I’ve recently begun dating a WASP.
This new adventure has swept me into a world quite unlike the one I’ve known. Stranded in his finely decorated Marina-district apartment, I ventured out one afternoon for food. Nearly delirious with hunger already, it was a like a cruel version of “Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.” Passing chic cup-cakeries, high-end boutiques, and hip one-name eateries, I finally fell into a crepery for a very affordable lunch.
To be clear, I did not grow up financially deprived either. A product of a middle/upper-middle class environment, I enjoyed sleep-away camp, the mostly latest Barbies, and family vacations to Cape Cod. But, nonetheless, my recent exposure to opulence has me questioning what the ramifications and place of class are in a relationship.
The film “My Fair Lady” ends with the newly glitzified Eliza visiting her old, poverty line neighborhood. With her newly acquired fine linens and regal accent, she is treated as an ‘other’ by the same peers with whom she shared bawdy camaraderie and upward classism at the beginning of the story. And so, she returns to the upper-class community she now more closely resembles.
As my first date with Mr. Marina unfolds at a golf tournament dinner party, I am not of these people with their orange tans and glittering fingers. As I stand in my new $200 of-the-moment shoes, erect with posture (and posturing), I have an Eliza moment. I am not steeped in the heritage of yachts and hedge funds, but nor am I unaware or uninformed of their habits – I too can laugh demurely, smile pleasantly, and choose the shrimp fork.
The rub is, I really like this guy. He can laugh at his Polo-clad style, and I can rib him about how most of the world is unfamiliar with the halls of a private boarding school. By the same token, I can laugh at my “Tarot for Beginners” book, and he can rib me about my Jersey accent peeking through.
By all accounts (pun intended), we are not a match. So how does this work? And…can it? The very structure of our upbringing is starkly different. (I still pick up pennies, whether it’s the Jew or the human in me, I don’t know.) There is a sense of hesitancy as again we go out to eat at a place with cloth napkins and wine lists. An inbred fear of scarcity, my familiar internal voice that creens, “This is wrong! Don’t take too much! There’s not enough [xyz] in the world!” And, too, I find myself gently acknowledging a twinge of inadequacy.
I had a nightmare the other night about meeting his family – they were all laughing to a joke told in a language I couldn’t understand, a language he’d learned from the nanny who helped raise him. Sometimes my psyche is not very subtle.
And so, I ask again, Can you bridge the gap between people raised in starkly different classes, who have lived by different codes of money, responsibility, and normalcy? Can I be humble enough to believe in my value as a woman, no matter my tax bracket? Can our honesty about our fears and humor about our differences add color and dimension instead of shame and division?
So far, my answers are, “I am having fun” and “We shall see.” And to pair my $200 shoes with my $20 thrift-store dress.