I have a low maintenance wife. That’s because there’s only room for one prima donna in this relationship and I’ve already called dibs. If someone’s going to be focused on themselves, preening, be in constant need of attention and reassurance, it’s going to be me. It’s a part-time job (at least) and if I’m spending so much time on me, of course I don’t have the time to see to another’s high maintenance ways.

High maintenance people require constant attention and approval. They crave to be the center of almost every conversation and will often become symptomatic (moody, resentful, loud, threatening) when they are not. They analyze every move, thought, word and action of their friends and then tend to read more meaning into everything than was ever intended. They are easily hurt, quickly offended, quick to rebuke when they do not get the kind of attention they think they deserve. High maintenance people are difficult, sometimes impossible, even in the most relaxed of circumstances. They pick fights, find fault and personalize almost everything. They argue with people who are closest to them for no apparent reason. They often pick on strangers (waiters, helpers). They often live in a world of cut-off relationships where everyone else is an idiot.

High maintenance folks can wear people out. It’s one thing to be picky, but high maintenance folks take things to another level. Most people do exhibit some of the selfish, self-absorbed, self-centered tendencies that lead to accusations of high-maintenance. One reason why high maintenance folks are so exhausting is because life is all about their needs, their desires, how they like things done and when they want it done. Everyone is measured against how “they” would do something. Their inconsistencies don’t matter – they don’t/can’t see them – because their measuring stick is still the same: them. The constant need for attention often leads to self-created drama, because when you get right down to it, it doesn’t matter what kind of attention it is, positive or negative, as long as the spotlight is on them.

Typically, this is accompanied by fastidious, over-demanding ways. Whether it is a convoluted order in a restaurant (then complaining about the quality), conscious of their appearance, or simply demanding that folks adhere to how “they” do things, it is all manifestations of the same behavior. I am reminded of C.S. Lewis describing the flip side of gluttony, the “delicate” eater, in The Screwtape Letters:

“She is always turning from what has been offered her to say with a demure little sigh and a smile, ‘Oh, please, please.. all I want is a cup of tea, weak but not too weak, and the teeniest weeniest bit of really crisp toast.’ You see? Because what she wants is smaller and less costly than what has been set before her, she never recognises as gluttony her determination to get what she wants, however troublesome it may be to others.”

This finicky eater shows a kind of self-assertiveness and self-centeredness, putting themselves above others, including their host. (Not to mention the fact that how are you going to just disrespect the host in their house?)

We say we want community, but we don’t really. We want that close circle of connectedness where one experiences a deep sense of belonging, acceptance, and love. That’s the lure of community. But we don’t want to do what it takes to achieve it.

The sad fact is that there is something fundamentally fractured about such people. Something in their past, from being starved for attention from their parents to being spoiled throughout their lives, has conditioned the way they see themselves. There is always the temptation to run from relationships. The fact of the matter is that we encounter difficult people in all areas of our lives. But you know what? That’s why building good relationships is so important. We need to be patient, especially with our screw ups. We have to (learn to) love one another. Accept one another where they are (even while encouraging them to be better – that’s a simple recipe for discipling). We need to forbear one another – putting up with their mess because we have our own brand of mess.

No one said community was easy.

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