In fiction, cross-class relationships either end in marriage and happily-ever-after, or else in dissolution and even death. Last year, I set out to answer this question by interviewing college-educated men and women who had married partners from different class backgrounds, for my book Most of the time, couples’ recognition of their different pasts was acknowledged in little more than a comment about their father’s job or a lavish family vacation.
Few people I spoke to reported having parents who plotted against their children’s relationships, or felt they were subject to social stigma for their cross-class relationship.
I recently spent a Saturday morning strolling around a downtown market with an old friend. We walked along the stalls, taking in the eccentric atmosphere, chatting about life.
The sun was shining, familiar jokes had left a smile etched on my face and I just couldn't get over the deals I was seeing (three green peppers for a dollar?! As conversations held by females in their mid-twenties sometimes do, our chat turned to dating.
They wanted to see how attitudes about education, work, money, and social capital affected how couples fought.
The couples were predominantly white—one person self-identified as Iranian-American, two as Bosnian—and heterosexual, with one gay male couple and one lesbian couple.
While cross-class marriages like the one between Downtown Abbey’s Lady Sybil and the estate’s chauffeur, Tom Branson, might not be overtly scandalous anymore, the renegotiation of values they entail isn’t confined to the fictionalized 1920s.