We grew up watching classics like Cinderella, Coming to America, Pretty Woman, Nollywood’s Violated and a couple of other movies where love conquered the social class divide.
Fast forward to 2017, the Internet rules; anyone can meet anyone, and nobody kicks up a fuss about cross-class relationships or marriages anymore. It is not considered overtly scandalous. We no longer factor it in when considering the root of our relationship problems, and we look to psychology or gender norms instead when trying to figure out why our partner is being an ass. We pretend that we live in a classless society where background does not matter as much as present compatibility. Things are changing and people’s classes are no longer inscribed in stone.
Believe it or not though, social class or shall we say socio-economic differences, still pose a very difficult challenge in relationships today. Anyone who has dated someone outside their social class can affirm that there are strange tensions and inevitable speed bumps that come with these kinds of relationships. It can be fraught with complications.
For instance, your boyfriend could be from a high-class, wealthy family while you come from a working-class family with less money. He travels a lot and has been to all these places around the world just for fun, while you have never crossed the borders of Nigeria. You start to think you cannot keep up with him because you have to be extremely careful with money. Also, you know that the only way both of you could travel together on a regular basis is if he pays for you, and that just seems wrong.
Likewise, it could be the other way round and you are the girl from an upper-middle-class family, while your man has a working class background. Of course, financial equality does not mean cultural equality, so you wonder why he attaches too much importance to simple things like good food or designer labels. He, on the other hand, gets exasperated by your easy-come-easy-go spending attitude.
A couple of days ago, while having drinks with some friends at Intercontinental hotel (which turned out to be a horrible experience, as the place is nothing like a 5 star hotel…or even a 4 star -the food is substandard and the roof of the bar leaks), a friend mentioned her recent experience on a date. She had gone out with a guy who, although was wealthy, obviously had a working-class background. Being a girl brought up in an upper-middle-class home, the first thing she noticed was the huge gap in their personalities. According to her, his mentality was very different from hers. While he had asked her to pick any venue -a way to let her know he could afford her tastes, he had hinted on the food being overpriced (although, he could clearly afford it) and exhibited terrible table manners. Also, he had felt the need to talk about his achievements and how he had risen above all …as though she made him feel insecure, and he needed a form of validation from her. Again, there was the fact that his diction was flawed, and their experiences growing up were very different.
Of course, her intention was not to ridicule the guy. She had shared her experience to find out if her declining a second date with the guy and refusing to speak to him again afterward portrayed her as being a snob. Another friend who was out with us, *Bisi, jumped in and assured her that she made the right call nipping it all in the bud – she was better off with someone in her class.
Bisi spoke from experience, seeing as she had married into a super wealthy home despite being from a lower middle-class home. Prior to her marriage there had been endless disputes over her husband marrying down, and her family’s wealth being all too recently acquired. According to her, while cross-class pairings or relationships seemed egalitarian, it was complicated and required a lot of work. Bisi stated that stereotypical class prejudices are real – in any cross-social class relationship, both parties would have differing views, beliefs, attitudes, and practices on things such as child-rearing, money management, career advancement, how to spend leisure time e.t.c. This would go on to stir feelings of insecurity, resentment, usually in the partner on the “lower” side of this difference. And as a result, there will be a lot of negative pressure, tension, conflict as well as a sort of imbalance in the relationship, making it difficult for the couple to last long or even survive.
Bisi went on to share some of her experiences in marriage which all seemed a little incredible, and in between laughs, it dawned on me that I’d never dated anyone outside of my socioeconomic strata, which I’d describe as middle class. I have never been with any one of the glitterati nor have I been with a blue collar. Obviously, I have nothing against it, but it certainly would be quite a chore building a relationship with someone from a dramatically different social background, wouldn’t it? Sure, all relationships take work, but with a combination maturity and a willingness to healthily compromise, you can overcome any relationship problem. However, it is better to opt for one which isn’t already threatened by the boundaries of class at the initial point…don’t you think?
Have you ever dated someone with a richer or poorer background than yours? What were the issues? How did it work out?
By Nkem Ndem