Most men have been there. Many won’t admit they’ve been there: involved with a high-maintenance date or girlfriend. You can run from a high-maintenance woman and you can hide, but your best chance of going unharmed is to avoid her all together.

“Once I get a whiff of one, I steer clear,” says Brian, 40, an advertising manager in Omaha. Ross, 43, a consultant in San Francisco, found that he hasn’t attracted one in recent years. “I really don't date high-maintenance chicks as a rule.”

To avoid them, you’ve got to know how to spot them. Consider these tips on spotting the classic high-maintenance woman:

High H.B.A. factor. Rookie observers, remember the H.B.A. acronym (which stands for “Health, Beauty & Accessories”). As in, obsessed with H.B.A. Scan the latest trendy store, restaurant or bar and you’ll spot high-maintenance women easily in their natural habitat. Ground zero for the high-maintenance species are beauty salons, malls and occasionally, the health club. (Yes, female gym rats can be high maintenance, although scientists say it’s a rare occurrence.) Is she dressed to the nines at the grocery store? Is she sporting full-tilt makeup and big hair at the health club when other women are in sweats and no makeup? Look closer and you’ll find what constitutes high-maintenance is as varied as her patchwork quilt or designer bag, her intricately painted toenails or her voracious appetite for beauty treatments.
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Emotional insecurity. High maintenance women can be as insecure as a lost toddler. They can freak out if you even so much as give an extended glance at another woman, among other indicators of emotional neediness. Her neediness often requires her to control and direct your behavior.

Controlling. Is she always instructing you to call her or sets rules around things? (Example: “Call me at work tomorrow at 2 p.m.”) Worse yet, she might express anger or manipulate you to get you to do what she wants. A range of ploys such as her demands to call frequently, fix-it items, and transportation needs (“Can you pick me up?”) are all ways to keep you on a short leash or otherwise attempt to control your behavior.

Communications. Guys, if she talks like this, run: “Like, oh my God, I was on the way to the mall and…” (At your own risk, remind her that “Valleyspeak” went out in the 1990s with Frank Zappa.) Pay attention to what she talks about for it’s the critical indicator of what might – or might not be – going on in her brain. Is it all about her, shopping and her friends? Chances are you have a high-maintenance girl on your hands. I say “girl” because rarely are mature women really that high maintenance. If they are, they may be limited to the divorcée set, who brandish fake dark tans, fake body parts, overprocessed hair and enough bling-bling to make you squint.

And, if you still have doubts, consider these stories:

Look in the mirror. Make absolutely certain that you’re not the one crying foul. Could you be high maintenance yourself? Consider the case of Michelle, now 42, who a decade ago broke up with a serious boyfriend, Jeremy. They had dated a year and a half and Michelle graciously declined his proposal for marriage and broke it off. “He accused me of being a materialistic you-know-what. Guess he was pretty raw, even after I told him not to buy an engagement ring.” Michelle was never high maintenance. She drives an older car that’s paid off, makes her own coffee every morning and has owned the same home for many years.

The picnic test. If you have doubts about her high-maintenance level, put it to the test. See how she handles an impromptu picnic. Suggest casual food from the deli, a cookout, or wine, bread and cheese. Then, gauge her reactions carefully. Dirk, a Minneapolis marketing manager, didn’t discover he was dating a high-maintenance woman until it was too late. When he was in his early thirties, he dated twenty-something Jodi for a couple of years. “On our way to a picnic, we had to stop so she could buy a new outfit, out of my pocket of course, because the one she took an hour to pick out on her own wasn’t good enough for the picnic.”

That was the first “picnic incident.” The second one was even sadder. The couple had spontaneously decided to go on a picnic, so they stopped by a deli at a grocery store near a nice lake area. “When the clerk weighed each of our salads, hers weighed more. She stormed out saying that I made her look like a pig because I wasn’t eating as much as she was. Kinda nuts, huh?”

Marcia Jedd is a freelance writer.