The world of dating is tough. Navigating dating sites and Apps is tough. Going on dates is tough. Making first date conversation is tough. Meeting your dates friends and family is tough.
But when you’re from polar opposites of the social spectrum it can become a f&%king minefield. Trying to navigate the myriad of unwritten rules and nuances of social interactions that surround dating alone, combined with first date nerves can leave even the most eloquent of us looking like we are trying to imitate a de-bowled goldfish gasping for air when asked the simplest of questions. Add a couple of social classes and being hit by that bus which missed you earlier is actually, comparatively, looking like it could have been quite a good night.
Numerous factors are discussed, debated, and considered when it comes to dating, relationships, and marriage. Age gaps, race and ethnicity, political views, interests, height, body shape, taste in music, but social class is rarely mentioned, yet it is ever present in our decision making when it comes to dating, its almost subconscious, its one of those things we might not even understand why ‘that person’ is just not ‘your type’. It can be incredibly subtle, what someone orders at the bar, their shoes, whether they ‘cycle’ or ‘bike’ to work.
For a very long time the boundaries of social class were unofficial enforced through employment and geography, people from traditional working class, middle class and upper-class background tended to only to only meet and date those from a similar background. But the world of work and employment have changed drastically over the past few decades and relocating for work or university has resulted in far more mixing of people from very different backgrounds.
This has resulted in a rather new phenomenon, people finding themselves attracted to someone in their university lecture of London city office, engaging in conversation and, despite only living a hundred miles apart, they could easily be from different planets. Rather than big gestures, behaviours and vocabulary, the littles differences are probably the most pronounced. Do you use a napkin or serviette? Are you going to the toilet or popping to the lavatory or the loo?
While working class people will often claim, or even exclaim that they are working class, or from a working-class background, those who hail from the other classes rarely define themselves as belonging to a particular social class. You will often hear the term ‘proud working class’, but never ‘proud middle class’. No one ever describes themselves as ‘posh’, it is always used subjectively. It is one of those British idiosyncrasies where one group needs to announce their status, whereas the other is already acutely aware that it has been fully established and doesn’t require further discussion.
And herein lies the immediate power balance which exists in class difference relationships. Just as age gap relationships or relationships in places where men have far more rights than women, there is always an underlying unease in the partnership which may be felt by one party more than the other.
This was recently highlighted in a case a Durham University were a private group chat comprised of predominantly male students who have been described as ‘posh’ apparently discussed how they planned to hold an informal competition to see who could sleep with the ‘poorest girl’ on campus, referring to working class girls. This has been likened to the fetishization of working-class people, as objects to be used by one group for their enjoyment. Conversely the term ‘Posh totty’, while a stereotype, is generally considered a positive attribution, even inspiring clothing and jewellery designs.
Social class and economic status are frequently aligned, but not always. You can be posh and poor, but you can’t be poor and posh. Winning the lottery or making millions can buy you all the trappings of a higher class, but as the old adage goes, money can’t buy you (social) class. Hailing from a certain background means that financial troubles aren’t really troubles, there’re usually just a temporary bump in the road until a friend or relative can secure decent, affordable accommodation and slide you into a well renumerated position without too much quibbling over if you are actually really qualified for said position. If you’re working class such a bump in the road can quickly spiral into destitution. These very different life circumstances, although probably far from obvious if you were to observe such a couple sharing a drink at a bar, highlight some of the challenges of inter-class dating. Very similar life challenges are very much more challenging for one group than the other.
Television shows such as ‘Benefits Street’ and the now defunct ‘Jeremy Kyle Show’, while berated as ‘poverty porn’ are hugely popular and are an acceptable form of mainstream prejudice which would not be tolerated if such attitudes were directed towards other marginalised groups. While the participants of shows like ‘Made in Chelsea’, although often mocked for their outlandish lifestyles, are revered, often gaining lucrative contracts and increased social media followers after their appearances on the show. The downtrodden get stomped down further, the already advantaged climb even higher.
These ingrained social class norms and attitudes permeate every aspect of British life, and dating is no different. Phrases like ‘marrying up’ and ‘marrying down’ infers superiority or inferiority with regards to class when it comes to choosing a spouse. Where you’re from, your job, your accent, the university you went to (if you went to one at all), your clothes, your choice of holiday destination, the type of entertainment you consume all indicate your class and you are constantly being assessed by others, their friends and family. ‘Dating up’ can be commendable, ‘dating down’, just isn’t ‘done’.
Although not specifically for British people, the dating App Raya is an exclusive, invitation only dating App for the wealthy, famous and well connected (minium 5000 social media followers) and highlights not only exclusivity, but a desire to exclude a vast swath of the population from becoming potential partners.
As with many things in life, younger generations are usually more liberal and accepting, but older generations, especially parents, when it comes to their offspring and the decisions they make, like who to form friendships and relationships with can be far more judgemental. And sometimes dating someone from a different social class can just make this very difficult.
Gilly Fraser who wrote A Bit of Rough, a play about a cross-class relationship in the seventies says: "We delude ourselves if we pretend love conquers class. When the crunch comes, different classes can be like another species to each other and that hasn't changed."
Social class doesn’t just dictate how much you spend on a bottle of wine, or if you go sailing, or shooting, or if ‘slumming it’ is a choice. In the United Kingdom the socially more advantaged live, on average 7.5 years longer than their less advantaged counterparts (ONS). Making a social faux pas does not only indicate a less fortunate upbringing, it may also signal an earlier demise.
Inter-class dating, although rarely discussed, may be one of the last taboos and many people have probably either just consciously or subconsciously accepted that dating alone is exhausting enough without having to run the social gauntlet of dating outside of their class.