My boyfriend secretly thinks I’m a moaner. He doesn’t openly say so but I know he does. Not his fault, British men are wired that way. I hate generalizations, I’m sure there are exceptions… but they generally have a very low threshold when it comes to women complaining about something. Even when that something has got nothing to do with them. If it does, it’s just a catastrophe.
I’m lucky, my boyfriend’s threshold is higher than most men’s. But even he can’t help it; as soon I vent a rant – against the weather or the Tube network – a thought begins to take shape, crawling slowly inside his brain:
I’m an high maintenance woman.
The truth is, as far as Italian women go, I’m extremely discreet. I don’t expect to micro-manage his life, I’m happy with how he dresses, and 99% of my “moans” have nothing to do with him and all do to with life being mostly unfair. My flat is too small; why do we die; my neighbor is an idiot; why isn’t the National Theatre offering me a lead part…
They’re not SERIOUS complaints. They’re not problems I’m asking him to solve. They’re just minor nuisances that sometimes drive me nuts, and having a good rant makes me feel better. Men sulk when they’re annoyed, or they eat rubbish food, kick things around and start reading random articles on the internet pretending the world doesn’t exist. Women talk loud. It’s not only a way to get it out of your system, it’s FUN. Nothing’s more satisfactory than a good rant. It’s like screaming in the middle of an open field; or hitting a punch ball. You feel so much better after.
The problem is most British men don’t see the difference between expressing your frustrations for therapeutic purposes, and real distress.They think you’re asking them to do something about it, and since they have no solution to offer they feel inadequate. They feel under siege, uncomfortable. And this puts them in a terrible mood. They start resenting you and wishing they’d found a “low maintenance” woman, instead of this highly demanding creature.
In fact they should consider themselves lucky. They’ve managed to establish a culture in which being “high maintenance” (referred always to a woman for some strange reason, as if men were the easiest, most undemanding creatures to deal with…) is the greatest capital sin. Women feel guilty every time they commit it so they play the game, presenting themselves as a Barbie with a degree rather than a human being with tastes, standards and opinions. When, after a while, they show their true colours their partner are disappointed: hey, this is not what it said on the box. Can I return it to the sender?
I am personally very proud to be high maintenance and I’d never pretend to be different. Any person with intellect – man or woman – can’t be anything but high maintenance, and successful relationships are an exercise in mediation, compromise and mutual understanding.
I’m not saying it’s easy, but dealing with adult human beings with ideals, standards, habits, opinions, expectations, problems, beliefs, a PAST, will never be simple. Let’s face it, in an ideal world we’d only speak at the right moment, say the right things, consider whether our words could be even vaguely annoying and smile condiscentingly at people’s flaws. But that is pure utopia. Only superior beings have a degree of self-contentness so high they can just be amused by general ignorance, the world’s injustices, football conversations and signal failures on the Northern Line. But guess what? Superior beings probably don’t need partners. In their perfect Nirvana they live serene, fulfilled and happy in their intact solitude.
Humanity tends towards coupledoom, not only to procreate but for a deep need for companionship, intimacy, solidarity. Because most people aren’t content, aren’t happy and aren’t perfect and hope to improve their situation by sharing it with a soulmate.
Besides, what does “maintenance” mean? The very word belongs to a world where men literally maintained women. Women were goods that passed from fathers to husbands. Like little dogs they were expected to be good company, breed healthy children and not to make too much of a fuss.
Such Victorian terminology hides a very Victorian way of thinking: men cater, provide, and pay for women. So women are better be grateful and do as told. The less they cost, the better. “Expensive” women are only acceptable if they come with a big dowry.
Fortunately, times have changed but the concept has, ay me, survived. Even worse, it’s turned from financial to purely “emotional”. Men don’t really need to pay for their partners’ clothes, food and transport. But they feel forced to deal with their feelings and therefore wish them to be as unobtrusive as possible. To ask for more would be the Victorian equivalent of asking your Lord and Master every other month to refurbish your country mansion and give a party for 275 aristocrats and their horses.
Victorianism is still deeply rooted in British culture. For instance, men hang out with men and women with women. It’s rare to see mixed groups, unless they’re made of couples. Girls go out with their girlfriends doing girly things, and boys do the same with their male mates, exactly like 150 years ago when the gentlemen used to leave the room to smoke cigars and talk politics while the ladies drank tea and embroidered cushions. Boy/girl friendships are very very rare even in London. Which means the two genders only get to deeply know each other in relationships.
As a teeneger and all through my 20s, I went out with mixed groups of friends. Most of my oldest and best friends are guys. I shared accomodations and BEDS with male friends I had no sexual interest in. That taught me and THEM a lot about how the opposite gender functions. When you grow up in mixed groups you stop having dream-like picture about the other side of the world…
Italian women MOAN nonstop, for real, constantly. I’m shocked at my Italian girldfriends’ ability to go on a rant for 20 minutes without anyone interrupting them. I’m Mother Teresa in comparison. It’s part of the culture. Italy is much more of a matriarchy than Britain, and MOTHERS and wives have always had the upper hand. Even Al Capone would have stopped his illegal “business” and become a farmer if his mother had told him to do so…
Italian women, the moment they’re in a relationship, set the rules. Even after the first date they start making comments on how their partners are dressed, what they eat, how they drive, where they take them for lunch, the tablecloths in the restaurant they’ve chosen, their job, their friends, their relatives, how many times to go on holiday and where to spend Christmas (=at her parents’).
Still, the concept of high maintenance in Italy DOESN’T exist. WHY?
Men accept women’s moaning as a fact of life. They don’t pay it too much attention, they joke about it, they don’t hold it against them as the worst of sins.
Somebody would say they go and take a mistress but I’m totally against that prejudice.
Italian men know womens’ complaints are part of the game. Something they’re naturally supposed to deal with, exactly like their partners deal with them not lowering the WC seat and forgetting birthdays and appointments.
Italian men KNOW low maintenance women only exist in porn movies, because they’ve grown up with their mothers, who complained, made comments and expressed opinions on every single aspect of their lives. They might not like it, they might envy their foreign friends, but in the end they will always go for it.
I have male friends in Italy whose girlfriends are such bullies you want to call a helpline on their behalf, BUT they love them dearly are totally besotted with them.
Why? Because they also know that part of the deal is usually a woman who takes care of them, cooks fantastic meals and clean the house…
So the conclusion I’m drawing is:
you either buy take outs, don’t iron his shirt, leave the toilet dirty AND shut up.
you cook a two course meal every night, pick up his socks, hoover, dust AND get to vent your rants as long as you wish…
So much for feminism….
Just one question: How do gay couples do?