Working class   zero

How it feels to date outside your class

31st January 2018

The room is massive, absolutely massive. It’s the type you’ve read about, or seen in some Sunday night period drama that your parents love.

But this time, and maybe for this time only, you’re stood in it.

You’re stiff in the outfit you picked out, but it was the right thing to wear, you think. Maybe your hand is clasped in someone else’s, maybe they’re already mingling with people in the vibrant folds of the room — their art form.

You look down, you look up. The life you have read about is your own for just one minute. Loving someone may come naturally to you, but you never knew what you signed up for — neither of you did. It’s a strange life, being a working-class person dating an upper-class one.

Vulnerable

Of course, no-one knows what they’re signing up for when they fall in love. Dating is intimate. It’s a vulnerable state of being where people attempt to put their most beguiling selves out there to see if another person likes them. But what exactly happens when the person you like doesn’t understand where you come from?

Professor Green, who grew up on a council estate and recently split from Made In Chelsea star Millie Mackintosh, thought dating a person from a different class was like dating someone who speaks a different language.

But when it comes to something like love, something like lust, that operates in signals, gestures, and the codified expressions of another person’s face, it becomes a complicated effort to communicate with even a partner of decades.

How do you juggle the voracity of love with the inexplicability of privilege?

Identity

I’m proudly working class. But like a lot of working-class people, my identity now stretches beyond the bounds of me as a teenager struggling to give a toss in my slightly too-small-for-size hometown. I’m an adult in a world which I have not been equipped to understand. It’s a different world, it’s a different life, and so many of us have to fold our identities into it, in spite of ourselves.

Most jobs demand it. Big cities expect it. And now the last cornerstone of who you are is being taken to personal task, as the person you love is someone who will only ever half-understand you.

“It wasn’t until I began dating someone genuinely middle class that I became aware of quite how much of a division there is culturally in class and how difficult that is to bridge,” says George.

I found quite often that my being working class was something that was fetishised

“Little rituals or behaviours that were seen as the done thing to the person I was dating were things I’d never encountered in my day to day life and my lack of knowledge of such things was treated as a stick to beat me with instead of being understood.

“I found quite often that my being working class was something that was fetishised when it suited but something that wasn’t accepted as a mitigating circumstance when it led to an issue,” he adds.

Cultural difference

Of course, being upper class, or even middle class, isn’t just about money. It’s a mode of learning and culture that dominates how we operate as a society.

With that, the education of the upper classes is celebrated, honoured, and pushed to the forefront of the way we understand the world — what we deem the “correct” and “proper” way of doing things.

Light-hearted comments from partners translate into condescending remarks on your character. It might be the pronunciation of a word. It might be a clarification of the remark you made that wasn’t as polished as you intended it to be.

Don’t make me your project, you think. Don’t place another seed of self-doubt in my head, that there’s something about where I come from that needs to be changed. 

“Things gradually crept in,” says Sarah.

“He started correcting the way I spoke and dropped my t’s. My brother and Dad started to call it my ‘made in Chelsea’ voice.

When I met his friends, the first thing they asked me was where I went to school

“I came to realise that when I met his friends, the first thing they asked me was where I went to school. I quickly stopped mentioning the name of my town school as it was met with looks of confusion, and started referring to it vaguely as ‘oh I just went to my local school’.

“Once, when I met a particularly wealthy friend’s parents, he even suggested I didn’t mention I wasn’t privately educated. Heaven forbid they thought he associated himself with a lesser person,” she says.

Competition

professor green
Professor Green said he felt like a ‘novelty’ with his posh wife’s friends 📸 Eva Rinaldi

The spate of comments are sometimes benign, but sometimes they’re vicious. One boyfriend seemed surprised that I didn’t live in a “hovel”. Another used a picture of him mocking my hometown as his Tinder picture after we broke up.

When the resentment kicks in, when the reality of knowing your world will always be considered to be of less worth to theirs, a sense of defiant competition takes over.

The world tells you that a rich person’s life is better, it’s what everyone aspires to after all. But your life and experiences have as much value as theirs — where you came from is harder, stranger, wilder, warmer, shitter, funnier. This competition born out of feeling inferior, that they’re oblivious to, quickly consumes you.

You have spent your life parsing, articulating and acting in a way that other people, the visible people, understand, because that is meant to be what is good and what is right. But we all fuck the same.

Why am I always the one who is embarrassed about not knowing about this other world? Shouldn’t they be embarrassed that they don’t know anything about mine?

Like most things in life, that gap isn’t a neat correlation. Voyeurism of course, operates on both sides. Everyday activities fascinate you.

One time, it wasn’t the palatial size of the house of an ex’s parents that fascinated me, it was the way they shopped. I watched them, hawking as she swept items into their basket without looking at the price tag.

The mindlessness of it was fascinating. No scowling at price points, no rigorous listing. Just the whim of indulgence, safe in the knowledge that it would be accounted for in the next pay cheque.

Smile and nod

What are considered to be gaps in knowledge are simply differences — the only minor detail being that the worldview of someone from where I come from is less, transient, obfuscated. It can be easier to smile and nod than fight every battle.

A lot of smiling is done. It’s not just because you’re enjoying it, which of course, comes into play too. There’s simply a lot of strain in placating a person who means well but doesn’t quite get it.

“I’ve never actually dated someone who hasn’t been working class,” says Hugo, who is upper class.

“They’re just people I gravitate to because I don’t feel as though I have so much in common with people of my own class.

Class is both so charged and so hard to define

“It’s weird to even discuss because class is both so charged and so hard to define, but while through school and university I’ve got lots of posh friends, close ones, I’ve never felt my goals or romantic ambitions have ever been met by posh women,” he adds.

Even with good intentions, you get sick of being examined. You long for the time when the people you liked came from where you came from — the sameness you shared — before your plans intervened, and you chose not to stick around and make a go of things in the place you love, the place you know, the place you find yourself disavowing in order to fit in.

Are you cheating on where you come from, or do you carry it with you? You don’t feel like a victim, you feel duplicitous. My world is good enough, you remind yourself. I will find it inside myself when my environment doesn’t validate it.

Blame

Oxford University. National fencing champion. Family crest. Simply ridiculous, yet somehow infallible.

But you, you are interesting, you are firm. There’s a bit of heat on your face when they correct the way you hold your chopsticks. Your laugh is an octave too high when they botch the impression of your accent. Latin was and is as boring as it was for you when your snobby History teacher tried to cleave it into a class about your poor use of split infinitives at school.

Bad politics are pardoned. Upper-class leftists are all of a sudden a proud exception to the rule, tying a string to their bow because they have managed to “understand” the plight of the less fortunate.

This is you, feeling something that doesn’t really exist. This is you, thinking that they are somehow better. It’s easier to blame yourself if other people blame you — where you come from, how much money you have, how you speak, what you own, what you believe in — on having a deprived life.

champagne
Small cultural cues are a constant reminder that you grew up in different worlds

I’ve spent my adult life feeling insecure about where I come from.

Insecurity can be separated from pride. I appreciate my difference, my groundedness, the exhausting journey I have gone on to do the job I do and to take up the space I have worked hard for.

But in romantic relationships, that vulnerability is a noxious double bind.

Relationships between the classes demand that we bridge parallel lives, and it’s not easy — especially for working-class people. I tip my hat to anyone bridging the gap between the tracks with an offer of love, with one of you hoping you don’t derail it on the way.

31st January 2018