Being Poor in a Cross-Class Relationship
My boyfriend was wealthy, and I was poor. It normally didn’t affect our relationship very much, because we mostly watched movies or played video games in his bedroom. But his 18th birthday was an exception to this rule. It was a night when we would go to a restaurant where the price of one appetizer was the same amount that I would usually spend on a nice supper.
Tethered to Two Worlds
His father, someone I still respect long after the breakup with his son, truly wanted me to have opportunities and experiences that he knew were otherwise inaccessible to me. He could see that I was visibly shaken at dinner, so he offered to sit beside me and talk me through the process. However, his good intentions could not ease my guilt after I realized that the amount spent on dinner that night could have covered my mother’s monthly rent.
One of the hardest parts of being in a cross-class relationship is feeling intimately tethered to both worlds, while feeling that you only truly belong to one of them. I wanted to enjoy romantic gestures from my boyfriend, and I wanted to go out to dinners with his family, because I cared about these people and their lives.
At the same time, I secretly wanted to sell every gift I was given, so that I could support my family. Every meal left me with a sour stomach, because I knew my dad and brother were eating hamburger helper again for the fourth time that week. I felt like I was betraying my family by spending time with his. And I wasn’t sure how to find the balance between wanting to be freed from poverty while still being offended by people who owned two houses.
Healthy cross-class relationships are possible ... when founded on the belief that love is the most precious resource of all.”
Ultimately, after three years of trying to figure out who we were (together and apart), we broke up. While our irresolvable issues weren’t always linked to our class status, I found myself with a lot of resentment towards him because of them.
I hated being put into situations where his family and I would have a “lively debate” on the pros and cons of food stamps – when my family used them to survive. I hated that he felt comfortable talking about his dad’s boat or his mother’s trip to Europe. But he was speechless when I talked about wearing three pairs of socks at night in the winter, because my family couldn’t afford kerosene for our heater.
I felt guilty asking his father for help with my car insurance. I hated it even more when his response was, “What? Dad doesn’t care. It’s fine. Just ask him.” He had not been burned by the stigma of needing help and having the audacity to ask for it, but I remained singed.
Love: The Most Precious Resource
I believe that one of the most important aspects of relationships is having partners who are fully invested in exploring the complexities of life alongside each other. I want to love and be loved by people who are excited to learn about how our differences have shaped us, rather than being completely uninterested in the parts of us that have been forged through pain and struggle. While I believe that healthy cross-class relationships are possible, they are most likely to be successful when they are founded on the belief that love is the most precious resource of all.