Every birthday on my annual call from Dad as he recounts the story of my first one. How I was two weeks too late, how the Japanese doctor refused my mom’s request of an epidural and opted for a foot rub, and finally after an excruciating long labour there I was. Ichi, ni, san, shi, go the nurse counted out my fingers and toes with a smile my dad knew everything was as it should be. After a strenuous birth the tale is told of how I was such an easy baby. How I was always giggly and smiley and how people in the street would stop and coo Kawai (cute in Japanese).
There are stories of my first plane ride as I was the only baby who didn’t cry once - even during take off. How I let my younger brother ride in the stroller as I walked alongside from 2 years onwards. How I was always well behaved in school and was top of my class in maths. The story of Sam is a story of a childhood of low maintenance. I was an easy kid for my family. Always helping out and never asking for too much.
As I got older, horror stories of ‘high maintenance’ girls filled my eardrums. From Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie on the Simple Life to spoilt brats at school. The message was clear everyone will like you if you stay low maintenance. In many ways I remained so: I didn’t properly start wearing makeup until I was 19, I wasn’t a picky eater, I didn’t have any phobias or allergies. In every way I could control I swallowed the ideal of shrinking and being easy.
Inevitably this translated into my friendships and later relationships. The most assured way of keeping people around is to not be difficult. Unfortunately, this meant that I didn’t have any established boundaries on how I wanted to be treated. In all honesty, I didn’t care as long as they stayed in my life. I’d bitch about other girls in school who the boys called high maintenance for wanting responses to text messages and commitment. I’d support my sad friends long after most people had moved on.
The problem was: my needs weren’t being met. Well they were but mostly by me. I didn’t want to let anyone in on my problems lest they determine I was too high maintenance to love. No, it was much safer to retreat to my bedroom when I wasn’t feeling like sunshine or lie if I was asked why I was upset. I was low maintenance. My schedule was wide open for anyone. Want to lay on my bed for hours and distract me from my homework - sure! Want to keep me up late going over the details of why he screwed you over - why not! I was available for everyone’s needs but my own.
It became a point of pride how low maintenance I was in relationships. I wrote a blog post earlier this year about my list of priorities and spoiler I didn’t really have any. My ex used to call it my martyr tendencies. Rather than express what I wanted I was merely a véhicule to make other people feel better about themselves.
It’s hard being back with family and not falling into old patterns. But I’m getting better at saying no and carving out time and space for myself. Today I went to the gym after helping pick up all the shopping as a compromise from my normal tendency to over extend myself. I’m testing the waters with the people in my life by being truly vulnerable and asking for what I need and letting people see me when I’m not shiny and happy and perfect.
It’s scary crying in front of people and communicating the ugly parts of your feelings. A part of me used to feel this was a risk I couldn’t bear. I needed these people and if they rejected the truth I thought my little heart wouldn’t be able to take it. However, I’ve found that the true friends not only have shouldered the burden of my full self. They’re actually relieved that I’m less passive aggressive and distant.
It’s not easy asserting boundaries in established relationships. But it sure is a hell of a lot better than lying to myself and others that I’m ‘low maintenance’. In fact, I’m a human which means sometimes I’m high maintenance and that’s okay. Ask. Receive. Love is messy and imperfect and that’s how it should be.
All my love, Sam