for as much as I cared for others
But in order to get those things, I had to admit I needed something.
Since that conversation, my relationships have begun to shift.
Some of them have ended, actually, which is painful, but not nearly as painful as being in relationships where my needs are ignored or overlooked. Not nearly as painful as it was to perpetually ignore my own needs.
And in addition to learning to speak up for my needs, I’ve learned a few other things.
I’ve learned it doesn’t make me needy to have needs. I’ve learned that people like doing nice things for me—if I can just tell them what I want and need; and accept those gifts when they come. I’ve learned that we teach people how to treat us—so if we don’t like the way we’re being treated, we have to play a role in changing those patterns.
I’ve learned I’m not a burden just because I need something.
We all need things, want things, and are hungry for things. Relationships take maintenance. People take maintenance. And when we try to act like we don’t, one of two things happens to our relationships: we either grow resentful, or we grow invisible.
In both of these scenarios, relationships wither and die.
So go ahead, be a little more high maintenance. I dare you.