As a single mother, dating is a nightmare. I have only tiptoed into the waters very recently. The last few years have been all about surviving; I haven’t had time to consider my own personal life. As I explore my options, I’ve noticed some undeniable classism on my part. Because of this, I find myself losing hope that the various socioeconomic classes will ever really know each other when it comes to romantic intimate relationships.
Dating — and online dating in particular — consists almost exclusively of what sociologists call “ assortative mating.” That is, we tend to seek mates who are familiar to us in background, appearance, and even in size. Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting a mate who shares common interests and backgrounds. I was hoping, however, that dating would give me an opportunity to expand my relatively limited world-view.
About 10 years ago, when I first began exploring issues related to socioeconomic status, a friend at the time recommended the book Limbo: Blue-Collar Roots, White-Collar Dreams, by Alfred Lubrano. The book was inspired by the author’s move from his blue-collar life into the white-collar professional world. He also married a woman from the white-collar world and described the challenges that created. The result for him was feeling out of place in both worlds. Dating across class lines is complicated.
When I scroll through dating profiles, I now see how my litmus tests are not benign. I prefer profiles where the man has taken care with his words; this implies formal education. I click “no” on profiles where the short list of interests include NASCAR or they explain that they are hard working/have a car/have a job. These qualities indicate a background so different than mine, I can’t imagine what we would talk about.
What do my snobby preferences tell me? It tells me that I’m likely to end up dating men who are like me. Despite my efforts to be open to differences, my short list of possible dates are all men who appear to be white-collar, white-skinned and well-educated. I come from privilege and I seem to seek out the same.
There will be exceptions, and perhaps something serious will happen with one of these exceptions. One of my best dating experiences so far was with a man who strongly identified as blue collar. He was from Flint, Michigan and very proud of his heritage. However, he also considered himself atypical for someone with his background. His background was blue collar, but his presentation was white-collar. His writing skills were excellent; he loves reading; loves big ideas; and exploring complicated social issues interested him. We connected intellectually and found our differences intriguing. (Our relationship didn’t work out for issues unrelated to socioeconomic class.)
So, I’ll consider a blue-collar man if he “passes” in some ways as a white-collar man. But, the fact is I don’t see myself ever “passing” as a blue-collar person and I have no interest in trying.
Does this mean that people will step outside of assortative mating only in one direction? Are we only interested in dating people like us, or people “above” us?
White-collar will consider blue-collar if they seem white-collar “enough?” It certainly seems blue-collar men are fine with the idea of dating a white-collar woman, if the responses to my online dating profile are any indication. They put aside class differences, and message me enthusiastically. It doesn’t matter though, because, for me those differences hold quite a bit of weight.
I have seen many personal essays written by people — of all socioeconomic backgrounds — explaining how their dating choices aren’t related to socioeconomic class. In the case of Amy Hansen, she notes her parents don’t have college degrees. She also claims her lack of interest in a man with a blue-collar background wasn’t because of he was blue-collar, it was because of his priorities in life. That’s what we do. We find ways to explain away our social class prejudices.
Honestly recognizing our uglier tendencies leaves us with only three choices: we can deny reality; accept that we are closed-minded and continue adding to the segregation of socioeconomic classes; or, find ways to change. I’m somewhere between the second and third options — I just clicked the “x” on a profile of a man who couldn’t be bothered to put a space after any of his commas, and I also messaged a man with “only” a two-year college degree.
Heather Denkmire is a writer and artist who lives in Portland with her two young daughters. After a few challenging years, she is growing her small business, where her team helps nonprofit organizations win grants. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her columns appear monthly.