I recently reconnected with a male acquaintance over coffee. Of course the topic of what we'd both been up to lately arose. He told me that he'd been traveling and recently was in New Zealand. He and a friend had roughed it in an RV and taken a road trip around the country for a few weeks. After recounting the trip's highlights, he asked if an RV road trip was something I'd ever be interested in. I answered him honestly: "No. Not really."
My tone was normal, calm and absent of condescension. His response was that he hadn't realized that I was one of those "high-maintenance" girls. My jaw would have dropped if I hadn't needed to put it to immediate use to defend myself. I launched into my explanation of why that would not be my ideal vacation. Almost as if by rote, I told him that, as a freelancer, I usually work seven days a week, so when I'm able to vacation, I like to have comfort—a hotel bar, room service, maid service and a big fluffy robe. He shrugged it off and moved on to the next topic of conversation ... but his comment lingered on my mind.
After I left our coffee, I became even more irate about his comment with each hour that passed. How dare he label me—with an uncomplimentary label, no less! He was trying to shame me for being honest about what I wanted, which was just comfort and a little bit of luxury on my hypothetical vacation. If I'd said "yes," would that have made me "down-to-earth"? With one answered question, he felt as though he now had me all figured out and could define me.
Instead of being labeled, shouldn't I be applauded for being in touch with who I am, self-aware and mindful of how I take care of myself? Knowing what we want and need in the broadest sense is something we all aspire to, and no one should be judged for that.
Let's also get real about this label and, in fact, all labels. The term "high maintenance" is basically an adult version of "princess." Neither is funny or cute. They're derogatory terms that are specifically designed to shame women. Are there labels for men who like nice things? Yes. They include "sophisticated," "cultured" and "debonair." They are all positive. These are aspirational terms as opposed to slights. That's a pretty major difference.
Regardless of gender, I think we all need to make a conscious and calculated effort to stay away from all labels. They're generic and rarely accurate. In conversation, instead of labeling, we should be asking more questions to get to know each other on a deeper level. "Why do you prefer this?" "What do you not like about that?" Once we understand each other and each other's experiences, we don't have a need for labels. And right now we all need to be listening to each other more than talking, especially when we're acutely aware of how damaging our words can be.