There are a few terms you’ll only ever hear in relation to women: bossy, shrill, catty, and the ever-pernicious ‘high maintenance’.
In a recent song called Single Soon, Selena Gomez refers to herself as ‘a little high maintenance’ but ‘worth a try’, with the lyric being described by one commentator as ‘insult to women everywhere.’
Yet during an interview with SirisXM, the Disney alum said she didn’t actually identify with the label, adding: ‘I think I have standards, and I think I live in a world right now where boys confuse standards with high maintenance.’
Defending the wording, she continued: ‘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.”
‘So, in a way, it was just meant to be for the attitude of the song. And that’s genuinely how I feel.’
While being called high maintenance can be seen as an insult, many are keen to reclaim it as a powerful statement that reflects their healthy boundaries in relationships.
Like Selena, Deirdre McGettrick is proud of having standards.
The 36-year-old, who lives in London, was single until she was 27, waiting for the moment she met a man who could pass her ‘test’ of compatibility.
‘After meeting a guy, if I’d rather hang out with my girlfriends, I wasn’t going on a second date with him!’ Deirdre told Metro.co.uk. ‘No one made the cut.’
Now married, she said her friends thought she was claustrophobic due to how many matches she discounted, leading her to go on a third date with one person just to prove she could.
Deirdre said: ‘I wanted the dream, excitement, attraction, success, drive, and wasn’t willing to compromise.
‘I never remember setting the rule, but that was definitely the standard I was operating to.’
It wasn’t all one-sided, however.
‘There were guys I liked but I clearly didn’t make the cut for them,’ Deirdre added. ‘I basically saw it as the equivalent.
‘The issue is that guys aren’t considered high maintenance if they are still single in their late 20s, whereas women are.’
Ironically, she noticed she received more attention from men after she cooled on them, but refused to compromise on her standards regardless of the response.
Deirdre said: ‘I wouldn’t want anyone to be with me if they weren’t 100% sure and therefore still looking for someone better out there.
‘I also didn’t want anyone to be with me if I wasn’t right for them – even if I really liked them. I saw my attitude as the reverse of this.
‘A saying I heard lately sums it up: “When there is doubt, there is no doubt”. It’s ultimately about treating people with respect.’
This no-compromise mindset – along with having fun with friends and not feeling like she needed to ‘fill a void’ – led to Deirdre meeting her husband Ray Wright.
The couple have been together for the past eight years, co-founded a furniture comparison platform, ufurnish, together and are ‘stronger than ever’, which Deirdre credits with her selectiveness in dating.
‘We spend pretty much 24/7 together,’ she said. ‘He’s smart, driven, sporty, cultured (has travelled the world) and makes me laugh.’
There’s a big difference between high standards and being overly restrictive, but gendered clichés often mean perfectly normal boundaries are considered ‘picky’ in women while men are praised for doing the ‘bare minimum’.
Dr Becky Spelman, counselling psychologist and founder of Private Therapy Clinic, tells Metro.co.uk: ‘The term “high maintenance” is often used to label and criticise women who have certain expectations or preferences in their relationships. It can perpetuate stereotypes and undermine a woman’s autonomy and agency.
‘It’s important to recognise that individuals have different needs and desires, and it’s unfair to dismiss someone’s standards as being unreasonable or demanding solely based on gender.’
In Dr Becky’s work, she has found that women typically establish boundaries around ‘communication, respect, trust, shared values, emotional support, and compatibility,’ and that these standards ‘help them prioritise their own emotional wellbeing and ensure they are entering into healthy and fulfilling relationships.’
It also helps avoid ‘settling’ in relationships, as without an idea of what’s acceptable and desirable to you, the first flushes of lust and excitement can cloud your judgement.
‘Navigating the dating world can be challenging, but it’s important for women to remember their worth and stay true to their values,’ says Dr Becky.
‘It’s crucial to communicate openly and honestly about expectations, boundaries, and deal-breakers.
‘Engaging in self-care, building a support network, and seeking professional guidance can also help women maintain their standards while navigating the complexities of dating.’
After seeing many clients who’ve successfully built their confidence and gained clarity over what – and who – they want in their lives, she adds: ‘It’s inspiring to witness individuals grow and find partners who truly appreciate and respect them.’
Only you know what feels right and when it feels like you’re compromising – but a ‘high maintenance’ approached has worked for Deirdre and countless others, so don’t let the negativity of the phrase get to you if you’re looking for lasting love.
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