Help me/us get more comfortable with discrepancies in backgrounds?
January 12, 2017 6:17 AM   Subscribe

Please help a political artsy girl and a guy from a rich background come to terms with each other's differences?

On my first date with my boyfriend 4 months ago I thought he was a ‘posh boy’ – and saw us having a fun date but that’s about it. Obviously, things have went the other way! When we first met we bonded over our mutual love of good food and wine, literature, family stories and travelling around our beautiful country. We attended the same university. We joke that we are not each other’s general type, but maybe it’s better that way. We have fun together and looked after each other when we recently had to hole up for several days when we got sick. But then...

His parents are doctors and own a lot of land. He has a polished accent and hobbies that mainly the very middle class to upper classes take part in because of the cost. When he got off the phone to his friend who sounded more posh than he did, I asked about him and he said the friend had been privately educated. At this I had to try really hard not to roll my eyes or something because coming from my background I don’t believe in private education as a rule (bf knows this). But I know how disrespectful this would have looked.

My divorced parents, on the other hand, met in a left-wing political party during their time at university. While my mum has upheld those values but is no longer politically active, my dad is still very active. Growing up I often resented that dinner table discussions were always so heated and political, compared to the conversations my friends families would have about ‘normal’ things…although I’m often quite grateful for it these days. My boyfriend is in the same political party as my parents, which surprised me.

While my boyfriend is from quite a large house, I come from a bought house that was owned by the council before we moved in. It is quite small and my mother complains about wanting to move to a bigger place, although she doesn’t actually make plans to move. I doubt my boyfriend is used to spending time in smaller homes/it will be outside his comfort zone so I do worry about his reaction. He has already said he wants to take me home to meet his parents (who live quite far away).

Lately, I feel the discrepancy between our up-bringings is coming up more. It sounds like his family are as rich as one side of my family (who are rich because they are self-made) – he tries to play it down but I’ve recently seen photos to the contrary.

I dread the day when I have to introduce my boyfriend to my dad (I worry my dad will inwardly disparage my bf because of his comfy upbringing, my mum will be ok I think), who can sometimes be a bit rough around the edges. Most of the time I’m quite happy to spend time together, but honestly there are points where I think…’what am I doing?! We are so different…’.

I should be confident – I own my own business and I am quite successful, have lots going for me. My boyfriend tells me I am wonderful, intelligent, gorgeous, etc - he even joked 'are you sure you don't want to date someone more high flying?'. But now I feel like I am second guessing myself/developing a ‘not-good-enough’ complex and need to find a way to assuage this. I also worry about not fully respecting him because he has led such a comfortable life – while I have never been poor, I have always been exposed to and encouraged to help those who don’t have as much as I do.

In terms of the future, he brought up wanting to live in the city that I want to study in in the near future. Despite having some differences, we do share hobbies and deeply respect the other's talents and profession.
posted by Kat_Dubs to Human Relations (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You've listed some differences in your backgrounds. But why do those differences matter to the future of your relationship? This isn't a rhetorical question — try to answer that. Can you say anything specific about why it matters? Just pointing out differences doesn't make them significant to your relationship.

For instance, your boyfriend grew up in a larger house than you did. OK. How does the building he lived in as a child affect your current relationship?

You mention your attitude toward private schools. I'm not even sure it would be a problem if he had gone to a private school — but you're just saying his friend went to one. Is it really worth worrying about whether you approve of the educational background of each of his friends? What does that have to do with your relationship with him?

Almost everything you say about your actual relationship is positive. The negative or ambiguous statements are overwhelmingly not about the reality of your relationship, but anxiety about vague things that might go wrong. What does that tell you?
posted by John Cohen at 6:43 AM on January 12, 2017 [6 favorites]

It sounds like you are from different cultural backgrounds and will need to bear that in mind when navigating each other's families. Other than that, I don't see that there is any reason to be wary here? It sounds like a lovely relationship, at this early stage, and as though you have a lot to share with each other about your differences. In my experience, with cross-cultural relationships, some things are funny and some things are just odd and some are really frustrating but as long as you address them in a spirit of mutual respect and affection - as it seems you are - it should be fine. If you had very different values or goals, that would be different and more complicated, but it sound like you share those.

In general, I do think it's important to make sure you don't treat things that you and the other person haven't chosen - like education, accent, parents' wealth, dad's tone of voice - as moral failings or as reasons for contempt or insecurity. They can be important, and a bit fraught to deal with, but they don't have anything to do with your or his worth or value.
posted by Aravis76 at 6:45 AM on January 12, 2017 [8 favorites]

Nobody, and I mean nobody, would have ever put my wife and I together long term when we met in college. I was a lower middle class enlisted military brat in college on govt. loans, she was an upper middle class daughter of a type A overachieving corporate executive. She had a convertible in college, I had my two feet. She was an accomplished national level competitor in baton twirling, I liked to drink a lot. She studied and worked hard in college, I once forgot to go to a final exam. Seriously, we had zero in common beyond attending the same college.

We'll be married 26 years later this year.

If you like and respect each other stop overthinking it and go with the flow. It will either develop into something very long term or it won't, but nothing good comes from you talking yourself out of it before you even know what it is.
posted by COD at 6:45 AM on January 12, 2017 [20 favorites]

I'm not sure what you're asking for, TBH. You want tips for a general opposites attract situation, but

a) it doesn't sound like you're all that opposite? Class distinctions, yes, but it's not as though you're Eliza Doolittle

b ) the problems you've actually described seem mostly to do with you.

You're the one who has to keep from rolling your eyes (at the answer to a personal question about someone else that you asked!), you sense that he's already trying to downplay his background because he's afraid of your response, you're worried about your father's reaction, but you're the one wondering if you'll be able to respect your SO (even though you yourself have never been poor).

It sounds like you're the one having the problem, and right now it's coming out in the various ways you can be contemptuous of your SO's background. Which is kind of funny, because the usual fear is that it will go the other direction, right? That the upper classes will disdain you, or tolerate you but never quite accept you, and will make it clear (but not explicit) that they're judging you and everything about you all the time?

I mean, maybe his family and friends will do that, I have no idea. But right now the only person guilty of that sort of behavior seems to be you. Whether this is genuine prejudice or you're projecting your insecurity, I have no idea, but what you've described seems to be coming from you.

Look, no one chooses their family, and no one chooses how they were brought up. You choose who to be after that, sometimes in reaction to that. If your SO is trying to show you who he really is (but already feels like he needs to hide?), take that for the gift it is, even if he ends up being someone who isn't right for you (for any of the myriad reasons this can happen).

And I would suggest working through your own feelings about class before you dump them on him, because again, from what you've described, he's done nothing besides be himself (until he starts to hide parts of himself from you because of your reaction). He doesn't appear to have judged you, or belittled you, or given you any reason to think this is a problem, except that it's obviously a problem for you.

Deal with your own shit. No one can do that but you. I suggest writing it down, because while journals are indeed complete shit, they do help you figure out what's going on in your own head.
posted by schadenfrau at 6:54 AM on January 12, 2017 [32 favorites]

Other than the fact we are both white and grew up in the same general region, my wife and I have nothing in common in terms of family backgrounds.

We dated for a few months and I broke up with her partially because I felt the weight of her background/my familial expectations. I was supposed to be partnered to the liberal girl who worked in publishing and went to smith. Not married in a full mass to the the observant catholic who worked in PR. Turns out I was wrong. My family loves her, and even if they didn't - then they would be wrong. Don't over think this

Tho my mom still thinks the religious stuff is crazy.
posted by JPD at 7:03 AM on January 12, 2017

(It sounds like you're from the UK, and from what I understand, this stuff is a much bigger deal there than in America.)

All of your examples seem to center around dreading introducing each other to your families. So my advice would be to just go ahead and do it! Then it's out of the way, and if any major issues rear their heads, you can deal with them then - and if they don't, then you won't need to worry anymore!
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:13 AM on January 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

One small practical point about meeting parents (and I think I understand exactly where you're coming from with this, having been in your situation myself with boyfriends from much better off backgrounds) is to meet somewhere other than home on all parent-introducing occasions. So, a favourite cafe or pub - nowhere too white table-linenish for the sake of relaxation - on a quiet weekend for a hot beverage and a butty. That way there will be things going on around you, it's neutral ground and you don't have to manage any expectations. If he's a decent sort, it really won't bother him what sort of living accommodation you come from but if it makes you anxious / stressed, then just decamp to somewhere less fraught until you're more comfortable.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 7:30 AM on January 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

Your questions reminded me of this post on A Practical Wedding. It's from an American perspective, and from much later in the relationship, but she talks about how class differences are like cultural differences, and it may help you to examine some of the psychological stuff around that.

Also, I agree with the folks above - you guys sound like you share values and have a happy relationship. That's great!
posted by ldthomps at 7:37 AM on January 12, 2017

A piece of advice I got a lot from my mother seems applicable here. Don't borrow trouble. You're so worried about what might happen in the future you're in danger of not being able to enjoy what's happening in the present.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:00 AM on January 12, 2017 [4 favorites]

Actual practical things that I've seen been an unexpected issue in cross-class relationships:
When you would choose to eat in a pub v a restaurant
What is communicated by the clothes you choose to wear when hanging out with the other person's friends/family
Complicity with tax evasion by tradespeople you hire. Acceptable or not?
Debt, when it's acceptable to get into it and what for.
What part of town / what kind of house you should live in
Who should pay if the less monied set of in-laws come to visit and you go out for a meal
How much to spend on your kids / how much to spoil them.
What kind of activities are acceptable to outsource to hired help (cleaning? decorating? minor DIY? etc)
posted by emilyw at 8:28 AM on January 12, 2017 [4 favorites]

I kind of don't see the problem here. Yes, different upbringings can cause irreparable tensions in relationships, but it's not what happened in the past that's the problem, it's how the parties act in the present, and what their hopes/dreams/goals look like for the future that wrecks things.

The first most important thing is that you both respect each other, and acknowledge that your respective families' lifestyles were "valid" ways to live. To be honest, I think that maybe you might need to do a tiny bit of work on this (yes, he had a comfortable life... why would that make him a "lesser" person in any way?). But your situation is unlike that of the asker of this very similar question in that it doesn't sound like your BF has ever said/done anything that could make you believe that he disrespects you, your upbringing, or your "people."

The second thing is that you can be aligned about what the future will bring. This can be a little tricky in small ways: he loves expensive meals, paying for them is easy for him, you feel bad because you can't pay your share, he doesn't understand why you won't let him do nice things for you. Medium ways: same example, but lavish vacations/flashy cars. And large ways: fancy/modest home? private education for the kiddos? etc.

But the great thing about this second thing is that if you guys are compatible, you will be able to talk through stuff like that when it comes up. Because those sorts of questions come up between healthy couples all the time, where the differences aren't class based, maybe it's religious background, or parenting styles, or political parties. And as long as you keep away from toxic stuff like dismissing a point of view because of some facet of the underlying difference ("Of course you'd suggest we get a nanny, it must have been nice not being raised by your actual parents" "Why do you always want me to dress like a chav?") it can be worked through.

Regarding the meeting the parents thing: the most important factor there is that you are each on each other's side when it comes to parental approval/disapproval. Your dad disapproves of him? Oh well, it's too bad your dad can't tell you who to love! His mom disapproved of you? Meh...he doesn't live off of her anymore. Hopefully it will never come to family vs. relationship, but part of being an adult is being able to put that relationship first.

Finally, full disclosure: I am the *ahem*privately-educated*ahem* one in my relationship with Mr. Motion, and I couldn't imagine living the rest of my life with anyone else. Your BF thinks you're a catch. I think you should believe him.
posted by sparklemotion at 9:48 AM on January 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

while I have never been poor, I have always been exposed to and encouraged to help those who don’t have as much as I do.

both parts of this are privileges and neither part is a virtue. Anything you've done as an adult is to your credit, but the way your parents raised you is strictly their own accomplishment. as is the wealth of the "self-made" rich side of your family; if it's genuinely self-made, that quality ends with the generation that made it. if it passes on to you someday, or if the security of knowing it's there shelters you from fear of absolute financial failure, that's as unearned as his family money is.

If you were or had been poor yourself, it might be different, but using your exposure to (not even friendship with?) poor people as some kind of street cred to establish superiority over him is distasteful -- as disrespectful to them as to your boyfriend. Worrying about the class differences between the recently somewhat rich and the always extremely rich is a pastime and diversion for... the rich. I understand that the minutiae of class subdivisions among the very comfortable people of the world is a real preoccupation and has various real social consequences and difficulties, is not something you made up yourself. but it is a world away from the problems of the poor. The divide between you is just not that immense and maybe that is the problem -- that being with him makes you feel inferior not to him, but to people with less than both of you. But you're not.

plus, if his parents are both doctors, they aren't even the worst kind of rich people - they have jobs, and useful jobs at that.
posted by queenofbithynia at 5:57 PM on January 12, 2017 [9 favorites]

This reminds me of an ex-girlfriend. We were at somewhat opposites, but only within middle-class. She was lower-middle, me nearer upper-middle growing up. I heard from mutual friends that she was often stressed that she was "not good enough", and she did try very hard to appear further up the scale than she thought she was. She would, for example, "turn her nose up" at private education. Although I have not the slightest doubt that she would still privately educate her kids if somehow the money arrived :-)

Needless to say, I was completely oblivious to all of this. She was never "not good enough" in any way at all. The roughness or otherwise of her parents was nothing to do with our relationship and never any issue to me. I would probably have tried a lot harder to make her feel better had I known at the time that she felt this way.

I'm referring to UK-based class (i.e. nothing to do with money), rather than US-based, but I'd suspect the same might easily apply.

So if I were you, I'd be telling him your worries. You might find that they evaporate...
posted by tillsbury at 6:19 PM on January 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

You sound rather young and rather judgy about your boyfriend's class background. Your question also suggests that you feel a lack of confidence because of his relative wealth. I think these are issues you should explore on your own and through conversation with him. Have you tried being vulnerable and admitting that you feel intimidated by his wealth and privilege? Have you told hm that you feel a little awkward inviting him to your small family home? If being in a small house is so outside of his comfort zone that you think he'll turn up his nose and act like a snob, that's a big problem -- but it may be that he's totally fine with it.

The main issue seems to be that you're judgmental about his class situation -- not the other way around. Do you think you can admit that to yourself and maybe also admit it to him?
posted by Gray Skies at 10:55 AM on January 14, 2017

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. No, I haven't mentioned I feel intimidated although I doubt I have to - I think he knows from my stunned reaction to some of the things he has told me about his family's wealth! I do think the smaller house will be outside of his comfort zone - but I don't think he would act like a snob, even if it's not what he would be used to. It doesn't help that he has now also told me his sister's boyfriend comes from a monied family (although they are not a very nice family, at least I have that going for me!) - it does make me feel a bit left out.

But we are so happy. I am so content in this relationship so far and he is really down to earth. He tells me how lucky he is to have found me and I feel the same. So we will see how it goes.
posted by Kat_Dubs at 2:22 PM on January 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

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