Many of us will likely never ask ourselves this question. This is probably due to the fact that you have never and will never date someone from a significantly lower ( or higher) socio-economic class, than you. Additionally, in many cultures today, we might pride ourselves in not being a class-based system, like India, yet we are completely unconscious about the ways class is implicated in all the decisions we make professionally, socially and romantically.
Of course, our entertainment industry often sells stories of lower socio-economic class people, catching extreme fortune or climbing to their success. We also feature stories of the lives of the very disadvantaged, or the extremely wealthy/famous. We also like to re-create and tell stories of people of lower socio-economic status, being saved and elevated to a much higher socio-economic class by a modern day, rich knight in armor, or being adopted somehow by a wealthy, privileged individual, family, or organization. However, somehow we do not realize we are socio-economically, class obsessed.
No matter the culture, there is a way that socio-economic class tends to insulate us in our own class-specific bubble. How? We go to places that are in alignment with our socio-economic class, and we meet people in a relatively same class range. We tend to be attracted to people who have a certain class range appearance and lifestyle, that we are comfortable with. We have online dating criteria of the class ranges we are comfortable dating, and we can usually determine another’s class, either consciously or unconsciously, from their photos, their writing, their mutual and differing needs and desires, and their interests.
Socio-economic class matters GREATLY. And, we do such a great job of rarely having to address it, unless something creates enough discomfort in us to acknowledge it, and work with class differences and consequences.
In my former life, I would often hear about or see movies about wealthy people, saving others from a low socio-economic status. And in these movies, what mostly gets explored, is some variation of 1. how the social and familial context feels about this, 2. the plot revealing whether the person of lower socio-economic status is worthy of being being saved due to virtuous characteristics, 3. how the person being saved feels about this and their self, and 4. the story develops how loving and open the wealthy person is, or how they also learn to value the wisdom that the person they are saving holds. I don’t believe I have ever seen or heard of a movie that completely explores the burden, pain, confusion, and fears that are brought up for the heavily privileged person, framed as the savior. The only way in which I believe this is explored, is through a different frame, such as race or culture, rather than strictly through class.
Why is this important?
Well, in the world today, I see it as extremely important we begin to have conversations about what actually stops us from pushing the limits of what is comfortable, and seeking to become connected to, and even romantically involved, with people from very different backgrounds than our own. In order for us to learn to heal and change the great disparities of power in the world, we actually need to connect in an authentic and humanizing (e.g. not objectifying) way, with people who are from socio-economic classes that are far above or below our own.
It is easy to see a romantic pairing between two people from very different socio-economic classes, and to wonder, what does the privileged person see in the less privileged, counterpart? Or, to have a snicker, and assume that the less privileged person is manipulative, and attempting to use the more privileged person in some way. Or, we take the stance of assuming that the more privileged person is abusive in some way, and is clearly using the less privileged person for some gain. We assume that the inherent class difference is so extreme that only exploitation and objectification can occur, and that there is no way this type of relationship wouldn’t have built into it, two completely different experiences, worlds and realities colliding, along with some abusive power differentials that make genuine love, connection, and understanding impossible.
I have experienced, in my own life, that love with a man who is from a far lower socio-economic class than I, has actually encouraged me to begin to address my own projections about class, and the resulting insulation bubble I had built around myself.
I am going to focus here on sharing about my personal process with understanding my position as a White, American woman, with a southern Mexican, indigenous man. My hope is that by sharing about my experience, there are many of you out there that will either feel supported in the challenge you experience in being with someone whom you are far above in socio-economic status, or that many of you might begin to think about your own socio-economic context, in a new way.
One of my greatest fears and concerns in our partnership was that I was being used or exploited for my money and my privilege. It is clear that the success and stability (privilege) I have in my life, was in fact a factor in making me an attractive candidate for this man, yet it wasn’t at all the majority of why he wanted to be with me. However, a reality that some anthropologists are beginning to write about, is that being romantically involved with someone who has WAY less status and money, as well as mobility than you, means you are in the constant position of being the safety net, savior, and the supporter.
I realized pretty early on that if I expected him to join me in many of what I considered to be the normal things I enjoyed as a part of my lifestyle, I needed to pay for all or some of it, or help him financially, later on, when he ran out of money, because he had offered to pay for me during that prior activity. There was no opportunity for him to get a better job, or for him to work harder, there was just a very severe limit on what he could earn, and what his actual mobility was. And, if I expected him to spend time with me, this would take away from work he could be doing to make money, and would cost him more money, and I would end up being the one to pay for this, as well.
Not to mention, each time he and I had a fight, which often centered around ways he felt unequal to me, and I felt he was not appreciating or honoring me, I received all sorts of feedback from friends and family that they were concerned I was being used as a “sugar momma”. This didn’t support me in addressing our inherent class differences, and how to be with someone who actually could not give more financially, had a very different lifestyle and lived in a very different reality than my own.
So, instead I needed to spend time with myself, addressing why this imbalance of resources and privilege, and the ways I would need to give more financially, upset me so much.
Was it because I am identified as female, and I have an acculturated expectation that if anything, a man should be taking care of me financially? Was it that I pride myself in being an empowered, capable, independent, autonomous person, and never allow myself to depend heavily on anyone else (e.g. not letting my self have needs in order to not be hurt), and therefor are disgusted and upset by a partner needing to be so heavily dependent upon me, in order to spend time with me? Was it because of my privilege (due to colonialism, my Whiteness, American identity, being middle class, capitalistic, able bodied, hetero-passing, etc…) I feel entitled to being able to be in a position of feeling powerful, and thus feeling entitled to taking more than I give? Was it because I came to expect that love and connection were actually based on shared mobility, and mutual experiences of reality and socio-economic status? Was it because I had trauma in my own life around feeling objectified, exploited and used by my childhood primary attachment figure?
I came to the conclusion that all of the scenarios in the questions above played at least a part in my experience with dating this Mexican man.
As I continued to sit with the discomfort, and he and I built greater love, authenticity, and connection, I began to feel grateful for how much we struggled together, because it allowed me to begin to address what the core components of love and connection are between two people who are so incredibly different.
My old scaffolding for relationship, that my socio-economic self and life had originally created, needed to fall away in order for me to relate authentically and openly with him. I needed to also address what in my life has me feel so concerned about being a victim of exploitation, that I seek to only give if the other can give equally, in the same way, now, or in the future. I needed to address the part of me that felt I could only give to the world if I could gaurantee it would not deplete me, and that there would be something in it for me of equal value. I had to address my desire to not ever have to feel powerless, and why I equated having to share and give more, with equaling powerlessness. I had to address privilege, and my phobia of losing the power I could take and use freely, and not acknowledge, by dating people in my similar socio-economic class.
In essence, I had to address what stops me from engaging in the discomfort that is true relationship and intimacy, with who and what is in front and around me, due to the expectations and rules my socio-economic class had created for me. I have had to face hard truths about my self, about my powerful and dominating position on this planet, and the ways my existence and the class, naturally oppress and harm others, others that I have never and will never meet. I have had to address the fact that on an interpersonal level, imbalances of power do exist, and cannot be overridden just by the fact we see them or want to do something to compensate for them. We have to live with these power imbalances in every moment as a part of existence. I had to learn that there is a way to find true love and intimacy even in the midst of these imbalances of power, but that it will ALWAYS be colored by the many lenses of privilege and oppression that historically, and currently exist. I am both a subject and and object, receiving projection, constantly, just as those I relate with, are both simultaneously, as well. This doesn’t take away from love, but instead if acknowledged and worked with wholeheartedly, actually improves and deepens love and connection.
These truths, and the ways in which we must hold the pardoxes within them, I believe are the way to begin to move forward together on a global scale, in engaging with the realities of interpersonal and systemic power imbalance, in a humanizing, empowering way.
So, yes, I do think it is possible to date someone from a much lower socioeconomic class.
So, I will end here with a warning, not to fetishize or seek out someone so different, as a means to experience growth, learning and deeper love. However, should you be lucky in any context of your life, to get a window or a door to see or step out of your own socio-economic class bubble, I would highly encourage you to see what is on the outside of this membrane, and even let this new perspective and experience, transform you.