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For Richer Or Poorer
April 12, 2014 9:32 AM   Subscribe

Ask Polly: Will Our Class Differences Tear Us Apart?
I've been with my current boyfriend for three years. We're really great together—similar interests, senses of humor, great sex. I love him so much—the only issue is that of our respective backgrounds. He grew up in a tony suburb, went to prep school, then to a very prestigious college, and finally the very prestigious graduate school where we met. I went to public school in a bad neighborhood, put myself through a not-so-prestigious college, made a name for myself in my field, then got into that same prestigious grad school. Our families could not be more different. I didn't think it would matter so much, but something happened recently that I can't shake.

Love Letters: We Have Class Differences
Happily Ever After In A Cross-Class Marriage
Across The Barricades: Love Over The Class Divide
The rules of discussing class in Britain are, pleasingly, very like those of cricket. Once you know them, they seem incredibly obvious and intuitive and barely worth mentioning; if you don't know them, they are pointlessly, sadistically complicated, their exclusivity almost an exercise in snobbery in its own right. Nowhere is this more evident and yet more tacit than in relationships: people marry into their own class. It's called "assortative mating". You know this by looking around, yet there's such profound squeamishness about it that research tends to cluster around class proxies. The question goes: "Do you and your spouse share the same educational attainment?" (Translation: are you the same class?) Or: "Did you go to the same university?" (Translation: are you really, really the same class?)
When Richer Weds Poorer, Money Isn't the Only Difference
Dealbreaker: Dating Below Your Class
posted by the man of twists and turns (86 comments total) 65 users marked this as a favorite

 
When I was in college, back when there was a fashion for preppie jokes and culture, I was going out with a girl from a well-off family, which mine most definitely wasn't. Her parents were a little stiff and distant with me and she herself noticed and didn't know what to make of it, and somewhat amusingly she asked me what I thought it was. I said "I think they think I'm a little NOCD". Puzzled look from her. I clarified, "Not Our Class, Dear".
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:41 AM on April 12 [6 favorites]


I'm in an interracial/cross-cultural/etc relationship, which comes with a few complications (and a lot of intrusive and sometimes unpleasant commentary from other people), but I don't think it's accidental that part of what has made it easy and comfortable is that we are from basically identical middle-class, educated family backgrounds. From my experience when I was dating and from watching friends, I'd say that cross-class relationships are considerably more complicated, though those differences are going to be more invisible from the outside.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:50 AM on April 12 [17 favorites]


I kinda feel like Polly went on way, way too long.

As for the boyfriend in the first article: I can totally empathize with that. I grew up lower-middle class, and joining the military was a foregone conclusion to me. So much of my sense of self-worth and personal values were wrapped up in that. If they hadn't taken me because of X medical reason, I'd have accepted that, but I had to try, and I had to do my best and not quit.

And it was rough. Really rough. It was '94 - '98, so we weren't exactly at war, but I joined the Coast Guard and that shit will be crazy in peacetime or in war.

That wasn't about masculinity. I was raised by a single mom and she'd been Air Force. It was never about gender for me (and mom emphasized over and over again that nobody in my family expected it of me), but it was absolutely about adulthood and earning my keep and all that.

And while I never expect that of others--while I absolutely respect why other people wouldn't join, and while I don't have less respect for people who don't serve--I can totally see why the boyfriend would feel awkward and bad and defensive. 'cause I would've.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 10:00 AM on April 12 [8 favorites]


Paper came out earlier this year putting forth assortative mating combined with women entering the workforce as a substantial contributor to income inequality.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 10:32 AM on April 12 [5 favorites]


Will Our Class Differences Tear Us Apart?

I urge you to head on over to the current discussion regarding Android v. Apple.
posted by Fizz at 10:42 AM on April 12 [1 favorite]


Mrs A and I are from different cultures, interracial and different countries, so our experiences are more different than if we'd grown up in the same neighbourhood. This has led to some confusion and misunderstandings through the years and required some sort on communication to sort things out. That said, we were both raised middle class by parents who had worked their way out of working class (mine more than hers if we're counting), but then my folks never had to emigrate due to race riots.

Being raised middle class at least means we have largely the same values inculcated from childhood, so there's never that much we disagree on.

On preview, what Dip Flash said.
posted by arcticseal at 10:51 AM on April 12


scaryblackdeath, yeah, I really didn't see the question-asker's connection between "my boyfriend was inscrutably [something] at this one event, therefore he is a RICH ASSHOLE WHO MAKES EVERYTHING ABOUT HIM."

I mean, I think there are definitely class issues in that relationship, but it's not the ones the asker is asking about.
posted by Sara C. at 10:59 AM on April 12


Then again I have never had a graduation or any life milestone be "my day that is about me", so maybe that's where I lost her.
posted by Sara C. at 11:00 AM on April 12 [3 favorites]


There was a 7 or 8 part series a few years ago in the NYT- part of it actually focused on step-children in 'inter-class' second relationships of their parents- some twenty year olds struggling with rent and college loans while others 'finding themselves' traveling etc- made family get togethers awkward as they couldn't really relate to each other and resentment abounded (only in some cases, of course). I found it very interesting...
posted by bquarters at 11:20 AM on April 12 [2 favorites]


The poor boyfriend.
posted by ReeMonster at 11:20 AM on April 12 [4 favorites]


My mother's mother eloped with a riverboat musician (my mother's father), a significant step down in class, and her patents disowned her over it. I typically think of it as a religious thing (she was Dutch Orthodox and he was Irish Roman Catholic) but now I wonder how much of it was about the class difference.
posted by davejay at 11:27 AM on April 12 [2 favorites]


Is that a typical "Ask Polly" kind of response (at the first Awl link)? Because that was absolutely some of the wisest and profoundly compassionate advice I've read in a while. I think she is deeply right, and the ways in which she's right is fairly general. I was really moved by what she wrote to the person, even though I did not have obvious parallels to what she described. The basic idea I heard her saying reminded me of David Foster Wallace's "This is Water" speech (given to kenyon college as a commencement speech). That is, sometimes I think if you want to find meaning in relationships and live in general, it will require some non-trivial moral imagination to address subtle yet shaping biases in our own minds that keep us detached from the moment. Thanks for the link. Really fantastic.
posted by scunning at 11:34 AM on April 12 [22 favorites]


part of it actually focused on step-children in 'inter-class' second relationships of their parents- some twenty year olds struggling with rent and college loans while others 'finding themselves' traveling etc- made family get togethers awkward as they couldn't really relate to each other and resentment abounded (only in some cases, of course). I found it very interesting...

I would love to read this.

There is a lot of this on my mom's side of our blended family (my dad's second marriage was to someone of a similar class background, and his third marriage is to someone who is childless by choice). My stepdad's kids grew up with completely different expectations than my brothers and I* did, and while there haven't been a whole lot of direct conflicts about it, it has definitely added some tensions. And is a topic that is super nuanced and interesting to think about in a way that the Ask Polly question just isn't.

Speaking of, the other links in the FPP, especially the Marketwatch one, of all things, are a lot more interesting than the main link. I definitely recommend reading further down in the links if you're interested in this topic.

*Especially me, as the eldest who experienced a lot of my formative years when we lived on my mom's income as a nurse.
posted by Sara C. at 11:39 AM on April 12 [1 favorite]


Scunning, Ask Polly is AMAZING. I just recently found out about it through the recommendation of another Mefite in a MeMail conversation about my recent Ask about what a healthy loving relationship looks like. I spent an entire workday reading through the archives. Solid gold. A+, would Polly again.
posted by Sara C. at 11:41 AM on April 12 [8 favorites]


Wow, that Ask Polly column was really, really good. I was not expecting that.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 11:51 AM on April 12 [7 favorites]


Then again I have never had a graduation or any life milestone be "my day that is about me", so maybe that's where I lost her.

Consider yourself lucky. They're deeply annoying.

Sincerely,

That person that gets angry when you remember to say "happy birthday"
posted by jpe at 11:59 AM on April 12 [3 favorites]


Add me as another one who has really big superficial differences from my husband -- we are of different races, grew up in different countries, speak different mother tongues. Yet I feel that those things matter little compared to the class-based ways in which we are similar -- we both expected that we would go to university, that our parents would pay for it (keep in mind that we are both from countries where this is not as big as a deal as it is the US, since university tuitions are much lower), reading and learning was strongly encouraged and neither of us has been financially insecure.
posted by peacheater at 12:01 PM on April 12


The interesting thing about "assortative mating" is that it's one of the many unspoken rules that sort of takes over for the old idea of arranged marriages. Why literally assign someone to pick who you marry, when you can just internalize a copy of that matchmaker's rulebook and do it yourself?
posted by Sara C. at 12:06 PM on April 12 [1 favorite]


She's giving this advice to the girl specifically about her situation, but damn. This is good for us all to think about:
It will be a challenge. Lean into the challenge and talk about it a lot, with a generous, accepting spirit, and your love for each other and trust in each other will grow in leaps and bounds.
posted by Medieval Maven at 12:10 PM on April 12 [6 favorites]


The husband and I are pretty much of the same class, but some of the differences in how we were raised come from the fact that my parents were much more focused on aspiring to a higher class. They spent much more money on the "right" neighborhoods, clothes, and appearance of self and possessions. By the time my parents died, they had blown through all of that, but had given their kids a certain set of expectations.

In contrast, the husband's parents made just enough to get by and didn't really struggle to get higher. Sometimes that comes out in weird ways, like our vastly different level of caring about what kind of house we live in. He is basically "Not a shack? Good." My standards are shaped by a lifetime of living in houses that my mom kept decorated and remodeled in the latest styles and always sparkling clean. It's one of those things that tend to bother me when I'm tired or depressed; I find myself super-critical of our modest-but-fine living situation, in comparison to how I think we "should" be living.
posted by emjaybee at 12:10 PM on April 12 [8 favorites]


The received wisdom is that women can marry up, but men can't. I'm not sure it's much more complex than that?
posted by alasdair at 12:22 PM on April 12


Marriage promotion is a dangerous cargo cult
As with an insurance pool, too much knowledge can poison the marriage pool, and reduce aggregate welfare by preventing distributive arrangements that everyone would rationally prefer in the absence of information, but which become the subject of conflict when information is known in advance. Because the stakes are now very high and the information very solid, good marriage prospects (in a crass socioeconomic sense) hold out for other good marriage prospects. The pool that’s left over, once all the people capable of signaling their membership in the socioeconomic elite have been “creamed” away, may often be, objectively, a bad one. Marriage has a fat lower tail. When you marry, you risk physical abuse, you risk appropriation of your wealth and income, you risk mistreatment of the children you hope someday to have, you risk the Sartre-ish hell of being bound eternally to someone whose company is intolerable. More commonly, you risk forming a household that is unable to get along reasonably in an economic sense, causing conflicts and crises and miseries even among well-intentioned and decent people. It is quite rational to demand a lot of evidence that a potential mate sits well above the fat left tail, but the ex ante uncertainty is always high. When the right-hand side of the desirability distribution is truncated away, marriage may simply be a bad risk.
posted by pmv at 12:24 PM on April 12 [11 favorites]


I dated a really wealthy girl for a couple months several years back. We had fun but she really wanted to go do this and go do that and go on this trip and that trip and let's just go shopping today! She was super nice but she just didn't seem to understand that I was making 7.25 an hour and my parents had not given me free reign over any credit cards. Fortunately we drifted apart for other reasons and not that.
posted by Our Ship Of The Imagination! at 12:25 PM on April 12 [3 favorites]


emjaybee, my parents' marriage was very like that. All of my grandparents come from basically peasant-like agricultural backgrounds. Both of my grandfathers were the first in their family to go to college, and both of them went on some kind of scholarship (football in my mom's dad's case, GI bill for my dad's dad).

But my mom grew up in the aspirational American Dream type of middle class family -- one income household, suburbia, etc -- whereas my dad grew up in a middle class yet much less financially secure situation where both his parents worked and they lived out in the country. It was always interesting how that ever so slight class difference affected their values and the kind of upbringing they wanted for us kids. My mom has always been more fixated on Keeping Up Appearances, whereas my dad is much more willing to be unconventional and just do whatever works for the way he wants to live.

I actually remember them having this insane argument about what kind of fridge to buy. My dad wanted to just get the cheapest fridge with no bells and whistles that just works, because you need a fridge, but wouldn't it be better to spend the difference on a trip or dinner out or something? My mom wanted to get whatever the status symbol type of fridge was at the time (the two vertical door setup with the ice maker?). And they argued about this for HOURS, to the point that walking through the appliance section of Sears gives me flashbacks 20 years later.
posted by Sara C. at 12:33 PM on April 12 [12 favorites]


Class issues contributed very significantly to my breakup of my last relationship before meeting the woman who is now my wife. My ex was from a lower-middle class background. Her parents are a legitimately tragic story (there was a car accident a few decades ago) and her family has never been all that close. My parents are upper-middle class, and I get along with them and my siblings just fine, thanks. The differences weren't immediately obvious to me, because when I met this woman, she was finishing up her first year of residency, having finished medical school the year before. "A physician!" I thought. "Certainly she's going to be able to understand where I'm coming from!"

Turned out that she had absolutely no idea how to function amongst professionals. I had to take her home from a departmental holiday party around 8:30PM, less than an hour after we'd arrived, because she got drunk as a skunk almost immediately. And not because she was a lush (she absolutely wasn't) or because she was somehow self-medicating (believe me, it wouldn't even had occurred to her), but because she simply had no concept of how to pace yourself at an event like this. She hadn't ever really gone to parties where alcohol was served where everyone didn't get hammered as quickly as possible. She didn't go to many of those parties either, come to think of it, but whatever. She puked all over the inside of my car.

I could go on, but I feel really bad talking about her. Suffice it to say that her upbringing had not prepared her at all for interacting with her own professional peers, to say nothing of my family. She came on vacation with my family and I that summer. They liked her well enough and seemed just as much at ease as they always did.* She was a nervous wreck the entire time. Kept worrying about what everyone thought about her. I kept telling her that there weren't any problems, that she was fine, that everyone liked her. Didn't matter. She was so intimidated by interacting with a reasonably happy, intact nuclear family** that she just couldn't get comfortable.

All of that being said, as I look back on it I don't think that class was the only thing going on there. She didn't have awesome relationships with her own family--I got on better with them the first time I met them than she did--and there was a whole ton of other weirdness that it took me some time to pick up on. But it was the class issues that first tipped me off that there was something up, even if it was other things that finally motivated me to break up with her.

I'm not entirely sure what happened to her, as I basically cut off contact shortly thereafter, but I don't think things have worked out for her.

*My mom actually said that she was glad I had finally brought someone home that could keep me on my toes. Everyone thought she was charming.

**And with my dad, a physician and med school professor. She had no concept about how to interact with her professional peers outside a clinical environment. I kept telling her she was fine, to just be herself, but she couldn't get over it.
posted by valkyryn at 12:39 PM on April 12 [8 favorites]


Ah, Polly is the awesome Heather Havrilesky from suck.com days of old!
posted by maggiemaggie at 12:48 PM on April 12 [11 favorites]


I have to admit, my initial reaction to the letter was, "Your problem isn't class difference, it is that your boyfriend is an asshole", only to feel put to shame by the eloquence, empathy, critical thinking and depth of understanding in the response from Polly. Perhaps AskMetafilter can implement a new policy where a copy of this is auto-MeMailed to any user who drops a careless DTMFA in response to a complex Human Relations question.
posted by The Gooch at 12:52 PM on April 12 [22 favorites]


Nowhere is this more evident and yet more tacit than in relationships: people marry into their own class.

As they do in the good ol' US of A, too--there's just less awareness of the fact here than in the UK.
posted by yoink at 1:43 PM on April 12


Ah, Polly is the awesome Heather Havrilesky from suck.com days of old!

ITYMTS Polly Esther. Anyway, here's a couple of those Filler columns in a related vein, for comparison:

Fin-De-Siecle Dating!
Dating and Other Catastrophes! (Get the Love You Deserve!)

(And for old times' sake, Speak your mind about today's Suck, on Plastic.com!)

there's just less awareness of the fact here than in the UK.

As it happens, I recently caught up with Mike Leigh's Another Year, which really was quite excellent (Secrets & Lies is one of my favorite films). I had to read several reviews afterward to clarify my understanding of the film, but one of the themes is class differences, although the film handles this more subtly than, say, Downton Abbey. There is an intensely happy and stable couple at the center of the story who used the educational system to leap into the comfortable end of the middle class, while other characters without some of the same resources or robust psychological defenses are less successful and seemingly have only bleak futures. One of the key ways this is illustrated is the (mostly off screen) travels of this couple, including for example an annual trip to Ireland, compared with the transportation struggles -- buying and keeping a car, getting lost in London, and planning to maybe save for a nice trip one day -- of especially one other key character. Perhaps most starkly in one scene, "Yes, we've been on the Greek islands, quite nice. Now, you were on one of the Greek islands -- which one was it?" It was fairly fascinating, and difficult for an American to see, because to Americans the cultural presumption is that anyone can achieve what they want and if they don't it's their own fault, but Britons have a meritocratic sensibility that is thinly grafted on to a set of age-old geographic and cultural necessities. I'm sure there are other viewpoints about the film, but I found this insight quite striking, as while I was able to understand some of what was being said from the language of the film, it took an American explaining British reviews of the film [can't google which one this was, sorry] to get me to see it clearly.
posted by dhartung at 1:57 PM on April 12 [6 favorites]


class is not equal to income.
Marrying across that border is extremely difficult, and heartbreaking. Love does not conquer all
posted by mumimor at 1:58 PM on April 12 [2 favorites]


The older I get the more I see that the list of things love does conquer is pretty small.
posted by winna at 2:24 PM on April 12 [22 favorites]


The Gooch:Can I double or triple my liking you comment. Well said and succinct.
posted by rmhsinc at 2:24 PM on April 12


As they do in the good ol' US of A, too--there's just less awareness of the fact here than in the UK.

One thing that I think is very different in the US as opposed to Britain, in terms of class, is that, in a lot of cases, our class system has sprung up very quickly and doesn't correspond to the sort of reified "time immemorial" associations that the British class system does.

In Britain, in 2014, you've got people still alive who grew up at "public schools" because their parents were colonial officials living half the world away. Whose families filled that upper middle class bureaucracy role for something like two centuries, from father to son, through associations with specific (often still extant) cultural institutions like schools, clubs, colonial infrastructure, etc. It's all very specific and goes a very long way back.

Meanwhile, in the US, Paris Hilton, who is probably the closest analogue to a straight-up aristocrat we have, is barely a century removed from immigrant nobodies who ran a general store.

I grew up upper middle class, but my grandfather (who is still alive) was literally born in a one room shack. And I don't feel like that's a particularly rare background in the USA.

Granted, I might be getting my ideas of class in Britain from pop culture. And I don't have a terribly rosy view of American upward mobility in the grand scheme. But the fact that the US class system is so new presents a different set of circumstances here.
posted by Sara C. at 2:36 PM on April 12 [7 favorites]


I wonder if being nouveau riche, maybe particularly in America, makes a difference. Class isn't really a problem for my dad, who was raised lower middle class and became a wealthy professional. In some ways he still has "lower middle class tastes" while in others he's definitely developed a bit of an upper middle class bubble. My lawyer sister married a penniless Ukrainian immigrant who spoke no English when he moved here and worked as a carpenter, and she (perhaps obviously) as well my dad was completely fine with it. But America has a long, long history of immigrants and bootstrap type stories.

Of course, there's no way for me to experience "the other side" but I get the sense that a lot of professional types and their children, at least in America, are pretty okay with marrying "back down" into the general middle class.

I have definitely seen some instances of resentment and misunderstanding of the "professional circles and values" spring up though. With some of the women my dad dated after the divorce, there was clearly was a value gap as valkyryn describes. He ended up with another professional and I think they're both much happier for it (she was the previous breadwinner in her first marriage).

The way I look at it is like this: If I only hung around and dated people who were just as into fiction or classic monster movies as I am, I would literally have no friends. It's kind of the same with having semi-rich parents: I just know it's a rare thing that not many people are going to be able to relate to me about. I'm okay with it if they are. A lot of them aren't, in my experience. They feel judged or it gets weird despite my best efforts.
posted by quincunx at 3:06 PM on April 12 [2 favorites]


Will Our Class Differences Tear Us Apart?

No, it's love. Love will tear you apart.
posted by octobersurprise at 3:43 PM on April 12 [7 favorites]


This is fascinating. SO and I are very, very close in background--parents who used education, race, cultural and demographic advantages to move up, leading to us having the same higher ed background, etc. I'm absolutely convinced this has mad it easier for us.
I do know people with wildly varying backgrounds who have paired up, and purely anecdotally, these are among the strongest relationships. Possibly this is because all of them connected as mature adults, not enamored youths, and because the unrealistic relationships have long since broken up.
One thing to anyone in this situation: have the conversation. I don't necessarily believe everything has to be discussed and analyzed to death, but this, among other subjects, should be one about which you know your partner.
posted by librosegretti at 3:57 PM on April 12 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile, in the US, Paris Hilton, who is probably the closest analogue to a straight-up aristocrat we have, is barely a century removed from immigrant nobodies who ran a general store.

It's amazing how the myth of American social mobility persists. Study after study debunks it, but it hangs in there. The big difference between the US and UK is not the actual class mobility, it's the fact that class identities are so much less well defined and that there's very little conscious sense of allegiance to a class identity. But it remains the fact that if you're born into the working class in the US you're less likely to rise out of it than a working class person in the UK and you're no less likely to marry within your class, too. Ditto middle class; ditto upper class.
posted by yoink at 4:17 PM on April 12 [16 favorites]


And I don't have a terribly rosy view of American upward mobility in the grand scheme. But the fact that the US class system is so new presents a different set of circumstances here.

There's still the concept of Old Money in the US as well, though it's mostly only as old as the Robber Baron era and the heyday of the Newport summer cottage, to use that extraordinary and hilarious case of rare American understatement. And there's still plenty of Society stuff, ranging from overt ruling class shit like Skull and Bones to garden party shit like Sons/Daughters of the Mayflower/American Revolution.
posted by George_Spiggott at 4:18 PM on April 12


Paris Hilton, who is probably the closest analogue to a straight-up aristocrat we have, is barely a century removed from immigrant nobodies who ran a general store.


And who is thought of as the lowest class trash there is among all my friends, millionaires to custodians. Rich white trash.
posted by nevercalm at 4:23 PM on April 12 [11 favorites]


No old money thinks Paris Hilton is aristocratic. Hilton made his money with hotels. NOCD.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:34 PM on April 12 [2 favorites]


Oops, hit post too soon.
I liked this from the Guardian piece:
"like the fact that they're always going to pubs and also, most importantly, how handy they are. They're always doing things round the house. He's built an extension. He's got four equally handy brothers and they all came round and helped him."

I grew up on a huge remote cattle ranch, and my husband is the son of an East Coast professor, who in turn was the grandson of an original partner in Standard Oil. My husband went to boarding school, sailing camps, deb balls, college in the UK, and what I adore most about him-he can fix anything. Cars, lights, sinks, computers, machinery, electronics--WASPs believe that one should know how to do things, and that old is always better than new. It's the middle classes that just buy another thing if the first one breaks.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:51 PM on April 12 [1 favorite]


It's amazing how the myth of American social mobility persists. Study after study debunks it, but it hangs in there.

As I actually wrote in that post, it's not so much that I believe in "class mobility". It's that our class system is, on the whole, extremely new as compared to the British system.

There are literally people in Britain who have been in the ruling class back to Norman times.

Meanwhile, in the US, our class system just isn't that old. It's not that Paris Hilton proves upward mobility is possible, it's that we live in a country where "obscenely successful entrepreneur" is literally the highest it's possible to go. In Europe, "obscenely successful entrepreneur" is downright low-class.

I first started to realize this watching Downton Abbey, where it's constantly held up as a virtue and a duty for this family to hold onto their extreme wealth and social status. Even the richest and most powerful person in America isn't stupid enough to actually believe that them continuing to be rich is a giant favor they are doing for the world. Sure, this is changing, and I wonder if that will be the same in another 200 years. But still.
posted by Sara C. at 5:31 PM on April 12 [6 favorites]


We experience these class issues all the time here. I'm downwardly mobile. Grew up in the suburbs, son of a plumber who built a mechanical contracting business and acted as primary breadwinner for our family. My father dropped out of university in the early 60's because he couldn't afford it (my grandfather worked in the shipyards, and made good coin).

Anyway, we had a pretty comfortable middle-middle class existence. My sisters and I went to university in the early 90's. One sister has become a public prosecutor, the other got a PhD in genetics and now commercializes nanotechnology.

I got into government, which was great, but I got laid off 5 years ago and had to change careers. My wife is a homemaker, so it's just me paying the bills.

So, we live in a crappy townhouse. It's fine as long as I have nothing to do with the neighbours and their little apes. As long as I look out the window.

Our son attends an enrichment program out-of-catchment, in an upper-middle class neighbourhood filled with beautiful old Arts and Crafts homes. Very bourgeois.

We can pass for this crowd, but it's always an issue when a friend's parent comes to our house... we're definitely looked down on, that's for sure.

People like to stick with people with similar values, similar tastes, similar aspirations, similar activities. I am never going to choose a granite countertop for the kitchen reno. I am never going to hang out with parents who spend ten grand a year on ice hockey for their kids.

They want nothing to do with me, and I want nothing to do with them.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:37 PM on April 12 [4 favorites]


One thing that I think is very different in the US as opposed to Britain, in terms of class, is that, in a lot of cases, our class system has sprung up very quickly and doesn't correspond to the sort of reified "time immemorial" associations that the British class system does.

This. A lot of my American friends grew up middle class or upper middle class but it was mostly because their parents lucked out, basically, and lived during a period where you could be middle class in the US if you showed up to almost any job every day. Their parents were often not college educated or first generation: pilots and enginners who were ex-military, contractors etc but they married early, worked hard, bought property at the right time, had good benefits and their families were very comfortable.

Those kids are now late thirties or early forties and a lot of them are flailing. There was no emphasis on education and you can't just walk into a union shop anymore so too many of them make far less money than their parents. They took on too much debt young because no-one understood student loans. Property is totally different: its more expensive, people move for their jobs more making it hard to stay in one place for 25 years while it appreciates. They never got their feet under themselves financially in their 20s the way their parents did and they can't catch up.

And a lot of them are supporting one or more parents at least partially. Divorces, the property crash and the stock market crash have impoverished a LOT of my parents friends. It's kind of scary to think about the contrast between those families in 1991 and today.
posted by fshgrl at 5:45 PM on April 12 [22 favorites]


Well, the classism here is unsurprising. Gets old, though. Dating someone middle class and not having his mom repeatedly imply that I'm gold-digging was so damn nice...anyway, thanks for posting.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:18 PM on April 12 [10 favorites]


Even the richest and most powerful person in America isn't stupid enough to actually believe that them continuing to be rich is a giant favor they are doing for the world.

Actually I'm pretty sure that's exactly what the Koch brothers think, for a start. It isn't a matter of being stupid, it's that everyone tells themselves the story they want to hear, and it helps if everyone around you is telling you that anyway. It is absolutely ordinary human behavior for people to believe that they are entitled to what they have, that it is indeed the minimum that they're entitled to, and that it is the proper order of things for them to be in charge of whatever wealth, power and resources they wield, and yes, the world is better off that way. Not every rich and powerful person feels this way but it is a very long way from being the ridiculous, improbable thing you suggest it is.
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:18 PM on April 12 [8 favorites]


To put it in perspective, most people who are a success in any sense feel deep down that they are doing the world a service by doing whatever it is they do. And really, up to a point that's not an unhealthy attitude to have. The uber-rich are not only no different they tend to be more so. If what you do is wield a lot of wealth and power, it is actually pretty damn likely you're convinced you're doing the world a favor.
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:23 PM on April 12 [8 favorites]


Meanwhile, in the US, our class system just isn't that old.

That's not entirely true. As I learned while researching my own family history, there were still quite a few royalists around during and after the revolution. One part of my family, the Van Horns, fought in the revolutionary war, but later, some descendents (including the descendent most directly in my family history) agitated for secession and joined the confederate cause basically as a way of trying to preserve their status as wealthy landowning nobles--in my ancestor's case, the family purportedly had a direct line to one of the oldest Dutch noble houses, and because of those connections (and because they frequently threw raucous parties attended by member's of the European and American aristocracy alike) they continued to enjoy an extremely privileged and elevated social standing (getting special consideration from General Washington himself, for example, when one family member was rumored to be a secret royalist during the revolutionary period because he refused to stop hosting European nobles) until basically the reconstruction.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:03 PM on April 12 [1 favorite]


Of course, that said, our little branch of that old money family appears to have ended up ruined as a result of the civil war, and my whole life, the family understood itself to be solidly working class.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:06 PM on April 12 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile, in the US, our class system just isn't that old. It's not that Paris Hilton proves upward mobility is possible, it's that we live in a country where "obscenely successful entrepreneur" is literally the highest it's possible to go. In Europe, "obscenely successful entrepreneur" is downright low-class.

You are painting with too broad a brush.

I first started to realize this watching Downton Abbey, where it's constantly held up as a virtue and a duty for this family to hold onto their extreme wealth and social status.

Noblesse oblige was a very real thing, though frankly ridiculous now. Indeed, the whole thing behind the popularity of Downton Abbey in England was that it is today so far outside personal experience that it could be mixed shamelessly with glamour and nostalgia in equal measure. The lack of social criticism drew some complaints, but the fact that many more mocked its ridiculousness shows how far removed it is.
posted by Thing at 7:35 PM on April 12 [1 favorite]




No old money thinks Paris Hilton is aristocratic. Hilton made his money with hotels. NOCD.


...what? No the Hiltons have been on the New York social circuit for decades.
posted by sweetkid at 7:44 PM on April 12 [1 favorite]


Downton Abbey is if anything a bit revisionist and silly: the Crawleys are a damn sight too cuddly and far too introspective about their station. The series' creator Julian Fellowes actually got it a lot more right in Gosford Park -- you'd expect him to given that he's writing about his own stratum, broadly speaking. But Downton is rather cute and fanficcy by comparison.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:52 PM on April 12 [2 favorites]


Decades isn't old money, sweetkid. Old money means generational wealth going back more in the range of centuries. The Hiltons are practically textbook nouveau riches from an old money POV--complete with the clumsy public displays of wealth and status and conspicuous lack of good taste that Paris has made her personal brand. From an old money POV, that kind of behavior's just like begging to be dragged down to the guillotine.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:57 PM on April 12 [9 favorites]


What's the phrase? "They made their money the old fashioned way; they inherited it."
posted by ceribus peribus at 8:06 PM on April 12 [2 favorites]


Even when I don't care about the question, Polly's answers are always absolutely fascinating.
posted by How the runs scored at 8:06 PM on April 12 [3 favorites]


I think the advice here is bad. The boyfriend's behavior was unabashedly rude. I'm sure he felt insecure around people who aren't like him. The asker deals with that every. Single. Day. And presumably isn't rude and insulting to his parents or her grad school colleagues from posh backgrounds.

She lost respect for him because he demonstrated that he is far beneath her skill and maturity in this respect.

Listening to him about his life is likely something she already does. She spends time with his family, after all. It is almost insulting to imply that the asker only thinks his life was easy because she hasn't listened or empathized with him enough.

Some people's lives are easier. Period. This just-world nonsense about how everyone having problems that counteract any privileges they have? It is bullshit.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:12 PM on April 12 [28 favorites]


Decades isn't old money, sweetkid. Old money means generational wealth going back more in the range of centuries.

On that same note I've heard it said more than once -- always from English sources -- that while the royal family has the highest rank in Britain, they're not of the highest social class. While cracks to the effect that they're just German carpetbaggers are jokey in nature, they're not (so I'm told) entirely without a hint of truth; there are a few households where they'd be seated below the salt if they didn't have that monarchy thing going for them.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:13 PM on April 12 [2 favorites]


valkyryn's comment struck a cord with me. I teach college, and many of my students are from a poor background (in many senses of the term). We work hard to educate them, and we send a fair number to graduate school. But even if they're up-to-snuff academically (and many come back and tell me they were very-well prepared for PhD work academically), there is a ton of stuff that we don't prepare them for--this is the sort of social stuff valkyryn talks about. It's hard to impart the sort of upper-middle-class background knowledge and affectations one often needs to navigate American academia; and it's especially hard to do so when your students have very little background in any of it, the students work (usually retail) a ton and aren't hanging out with you on campus, and regardless you've only 2-3 years to do it.

I'm especially sensitive to this because I came from a culturally-impoverished solidly middle-class upbringing myself, and I really had to scramble to catch up to those whose parents were from the professional classes. (Stuff like: college classmates talking about NPR. Me: What's NPR?) But many of my students are much further behind than I was when I was an undergrad. So I find myself at a loss and frustrated at the injustice of it all.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 8:30 PM on April 12 [11 favorites]


Decades isn't old money, sweetkid. Old money means generational wealth going back more in the range of centuries. The Hiltons are practically textbook nouveau riches from an old money POV--complete with the clumsy public displays of wealth and status and conspicuous lack of good taste that Paris has made her personal brand. From an old money POV, that kind of behavior's just like begging to be dragged down to the guillotine.

I didn't say they were old money. I just don't think the New York socialite scene sees the Hiltons as Not Our Kind, Dear, as mentioned above.

At least not before Paris started doing the reality show circuit.
posted by sweetkid at 8:31 PM on April 12


Class is weird. It took me forever to figure out that upper class people talk about how great public transit is but wouldn't be caught dead actually using it, that they brag about public schools while sending their kids to private schools, that they invest a huge amount of effort into getting their kids into the right preschool, and that they have zero respect for people in technical fields (no matter how accomplished, with the one exception of medicine). At least if you're white you can learn the conventions and fake them and blend in with those groups. Much harder if you're a minority.
posted by miyabo at 10:23 PM on April 12 [6 favorites]


"Much harder if you're a minority."

Bingo. I've maintained a pet theory for years that racism isn't about race, it's about class.
posted by Xoebe at 10:36 PM on April 12 [4 favorites]


I never thought that our backgrounds (talking about my wife and I) would become an issue. Yes, they were different. I grew up in a privileged suburban family; she in a very small farm town.

But here's the thing. I was a nature boy. Our house was nestled in the Ozarkian woods of St. Louis (Ladue, to be particular). A very affluent suburb. (Our neighbor was Mr. McDonnell. Yes, of McDonnel-Douglas fame.) Our family spent a lot of time camping all over the country, especially in the Ozarks. My passion was turning over logs and finding amphibians or reptiles, and once, unfortunately, a yellow jacket nest. I would track 'possums in the spring snow.

But every time I mentioned "The Woods," as we called our bioregion, my wife would get pissed off, saying I was a city kid. SHE knew what "the country" was really like.

I felt like she did not understand me; she felt like I had a Disney experience of our planet.

This story, like our marriage, does not have a happy ending. I agreed to stop talking about "The Woods," and feel like she will never understand me. This is just one of many issues that we have discussed and then dismissed as an issue upon which we will never reach an agreement. Unfortunately, many marriages turn out this way. They end up with two people, who often share common tastes and experiences, but are doomed to a life of emotional estrangement.
posted by kozad at 11:38 PM on April 12 [3 favorites]


Class and religion are interchangeable in this regard: To someone standing outside of the system, they make no sense and the rituals and rules of any one particular group seem just as (im)plausible as any other group's rules. Humans are fucking weird.
posted by maxwelton at 12:08 AM on April 13 [2 favorites]


Old money means generational wealth going back more in the range of centuries.

"You are not a Vanderbilt, whose fortune was made by a vulgar tugboat captain, or a Rockefeller, whose wealth was amassed through unscrupulous speculations in crude petroleum; or a Reynolds or Duke, whose income was derived from the sale to the unsuspecting public of products containing cancer-causing resins and tars; and you are certainly not an Astor, whose family, I believe, still lets rooms. You are a Nately, and the Natelys have never done anything for their money."
posted by Ralston McTodd at 4:39 AM on April 13 [4 favorites]


"You are not a Vanderbilt, whose fortune was made by a vulgar tugboat captain, or a Rockefeller, whose wealth was amassed through unscrupulous speculations in crude petroleum; or a Reynolds or Duke, whose income was derived from the sale to the unsuspecting public of products containing cancer-causing resins and tars; and you are certainly not an Astor, whose family, I believe, still lets rooms. You are a Nately, and the Natelys have never done anything for their money."

I have a friend here in NYC whose family can trace back to their feudal lord origins in Cumberland. He's a liberal fellow, puts his money where his mouth is, etc., and is a great guy. He writes. He gets paid for that writing, yes, but I think he'd do it regardless. I don't think anyone in his family has "tilled any soil" possibly since the 900s. The differences in our classes of origin couldn't be more stark, though I went to school with enough rich kids that I can read some of the markers and not embarrass myself too much, even if I am browner than some people. However, he's very aware of his advantages. He behaves normally, without that noblesse oblige business, or the condescending "generosity" I've seen out some newly-monied folk. We can get along.

Although when he says, "I have no money," I just smile, because I know that compared to me, "no money" still leaves him with a few more 000s in his bank account than I have! And I think, though he would never say such a thing, that his family is what Paul Fussell would have called "top out of sight". We once had a conversation about how CEOs get hired where I said, "You know, I think our new CEO got her job because she knows one of the Bushes. Or is it one of the Walkers? I forgot," and I saw his nose wrinkle just ever so slightly when I mentioned those names. Talk about below the salt. That really told me something about what class is in this country, and it just seems like it would be really stressful to me to be a striver. You may as well just be yourself, because you will never impress people like my friend with just your money and ability to be elected President, even with three generations of your family in politics. Politics are grubby business, wot?

I read Polly's response to the woman, and while I think there's definitely some class resentment coming through in her letter, this couple does need to have a talk about how, if they're going to stay together, there will need to be accommodation on both sides, not just hers. I dated a wealthy guy at one point in my life, and boy, was it hard for him to grasp that just because my family of origin CLEARLY had a lot of problems, and that I may have been affected by some of those problems, that didn't make me or my family less worthy as human beings. He could never understand how it was that I came from these humble origins, and ended up intelligent, attractive, and able to suss out which was the lobster fork at the oceanview 1-star Michelin restaurant. ::eyeroll:: Then again, I'm aware of my privileges as well, and am grateful that I had the capability and wherewithal to learn social markers very early on. I have no idea where I would've ended up without that ability.
posted by droplet at 5:38 AM on April 13 [8 favorites]


Decades isn't old money, sweetkid. Old money means generational wealth going back more in the range of centuries. The Hiltons are practically textbook nouveau riches from an old money POV--complete with the clumsy public displays of wealth and status and conspicuous lack of good taste that Paris has made her personal brand. From an old money POV, that kind of behavior's just like begging to be dragged down to the guillotine.

My favourite bit in À la recherche du temps perdu is when Marcel socialises with Mme de Guermantes and her, very refined, social set starts putting down royal families and ranking their lineages. Then Marcel stomps on the hat of M. de Charlus.
posted by ersatz at 5:47 AM on April 13 [1 favorite]


Which is why it's the best book.
posted by ersatz at 5:52 AM on April 13 [1 favorite]


Even the richest and most powerful person in America isn't stupid enough to actually believe that them continuing to be rich is a giant favor they are doing for the world.
"Bostonians still tell the story of the respectable society matron who was crossing the Common one day and ran into an old college chum she hadn’t seen for years. The matron was dismayed to see that her friend was obviously engaged in the world’s oldest profession. “My dear,” she said, “whatever has happened to you?” “Well,” said her friend, “it was either this or dip into capital.”"
posted by roystgnr at 6:23 AM on April 13 [8 favorites]


I'm pretty sure that no matter how much money I had, I'd never fit in with these people (and their teacup yorkie). Do the Mellons count as "old money" at this point? Their fortune dates back at least to the 1840s.
posted by octothorpe at 6:43 AM on April 13


I don't think that the problem with the Hiltons is that their money is new. I think it's that they've always been a little too obsessed with Hollywood and celebrity. Apparently Conrad, the original Hilton, married Zsa Zsa Gabor, who proceeded to have an affair with Conrad's son Nicky, who was then married to Elizabeth Taylor for approximately 15 minutes. If the Hiltons had behaved like good East Coast rich people, then they could have quietly married into the my-great-grandparents-were-in-an-Edith-Wharton-novel set and nobody would have cared, but instead they chose to hang out with movie stars and would-be movie stars. They're too Hollywood for the old money people, which is different from being too new. I don't know if old money and sorta-old-money are really separate classes as far as this stuff is concerned.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:19 AM on April 13 [1 favorite]


Decades isn't old money, sweetkid.

But in America, it sort of is. That's the whole difference between the US class system and the UK class system.

The Astors were nobodies in the early 19th century and ran New York society a century later.

The Vanderbilts were nobodies in the mid 19th century and by the early 20th century were synonymous with wealth and class in the US.

There is no centuries-old aristocratic upper class in the US. The oldest old money is, what, late 18th century?

Compared to Europe, there is no "old money" in America.

So, going back to the actual topic of the FPP, when someone in the US marries "outside their class", unless we're talking about someone marrying into the absolute creme de la creme of New England WASP society, we're not talking about huge static incomprehensible differences. We're talking about people whose great-grandparents were probably on even social footing.

I've dated "outside my class" a lot. It's never been the kind of issue described in the Guardian piece linked above, where great-aunt so and so won't open the wedding invitation if it isn't properly addressed using the correct title. There's just no such thing as anything like that in America, even among the snobbiest snobs who ever snobbed.
posted by Sara C. at 10:35 AM on April 13 [2 favorites]


But every time I mentioned "The Woods," as we called our bioregion, my wife would get pissed off, saying I was a city kid. SHE knew what "the country" was really like.

I feel like some people are just like this, and it's nothing to do with class or anything else. They slot you into a box with a name and no actual experience you've really had as a fellow human being can ever get you out of that box. It just provokes anger that you're not staying in your box where you belong.

I got that same sense from the Asker in the Ask Polly piece. Sure, that particular issue is one of class, because class is the box the Asker is putting her boyfriend is. "You're rich, so any feelings you have about anything prove that you're just a whiny entitled preppie who's never had a genuine experience in your life." Doesn't bode well for the relationship, whether the matter at hand is class or regional origin or membership in a fan subculture. She might as well be saying "You're a brony, so any ideas you have about gender prove that you're just a mansplaining Nice Guy Fedora wearer who could never understand feminism."
posted by Sara C. at 10:46 AM on April 13


But there are still actual old money european families with a presence in the US, so it's a slightly more complicated picture than that.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:46 AM on April 13


Though I agree that the only native old money in the US is relatively new.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:48 AM on April 13


I have a grandmother (DAR, of course) who rates new money and old money in the US by how much land a family had before the Revolutionary War. In a pinch, she'll go on to draw lines based on the relative social class of said family before coming to the New World. Of course, she's the kind of land (and heirloom) rich and (relatively)cash poor Virginian inclined to namedrop her 17th century ancestors at a barbecue. I think she still believes the only proper way to make money is to inherit it, which is probably why her family has little left outside of oil paintings, ancient land grants and the stench of stale noblesse oblige.
posted by thivaia at 1:13 PM on April 13


Huh. I thought the answer was really long and condescending. I would assume that the question-asker's concerns are legit and maybe the guy is kind of an ass. That does happen!
posted by geeklizzard at 2:17 PM on April 13 [9 favorites]


Apparently my great-grandfather's family had money, but he married a women who was very much lower class and thus while he didn't sink all the way down to her class level, there was step or two down. His son, my grandfather, did the exact same thing, and although he is college educated and was a one time an expert in his field of chemical engineering, their family (including my father and his siblings) was solidly middle class. Thanks to my parents being unable to get their shit together until I was in high school, I grew up lower class, but with middle class goals and values taught to me and my siblings.

Contrast that with my husband and his family who were and are lower class, but the family has been lower class for generations. So while we did grow up in the same class, received the same government benefits and had the same amount of income instability in childhood, my background is decidedly different. I can more easily move in between the worlds, while my husband seems to have a bit more trouble fitting in with the upper classes, though it is getting easier for him with time.
posted by LizBoBiz at 2:31 PM on April 13 [1 favorite]


I've had four serious boyfriends. My first was from a working class family. My parents were very disapproving. My second boyfriend was from a similar class as me - upper middle class. My parents loved him. We had a lot more in common in terms of our values. My third boyfriend grew up in a double-wide and sometimes went hungry as a kid. He hated - hated - my "affluence" - nevermind that my parents have not supported me since they paid for my undergraduate education (something I am very thankful and grateful for). Our class differences played a big role in our dynamics. He called me a princess a lot. He hated that I had a bed and didn't sleep on the floor like he did. He loved a spartan lifestyle and took that to almost illogical extremes. In the end we just had very different values. He wanted me home in the kitchen and I wanted to be out using my brain in the workforce. We were just so very different partially because of our class differences growing up. My parents never cared for him much and whenever I talked to my mom she would weave in statements like "who knew that it would turn out this way, your second boyfriend just fit in with us so much better." She was right - and I think part of that is because personal values are partially class-based. Or rather ones class has an impact on their values.

It's also interesting that individually I am very low on the income ladder - I qualify for food stamps and the earned income tax credit and all that - but I still personally identify as upper middle class because that's how I grew up. My parents do not support me at all (I am in my 30s) and haven't for over 10 years but I still think of myself as UMC. Funny how that works.
posted by sockermom at 4:38 PM on April 13 [1 favorite]


I'm actually never really sure where I fit into the class structure since my parents were of very different socio-economic background. Mom came from an upper middle class New York family where her grandfather was a Wall Street banker and her dad was sort of a early Mad Men type in advertising. On the other side, my dad was from a slate mining town in rural PA and grew up in a cold-water house without a phone or a bathroom.

So I grew up with this weird dichotomy of having cousins who were just barely blue collar on my dad's side and cousins who were literally CEOs or professors at major universities on my mom's side. So holidays were a weird mix where I might spend a day with my uncle's family in Plainfield where everyone had gotten married out of high-school (usually pregnant) and everyone would be drinking shots and beers and eating potluck off of paper plates. Or I might end up at my cousin the CEO's million dollar house in Basking Ridge with the Range Rover and Porsche parked in the garage and dinner on china with silver and french wine in crystal.

So growing up, I never really knew where I fit in or where I fell in the social strata. i was always too poor to be accepted by the rich kids in school but too nerdy to be accepted by the blue collar kids. No one else in the accelerated classes lived in a tiny row house and wore Goodwill clothes to school.

Not sure where I'm going with this except that it would be interesting to see how the kids of parents from wildly divergent background fared in life. For what it's worth, my sisters and I have done fine but we've all expressed the opinion that we never quite feel like we fit in with any group.
posted by octothorpe at 5:17 PM on April 13 [2 favorites]


Octothorpe, I feel similarly (although race is a factor for me as well). It's why I don't really buy the idea that the US lacks serious multigenerational class divides.
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:29 PM on April 13


Octothorpe, while my parents' class differences were not huge (different kinds of middle class), my family experienced a pretty significant change in socioeconomic status during my childhood (from completely broke to white collar/upper middle class, and later my mom married someone much closer to wealthy).

In school I was always friends with kids from more modest backgrounds. I have mostly dated people who grew up lower-middle to middle-middle class. Despite being able to navigate certain aspects of upper middle class culture, I'm completely out of my depth around wealthy people and AFAIK don't have any friends who grew up significantly more well off than I did. I have never dated anyone from a higher class than my own.
posted by Sara C. at 6:01 PM on April 13


NOCD
Actually, thats NQOCD - Not quite our class, dear.
/Violet Crawley
posted by unliteral at 8:15 PM on April 13


My son went to a fairly fancy private school in Pasadena, and while we could pay the tuition, we weren't making huge donations to the place, and thus were not really in the top social circle of parents. But my MIL was horrified that a class-mate's father ran a big Vegas hotel and casino. (Nice guy, USC MBA, character in Ocean's 11 was based on him.) She rated him no better than some saloon keeper, not that she'd ever met many saloon keepers. He could have bought and sold everyone else in the school several times over. In the US, class is fluid, and money usually counts for more than anything. Donald Trump is upper class because he's rich, not because he's an old family or because he endowed an entire college.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:36 PM on April 14 [2 favorites]


The worry though, Ideefixe--and I think it's a legitimate one--is that the last couple of decades of economic policy reforms in the US have created conditions that make class much less fluid than it has been in the US's more recent history, encouraging the development and political ascendency of an American upper class with entrenched, generational wealth in the old European mold.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:32 PM on April 14


Your standard of living may change, but your class standards don't always go along with your bankbook. Someone who would never dream of drinking from a beer bottle at the table when there's a clean glass will cling to that, even if they're stone broke. You can have middle class standards and upper-class aspirations without a penny in your pocket.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:01 PM on April 14


I really liked this reply. I've been in the asker's shoes, or close enough; I've had a relationship fall apart largely because of class and money, and I was always the poor kid at the rich kid's school. And even now, with my current girlfriend, there can be weird tensions with her parents where they're just a little uncomfortable with my, er, comfort in poverty. The rest of the family is WASPs and Polish who aspire to WASP-hood, to the extent that there was an audible sigh of relief when they found out I wasn't Jewish. (Which, yeah, pretty weird thing to be congratulated about.)

As for how old money can go in America, just off the top of my head, the Cabots have been talking to God since the 1600s.
posted by klangklangston at 6:30 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]


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