When I first met my current boyfriend, I probably couldn’t have guessed what kind of family he came from. Social class in America isn’t really something we ask people about directly but it plays a huge role in almost every aspect of a person’s life. When you meet someone for the first time it’s impossible to truly know someone’s class or financial status; it’s also incredibly impolite to ask. If you pay close enough attention, however, you can start to pick up clues.
It didn’t take me long to figure out that he came from pretty wealthy means. On our first date I complimented his custom Nike shoes. He thanked me and told me that they were actually designed by a child with cancer and that the proceeds of the shoe go to St. Jude’s. Casually talking philanthropy was a pretty big tip off. Later when he told me that he interned for Intel in high school after his father had sold his tech company in Silicon Valley, it confirmed for me that we had completely different financial backgrounds.
I’ve been honest with my partner about class-related issues I’ve faced in relationships. In the beginning, it was obvious that he didn’t really see where I was coming from. But he made an effort to try to understand. For example, even though I don’t need to, I still check my balance before making any purchase. He tries to be patient because he knows how much better I feel.
Learning to see my boyfriend’s struggles, even though he always had more than enough money, has really made me appreciate that everyone is truly fighting their own battle. Most people are just trying to live their life to the best of their ability within the means they have, and we can learn a lot from those in other places on the class spectrum.
This wasn’t the first experience I had with dating someone outside of my social class, in fact most of the people I had dated since moving to Massachusetts for college were solidly above my class.
My experiences in cross-class dating differ from person to person. The last guy I dated came from a much more modest background than my current partner. That fact didn’t stop him from being considerably more condescending in every aspect of our relationship. I distinctly remember him asking me to break a $100 bill and being absolutely horrified that I didn’t have enough money in my wallet, let alone in my bank account, to give him change.
Despite the challenges, cross-class dating has really helped me out in several ways. It’s challenged my assumptions about various social classes. It has taught me that some of the best people can be the wealthiest and that sometimes people from modest backgrounds can be quite insufferable. It’s made me confront some of the biases I’ve held towards people from wealthier backgrounds.
It also has helped me in more tangible ways. Because we often go out to nice dinners, I felt comfortable and confident at my first business dinner. My boyfriend has also become someone I can ask all of the awkward cultural things people in wealthier classes seem to know. He didn’t laugh when I genuinely asked him what cotillion actually is and why people still do it. I wasn’t mocking him for participating in something I didn’t understand, which the old me probably would have done. I remember ending that conversation with a new understanding of something I didn’t know before and he was able to share something personal from his past. He helps me grow in ways that I didn’t realize I needed to.
My advice to anyone currently in a cross class relationship is to be patient; it takes time for someone to truly open up about their background. Also, a little humor never hurts. The day I found out about his trust fund, he responded, “Oh, you don’t have a trust fund too?” Because we’ve taken the time to understand and respect each other’s backgrounds, it made me giggle. I knew he was being facetious and I appreciated that he tried to lighten the mood when I clearly felt a little uncomfortable.
Class is an uncomfortable subject for almost everyone, but the more we can talk about it and relate to others from different backgrounds, the better we’ll be at respecting each other.