Partners from different socio-economic backgrounds

My partner came from a very wealthy immigrant family, while my background is suburban Jewish middle-class. It hasn’t been an issue for us or our families, but I can see how it could.

How about you?

My brother’s wife, who was ultimately raised by her struggling-to-get-by mom after a divorce, is pretty much considered to have had an “upper class” upbringing. Her grandma is one of those suuuuper proper ladies who had the girls go to etiquette school and stuff. She’s a “Shaker girl” (raised in Shaker Heights - Clevelanders will know what mean). Her family is very Catholic.

My family is squarely middle class and whatever etiquette we know comes from basic Protestant good will.

She’s lovely and her mom and stepdad are lovely. We all get along famously. But for some reason my mom is a bit intimidated by my brother having “married into a wealthy family.”

I’ll admit I am somewhat perplexed and turned off by all of the family heirlooms, the family cottage and the need for more nice linens and fine china than anyone could practically need. Plus all of the hush-hush and “scandal” (my Slovak family just blurts everything out. No secrets, we speak too loudly) that seems to arrive every day. Plus it seems these rich people live for-fucking-ever. My parents’ families have mostly died in their 50s. It seems like in SIL’s family, someone turns 100 and/or dies every few months.

But all in all, we’re fine. Mom always seems to go too over the top when entertaining SIL’s mom and stepdad. But they think our family is awesome, and love hanging out with us. And no, not in a “bless their hearts” way - I think they’re drawn in by the warmth.

I’ve done it plenty. I think it is like any inter-cultural relationship. Sometimes things turn out to be an issue, and you do have to work to accept parts of the culture that you might not ever truly understand. But it can work.

My boyfriend and I come from fairly similar backgrounds - middle class Catholic families who are pretty closely knit - but I have had a somewhat more sheltered upbringing with a lot more emphasis on academics than he did. (He grew up in Belfast during the Troubles and his dad was a police officer.) This usually is not an issue unless we get into an argument and he ends up accusing me of ivory-tower-based, purely theoretical ideas that have no basis in reality. (A habit from the angels-on-a-head-of-a-pin discussions I had with my classmates back in grad school, I suppose.)

Also he had to support himself financially ever since college, which means he’s roughed it more than I have - my parents paid for my college and my grad school tuition and I lived with them until I went off to Chicago to do my MA, so I never had to really economize for the sake of groceries and bills until I was 25. The only jobs I’ve had have been tutoring, translating, article writing, teaching - mostly academic jobs, I suppose, while he’s done everything from picking corn to selling stuff door-to-door. This does end up with us having somewhat different spending habits, but it’s never been a problem - it’s not like he’s tight-fisted or I’m extravagent. We manage to meet in the middle for the most part.

My dad’s family was super dysfunctional - his mother was angry and bitter, and his father was an alcoholic. I don’t really know exactly what their socioeconomic status was, but I doubt it was very high. My dad grew up in East LA. He claims to have been the only Jewish kid in a high school that was ~90% Latino.

My mom grew up physically very nearby, in the Pasadena area. Her family was hard core Roman Catholic, very suburban. They have tons of family heirlooms and sentimental tchotchkes. I don’t think they were wealthy or upper class or anything (the impression I’ve gotten is that my grandparents worked hard for what they had) but they were definitely better-off than my dad’s family.

My parents have been married for a long time now, so any issues they had about this have probably long since been resolved, but I know my bubbe (my dad’s mom) seems to be resentful toward my mother, and has made unkind remarks about the difference in my parents’ upbringing, implying that my mom is a snob. I think a lot of this just comes from my bubbe’s overall lousy attitude toward life. Part of it also seems to come from the religious and cultural differences between them, although I don’t think that comes into play much anymore (my parents are both atheists), although I remember being fascinated by how different their stories of childhood were when I was a kid. Especially my mom’s anecdotes about being terrorized by nuns and such.

I come from a super dysfunctional, low-income family. My wife’s dad made roughly twice the money my parents did combined, and it shows in everything. Funny thing, I’m highly ‘academically inclined’ like my dirt-poor dad was, while my wife is a true blue-collar gal at heart, just like her parents. It is a distancing factor sometimes.

In terms of actual income levels, me and my boyfriend come from more or less the same background. Culturally, it’s quite different.

My family are all academics. Every single one on my mothers side are university educated, almost everyone on my fathers side either holds some degree, or trained to be a teacher before a degree was required (in my grandparents time, that was the highest level of education available, for a variety of reasons).

My boyfriend is an army brat. His mom has a teaching degree of some description, as she is a kindergarden teacher. His dad is a retired military man. I imagine his father is quite educated, just not in a way that ads up to any degree or academic merit. In some branches of the family, poverty is only a single generation away, and people who grew up and lived to mature years on farms struggling through icy winters with no shoes and alcoholic fathers are alive and kicking and can be met during holidays.

The difference is quite startling sometimes. Both families place great value on education, obviously, but on his side, it’s in a magical-thinking way that is quite foreign to me. They seem to believe that if every child gets a degree, they will be happy and healthy forever, and the parents will have fulfilled some duty or other. In my family, education is something you just do - you’re born, you grow up, you graduate from university - a simple life-cycle. We get educations because that’s what we know how to do. I adore his family, but they sometimes confuse me. They also have a very working-class, protestant morale when it comes to work and “duty”. I’ve been raised to find a job that makes me happy - he’s been raised to always work hard, because that’s an obligation. I don’t get it, never will. They all seem happy in their chosen profession, so whatever works, I guess.

Also, my moms family isn’t rich, but they used to be a few generations back. The practical upshot of this is that I have more valuable heirlooms kicking about than I know what to do with. Silverware for a feast, several sets of fine china, those little sets of silver needles who’s only purpose is to assist while eating corncobs, carved wooden chests filled with jewelry etc. Ad in my paternal grandmas collection of bohemian glass goblets, and I have the fixings for a mansion. My mom is, naturally, a minimalist, and detests the lot, but cant bring herself to get rid of it, so it sits in the attic mostly.

My boyfriends mom loves fine things, but has had to buy almost everything herself. The result is that their house is the most gorgeous kitchy country house filled with shepherdesses, lace decorations, and at most, two or three truly valuable objects. I love her house, but would never have the patience to keep it clean. She does, it’s always spotless.

Sometimes, I really feel like were from different cultures. We get along, though. No problems so far, for this reason anyway.

That’s my brother’s mother-in-law. We (including her daughter) found out exactly how poor they had been growing up one day that she got sentimental shortly after her husband’s death: a lot of things about her that had never quite made sense suddenly became perfectly logical.

From hourly-wage peasant and child-popping wife living in a one-room, one-bed house (with the daughters relegated to sleeping on the floor) to house cleaner with an average-sized home to doctor with a duplex. Wow. Small wonder she takes so much pride in her daughter’s house!

I grew up very poor and my ex grew up quite well-to-do.

I came from a single-parent family with four kids, unsupported by my father and my mother often had trouble finding work. We would get food dropped off by the Salvation Army, us kids would fight over the curvature of the cereal in our breakfast bowls, and my mother would grab the day-old bread out of the bakery dumpster and freeze it 10 to 20 loaves at a time. Stuff like that. At my last job my income was about eight times the income of our entire family when I was a kid.

My ex-girlfriend’s father was a very successful architect who had designed half the major buildings in our city of 80,000. Colleges, aquatic centers, medical buildings, office towers, etc. He was also a city councilmen. They lived in a custom-designed concept house with six-foot bubble windows, four bathrooms, seven bedrooms, a flying bridge over the dining room and so on. The master bedroom had more square footage than my entire childhood home.

One day my ex came home to her place and there was a giant box in the living room.

“What’s this?”, says my ex.

“Oh, I bought you a piano.” says her Mother.* A $5000 piano, just like that*.

My ex wasn’t completely oblivious to her privileged position and I remember she once said, “You know, sometimes I wish I had had more hardship in my life.” I remember thinking “Only someone who hadn’t had hardship would wish for that.”

So anyway, even though we genuinely loved each other, the disparity in our past experiences created such different world views that we were constantly working to bridge the gap. In the end we failed, after six years.

I grew up in a very poor household; single mom working multiple jobs to keep the electricity from being shut off again, mustard sandwiches, my clothing made from very carefully cutting apart mom’s old clothing and resewing, etc. I’ve been homeless, too, and it’s been a hard existence since. Only in the last 5 years or so have things aligned, where I’m making enough money to pay for school and living.

My most recent ex was the only child of millionaires, only grandchild of multi-millionaires. In line to inherit way more money than she cared to think about. She was also a politician’s daughter who, to get out from under the family microscope, became a civil engineer in an esoteric field that turned out to be in very high demand, so she was making a mid-six-figure income in her mid-20’s, and her Christmas bonus the last year we dated was more than my yearly income. We had some bumps-- she wanted me to quit my job, move in with her, and finish my bachelor’s degrees so we could move to North Carolina, and I was afraid to dump my job and self-sufficiency without some sort of guarantee that she planned on sticking with me. At the same time, I didn’t want to take her money or other largess… which never stopped her family from thinking I was a gold-digger, and urging her to dump me. Combined with disgust from her friends (you’re dating someone who lives on the southside?!/he works at Wal-Mart?!) and disapproval from her grandparents concerning our clashing religious backgrounds that culminated in threats to disinherit her, I ended up getting unceremoniously dumped.

Current girlfriend has a comfortable existence (though not as lavish as the ex) and has a large enough trust fund to support herself through school without working (house and car paid for in cash), though she’ll probably need to take a part-time job afterward to pay bills or to get a new car or something. Luckily, though she comes from a background that, to me, is fairly luxe, her family’s wealth was mostly created in the last few decades by hardworking grandparents and parents, who see my work ethic and academic drive and feel that I’m a good match for their daughter and a welcome addition to the family. The only problems thus far have been my refusals to accept monetary gifts; I think the time could come when it’d be acceptable to take them, but the important thing for me is to make it clear that I love her for her, not her money. Which, coming after the bank-draining debacle that was her last relationship, seems to be much appreciated.

Sr. Olives’ Dad comes from money – his grandparents are freakin’ royalty in their region of the state and own a very high-end real estate business and a collection of property known as ‘‘The Billion Dollar Mile.’’ So my husband literally grew up in a town where the streets and subdivisions carried his family name, where it’s perfectly normal to go over to grandpa and grandma’s mansion for a 100+ guest catered Christmas dinner and then blow off some steam in the downstairs arcade and home theater. He has memories of standing in a line with his 25 cousins on holidays while grandpa pulled $500 bills out of his wallet and distributed them to the grandkids as a bonus to whatever expensive presents they’d already received. (’‘It was degrading,’’ he said, ‘‘And I didn’t feel right doing that, it just seemed so greedy. But on the other hand, I kinda wanted $500.’’)

I grew up in a lower-middle class household, a tiny summer cottage for a home; my parents ran a small business and things were very feast or famine. I wasn’t sleeping-with-the-rats poor, but I have very strong working class roots and plenty of memories of financial struggle. I left home at 17 and became financially independent from a young age. I had no wealth. I was never more poor than I was that year between leaving home and starting college.

When I met my husband, he was receiving full funding for his expensive schooling, receiving a cash stipend from the family and driving the new car his grandparents had bought him for his 16th birthday. But the thing is, he wasn’t the spoiled rich kid archetype. He was raised in a middle-class home and perceived himself as very different from his wealthy relatives. He took pride in how little he valued extravagant displays of wealth. For all their money, his family was miserable and dysfunctional. He wasn’t impressed by or proud of the money in his family, really just disillusioned by it.

We didn’t have any real conflict since we both value materialism equally (read: not at all). In fact, he is far more averse to consumerism than I am. He’s a very modest guy, very frugal, whereas I’m kinda spendy but never really had a lot of money to spend.

We had one misunderstanding early in the relationship when discussing the kind of life we wanted to live. He said he wasn’t interested in making money at all, just living modestly. I said I was raised mostly poor and kind of wanted a higher standing of living if I could manage it. We went around in circles kind of arguing about what our future goals were in terms of finances, until we actually started talking numbers. Turns out his definition of ‘‘modest’’ was my definition of ‘‘upper middle class.’’ Once I finally met his family, I understood why.

So even though in some ways he came from a totally different culture, it works for us. Coming from wealth, he learned how to manage money extremely well, he got a jump-start on retirement funds and is extremely good at planning for the future. I’m a little haphazard, so he centers me. We both have the same standards and goals, I just don’t think I’d have the discipline to meet my goals if it weren’t for the financial wisdom he inherited. And neither of us really care that much. We’re just content with what we have. It’s so nice.

My experience has been exactly opposite. Neither girl I dated could budget at all-- there has never been a need in their families. They need no financial goals to achieve because, whatever they may be, they were met before they were born. No long-term planning for anything, no saving up for vacations or homes or cars or retirement.

(Luckily, while neither really got a sound financial education while growing up, they were instilled with a love of work and learning, so they’re productive members of society, not spoiled brats…)

I’ve mentioned it before, but I was raised in a cresting-but-not-quote wealthy family. Both of my parents are physicians, and specialists. Both were raised in well-off families (of physicians and small business owners), but both were refugees at a young age, living for a time in poverty. So while I never wanted for things, I also knew how to budget, and to cut myself off if I reached said budget.

That said, money was one of the main reasons my relationship of 3.5 years didn’t make it. We were the ideal couple - he the son of teachers, valedictorian, catholic, and I, the wealthy biracial daughter of physicians, also top of my class. Our tiny community adored us, rooted for us all the way.

But in the end, one of the larger factors that ended things was money. He wanted to go into academia (even though his phd program could have yielded him a comfortable 200k salary in research). He wanted a solidly middle cresting upper middle class life - only slightly better than what he’d grown up with. One house, used foreign cars, lots and lots of time off to pursue personal interests. He sought to simplify the life I had grown up with.

And, when we began dating, I was looking to escape my parents’ grasp. But as time progressed throughout undergrad, I realized that I wanted less than what I parents had, but still a good bit - a second home, newish luxury cars, to eat out at a nice restaurant once a week, to buy fresh fish multiple times a week and a weekly cleaning person. I still wanted to cut coupons - but I never wanted to feel the pinch like I sometimes did in undergrad.

My current SO grew up in more meager circumstances than the 3.5 year relationship - his mom was basically a single parent (although a tenured professor), with the state minimum child support from her ex. But a combination of his father’s family (military officers) and spending time with me has yielded his desire for more - like a second home, luxury cars, and salmon every day of the week (his words, not mine). Money is a goal, just like happiness and other desires to have in life. You have to make sure you’re both on the same page about what you want; if you grew up differently, it doesn’t matter, but you have to have the same goals.

I can honestly say that money matters SO much more than religion, age, and race. My parents are of different religions, 10 years apart, and are of different races. But their shared desire for the same lifestyle and how they wanted to raise children are two of their most unifying factors.