The Meaning of High Maintenance: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know what the meaning of the phrase high maintenance is? This article will give you all of the knowledge you need on the phrase high maintenance, including its definition, synonyms and antonyms, etymology, sentence examples, and more!

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What does the term high maintenance mean?

According to Collins Unabridged English Dictionary, the term high maintenance is an adjective that means something requires a lot of time, money, or effort to maintain. This term is often used to describe people with high standards for their relationships. People might view such high maintenance people as perfectionists, narcissists, making a big deal out of nothing, or a difficult time to be around. However, the term high-maintenance is frequently – and almost exclusively – used to describe women. People rarely talk about men as high-maintenance individuals, but the idea of the high-maintenance girlfriend permeates both the media and real life. 

This idea of the high maintenance woman is problematic for more reasons than one. Women are looked down upon for having high standards, and are instead viewed as difficult. It is thought that these women only go after people with a lot of money, or are somehow shallow. Rather, they simply have rid themselves of low self esteem and know their worth. Thankfully in the modern era, the idea of a high maintenance individual is slowly dissolving. Women are encouraged to know their worth and not settle for less.

What are synonyms and antonyms for the phrase high maintenance?

There are many different words that one can use in place of the phrase high maintenance. One might choose to use one of these words to create a more positive connotation, or they might choose to use a synonym in order to expand their vocabulary or avoid repeating themselves. This list of synonyms is provided by Word Hippo Thesaurus.

  • biting
  • over-particular
  • acrimonious
  • criticizing
  • unfair
  • punctilious
  • caviling
  • fault-finding
  • censuring
  • froward
  • trenchant
  • harsh
  • inflexible
  • refractory
  • sarcastic
  • imperious
  • hairsplitting
  • stubborn
  • humbling
  • belittling
  • nit-picking
  • exigent
  • nitpicking
  • strict
  • rejective
  • hard-line
  • very
  • disparaging
  • crabby
  • touchy
  • cynical
  • diagnostic
  • severe
  • perfectionist
  • fractious
  • firm
  • cross
  • hard
  • peevish
  • testy
  • over-rigorous
  • judgmental
  • unflinching
  • overcritical
  • judgy
  • obdurate
  • obstinate
  • petulant
  • nitpicky
  • pernickety
  • irritable
  • exacting
  • discriminating
  • trying
  • quibbling
  • needy
  • calumniatory
  • reproachful
  • fastidious
  • demeaning
  • intractable
  • unsparing
  • cavillous
  • stringent
  • unreasonable
  • tough
  • dictatorial
  • uncompromising
  • trivial
  • discerning
  • persnickety
  • unjust
  • nagging
  • scolding
  • hardheaded
  • niggling
  • possessive
  • faultfinding
  • overscrupulous
  • analytical
  • unamenable
  • carping
  • deprecating
  • contrary
  • critic
  • negative
  • hair-splitting
  • stiff
  • unaccommodating
  • overparticular
  • tyrannical
  • critical
  • cantankerous
  • lowering
  • perverse
  • over-censorious
  • demanding
  • hard to satisfy
  • thorny
  • meticulous
  • insistent
  • judgemental
  • hard to please
  • nice
  • headstrong
  • petty
  • picky
  • tiresome
  • serious
  • censorious
  • exceptive
  • pass-remarkable
  • pettifogging
  • importunate
  • critical
  • rigorous
  • sticklerish
  • over-strict
  • overbearing
  • captious
  • troublesome
  • hypercritical
  • difficult
  • fussy
  • unbending
  • overexacting
  • disapproving
  • pedantic
  • particular
  • querulous
  • tricky
  • overnice
  • recalcitrant
  • clamorous
  • derogatory
  • unmanageable
  • over-exacting
  • finicky

There are also many different words that are the opposite of the phrase high maintenance. These are called antonyms. This list of antonyms for high maintenance is provided by Thesaurus.

  • even-tempered
  • complacent
  • moderate
  • laid-back
  • serene
  • nonchalant
  • complaisant
  • undemanding
  • outgiving
  • liberal
  • low-pressure
  • devil-may-care
  • easygoing
  • informal
  • indulgent
  • offhand
  • indolent
  • low maintenance
  • lenient
  • lazy
  • uncritical
  • relaxed
  • permissive
  • insouciant
  • carefree
  • calm
  • collected
  • hang-loose
  • placid
  • amenable
  • tolerant
  • unhurried
  • uninhibited
  • unconcerned
  • flexible
  • self-possessed
  • breezy
  • happy-go-lucky
  • poised
  • tranquil
  • casual
  • free and easy
  • composed
  • mild
  • patient

What is the origin of the phrase high maintenance?

According to Grammarphobia, the earliest use of the phrase high maintenance began in the early 1980s to describe someone that requires a great deal of care, or who is very fussy. The earliest citation of this term comes from a reference to a child who has the condition osteogenesis imperfecta, which is a genetic brittle bone disorder. People Weekly described the child as high-maintenance in 1982. From there, this term began to be used to describe people who are demanding and fussy. 

The term is famously used in the film When Harry Met Sally written by Nora Ephron, directed by Rob Reiner, and starring Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal. In the film, Crystal’s character Harry states that, “There are two kinds of women: high maintenance and low maintenance.” Ryan’s character Sally later asks which one she is. Harry replies, “The worst one. You’re high maintenance, but you think you’re low maintenance.”

How can the phrase high maintenance be used in a sentence?

The phrase high maintenance can be used to describe many different things and people. In this example, it will be used to describe a person. Jason is talking to his friend Kelsey about why him and his girlfriend broke up.

Jason: Yeah, she was super high maintenance. She was always posting ehr selfies to social media, asking me to take her out to dinner, always saying I wasn’t around enough. It was annoying.

Kelsey: Wanting to see her boyfriend and be treated well makes her annoying?

Jason: No, you don’t get it. It was constant. She always wanted my attention. 

Kelsey: Yes, as she should. You’re her partner. And just because she likes to take selfies doesn’t mean she’s self absorbed. It means she’s confident. She deserves so much better than a man who thinks about her this way. Instead of viewing women as high maintenance for having standards, you should think about why you don’t meet those. Goodbye.

Jason: Kelsey, wait! Come back here! Ugh, I knew you would react this way. 

Overall, the term high maintenance is used to refer to a person or thing that requires a lot of time, money, or attention to maintain. This is often used to refer to a person who is difficult to be in a relationship with or who is difficult to work for. This can also be used to refer to an object, though its usage to describe people is much more common.