Some might say Blixa Scott, an attorney, is a real loser in the game of love: her boyfriend of four years gets paid by the hour to do physically demanding work. But she wouldn’t have it any other way.
If I were inclined to listen to conventional wisdom, I would be forced to conclude that I’m doing terribly in the mating market. Apparently, women universally and immutably prefer to “marry up.” We want men who are more educated and earn more money, and this is the single most important trait we seek in a man.
Accordingly, I’m a real loser in the game of love. My boyfriend of four years—even though he is undeniably gorgeous, kind, and honest—falls much farther down the ladder of social prestige than me. I’m an attorney. I earned six figures my first year of practice and work in a firm whose letterhead is populated with Ivy League graduates. He gets paid by the hour to work a physically demanding job that doesn’t require a college degree. In other words, he’s working-class.
Which means, according to the evolutionary psychologists, that I should find him roughly as attractive as a serial killer. Either that or I must be so hopelessly undesirable myself that I’m forced to scrape the bottom of the relationship barrel.
The problem is, in my own immodest opinion, I’m a solid competitor in the mating game. I’ve always had an easy rapport with men and have never had any particular trouble attracting or holding their interest. And I’ve received plenty of offers for dates from eligible men with the educational pedigree and earning power I’m supposed to swoon over. But I’ve no interest in trading up.
This perplexes many people, including my own mother. I’ve been offered a variety of theories to explain my behavior. One is that I’m a contrarian who enjoys going against the grain for the immature thrill of being defiant. One is that I’m a sex fiend and my man is more boy-toy than boyfriend. Another is that deep down I have low self-esteem and don’t think I deserve better. And I was once quiet memorably informed by some colleagues that the explanation was that “you’re not really a woman, you’re a dude in a woman’s body.”
All of these people believe that my relationship is a passing fancy and that eventually, when I’m done playing games, I’ll take the mature route and settle down with a man deemed socioeconomically appropriate. What they can’t seem to wrap their heads around is the fact that my guy’s working-class job is not some detriment or novelty that I’m temporarily willing to indulge.
To the contrary, it’s a distinct benefit, and one of the key reasons our relationship works so well. There are enduring, rational reasons why my guy’s blue-collar job makes him desirable. Here are three of the big ones.
1. He’s fun.
The nature of my boyfriend’s work gives him the freedom to let loose and be himself in a way that that many professionals just can’t afford to do, and that makes him far better company.
Because success in a white-collar office is essentially a matter of public relations, professional life has an unfortunate tendency to whitewash one’s personality and homogenize one’s lifestyle. In my office, if an ambitious professional hopes to rise up the ranks, he must set about grooming his image to appeal to his superiors and clients. He must partake of appropriate hobbies, espouse acceptable political positions, and generally refrain from conduct that might mark him in any way as unconventional.
And this applies even outside the office. As associates, we are explicitly instructed to cultivate the “right” type of hobbies—those that will allow us to bump elbows with and impress rich potential clients. So bowling is out, and golf is almost a requisite. And it’s also expected that every time we’re in public, we’ll portray an image that’s flattering to the firm. So no running to the grocery store on the weekend in your sweats, since you never know who you’ll run into.
Thankfully, this reputational hyper-vigilance is not an issue for my boyfriend. As long as he treats his customers well and does his job competently, it doesn’t matter how he spends his time off the clock. And he doesn’t have to worry about losing favor with his boss merely because he doesn’t express the correct opinions or play the right sport. Because he doesn’t have to worry about constantly protecting his professional image, he’s free to have more fun.
Every so often, we’re required to attend a work-related charity auction or dinner party, and these affairs usually manage to be both dull and stressful. They’re always predictable: the guests will almost all be couples (single people are looked on with suspicion). Among those who drink, they will have a maximum of two glasses of wine or upscale beer (never hard liquor). The conversations will consist of the following topics: work, home-improvement projects, recent vacations, marathon or triathlon training, the newest technological gadgets, and recent news items that are acceptably non-controversial. By 11:00, everyone will agree that they’re exhausted and will retire home to watch TiVo and analyze the social dynamics of the evening.
In contrast, when I get together for dinner with my boyfriend’s working class crowd, it’s a party. There will be heated discussions of religion, politics, and sex. There will be story-telling that has everyone crying with laughter. Secrets will be spilled. Someone will declare that it’s time for a round of shots. Someone will embarrass themselves, which will provide a good story for the next time. Some people will bow out early, but others will keep going until two or three in the morning.
And if we wake up the following morning and don’t feel fantastic, we’ll consider it well worth the headache because we had a blast. If it weren’t for my boyfriend, I might be condemned to a social life characterized by polite chatter and “networking” events. Instead, I have access to a circle characterized by their love of having fun.
2. He’s happy.
My job is good for generating income, but it’s not particularly good at generating happiness. Lawyers are a notoriously miserable bunch. The long hours, solitary work, and necessity of tracking your time in six-minute increments produce enormous stress.
Accordingly, when I arrive home after a full day of work, I’m often so mentally taxed I can barely speak. My brain is capable of nothing more challenging than absorbing a few hours of trashy TV. And I’m short-tempered and sullen, thinking with dread about the all things I failed to cross off my to-do list that day.
Luckily, I don’t have to deal with another over-stressed professional when I come home. My boyfriend walks through the door with a smile most days. And there are several good reasons why his working-class lifestyle produces more happiness.
First, because he’s paid by the hour, there’s no taking work home. When he’s off the clock, he’s free. He isn’t expected to constantly check his email or field conference calls. He doesn’t have to go in on the weekend to impress his boss (and if he did, he would get overtime, not just brownie points). In general, he doesn’t worry about work unless he’s working. His time is his own.
Second, when he gets home from work, he may be physically tired, but he’s mentally charged. There’s a big difference between the kind of physical exhaustion he feels, which is often easily remedied by a big meal, and the more pernicious mental exhaustion I experience.
Rather than spending his evenings burning off stress on the treadmill or staring glassy-eyed at the television, he fosters his creative interests. He plays his guitar, writes songs, or draws. OK, sometimes he plays video games. But he’s always up for real conversation (until I have a drink, I am not), and he doesn’t need the anaesthetizing effects of reality TV or alcohol before he can unwind.
Third, he enjoys a deep sense of camaraderie with the men he works with, which is healthier than the competitive social environment of my office. The guys on his crew are some of his best friends, and their workday is filled with dirty jokes, prank playing, and commiseration. More importantly, they don’t directly compete with each other for bonuses or take part in the vicious petty gossip and self-promotion that characterizes my workplace. Nor do they retreat to closed-door offices or atomized cubicles after getting their 15-minute fix of socializing.
If there’s one thing the research on happiness consistently shows, it’s that our social ties matter most. And in addition to the pro-social environment fostered at my boyfriend’s job, he also enjoys long-term community ties that I do not. I’m fairly typical of the educated class: I live thousands of miles from my hometown, and my friends and family are spread far and wide. But like many working-class guys, my boyfriend stayed close to home.
This has allowed him to foster a rich sense of community that highly mobile workers simply can’t replicate with Facebook. He sees his closest friends and family virtually every week. I’m lucky if I see mine once a year.
I make do. But I have to question the prevailing view that I’m somehow in a better position than my by-the-hour boyfriend, simply because my job required more formal education. And I also sometimes marvel that he’s willing to put up with me, since I adhere to so many of the stereotypes of the overstressed urban professional.
Lucky for me, I have his sunny smile and sense of ease to come home to in the evenings. A happy man leads to a happy relationship. And his blue-collar job makes him happy.
3. He’s sexy.
This one is simple: a physical job leads to a great physique. I used to wonder how he could maintain such a great body without ever doing exercise, until he reminded me that he does slow but steady exercise all day long. He has no reason to go to the gym when he spends eight hours every day squatting, climbing, and lifting.
Of course, the very idea that one needs to carve out time specifically for “exercise”—physical exertion for its own sake—is a fairly recent development that can be directly tied to the proliferation of white-collar jobs. The human body was not designed to sit in front of a computer 10 hours a day, and those of us with office jobs suffer the consequences: atrophied muscles, degraded eyesight, and the steady creep of subcutaneous fat. Therefore, if we wish to counteract these effects, there’s no choice but to fill our leisure time with a punishing exercise regime.
If I want to stay fit, I either have to wake up at the crack of dawn to hit the gym, or I have to force myself to exercise after work, when I’m spent. Neither of these options is appealing.
My boyfriend doesn’t have to face the choice between hours of leisure time spent exercising or physical decline. His work naturally keeps him fit. And his particular brand of fitness seems functional and balanced in a way that’s both alluring and difficult to replicate by pumping iron or hitting the running track. For this, once again, I have his job to thank.
If one believes that an evolutionary imperative makes women value earning power above all else, then the traits of being fun, happy, and sexy might seem trivial, like mere luxuries a woman might seek after she’s done the more important job of finding a man with a healthy bank account.
But I contend that these traits—being fun, happy, and sexy—are crucial to a woman’s satisfaction with her mate, much more so than wealth or status. In fact, along with basic decency, trustworthiness, and shared interests, I would argue that these three characteristics are the most important ingredients for a happy relationship.
Instead, the characteristics I often hear rattled off on a woman’s wish list sound more like traits an employer would seek in an employee than those a woman would desire in a partner: ambition, earning capacity, assertiveness, conscientiousness. Those are good qualities for increasing the bottom line, but I’m not so sure they lend themselves to enjoyment and pleasure in a long-term romantic relationship. Your mate, after all, is someone you have sex with, not someone who files quarterly reports.
Of course, there are plenty of middle-class and rich men who are fun, happy, and sexy. I don’t deny that. But women are unnecessarily leaving out a huge swath of great guys if they refuse to date outside of their socioeconomic caste. We keep hearing breathless reports that women are earning more degrees than men, thus leaving them vulnerable to the terrible possibility of having to marry down. I say if this is so, women should embrace their new circumstances.
Men have always found it obvious that their ideal mate should be fun, happy, and sexy, and that these traits are much more important than social status. And leaving aside the questionable logic of a theory that says women evolved a preference for high-earning mates back in a time when there was no such thing as accumulated wealth, women seem to be coming around to the same conclusion. If women’s increasing economic power means that they’re free to start focusing on what makes them happy, rather than just what will keep a roof over their head, this should be cause for celebration. It opens up a whole new realm of possibilities for men and women when choosing a mate. And as more people choose to enter into “mixed-class” relationships, the stigma will die out.
Because social stigma is the only problem I have with my working-class man. In every other way, I love how his job complements mine. And his job is directly responsible for how fun, happy, and sexy he is. I wouldn’t change a thing.
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