|Pretty Woman's Edward comes a-wooing|
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In "When Love Crosses Class Lines," Jessi Streib, a sociology professor at Duke University, writes about her research into the marriages of college-educated couples, in which one partner of the couple was raised in the middle class, the other raised in the working class. Though the 32 couples she interviewed rarely mentioned class as a cause of any of the challenges they had experienced in their relationships, Streib found evidence that the disagreements couples had could often be traced to class differences, rather than simply chalked up to individual partners' characters or personalties. "Partners from different class backgrounds typically had different ideas about how they wanted to go about their daily lives, and so marriages between people who grew up in different classes required navigating these differences," Streib argues. Partners raised in working-class families tended to take a more laissez-faire attitude toward life, wanting to live in the present, assuming the future would take care of itself. In contrast, those raised in middle-class families felt more comfortable planning for the future, and organizing the flow of daily life—what Streib terms the "managerial approach." Streib found these different attitudes affected seven separate aspects of married life: finances, paid work, leisure, housework, time, parenting, and emotions—all areas in which married couples must make decisions on a daily basis.
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As both Streib and Jensen point out, negotiating cultural differences stemming from class differences need not be an either/or. The couples with whom Streib spoke "usually reported being happy together. Class infused their marriages, but it did not extinguish them." Jensen notes that a class-conscious counselor will not simply urge Carla to adopt Steve's middle-class values, but to help both partners to understand that their differences stem not just from personal preference, but from the class-based assumptions each learned from their families of origin, and to "listen with compassion to each other's needs, dreams, and fears"—no matter whether said needs, dreams, or fears stemmed from middle-class, or working-class, values.
What romance novels can you think of that truly grapple with class difference? Do any of them feature couples, like Jensen's Carla and Steve, "learning roles and rules from both of their parents' families" and sharing "their favorite aspects of either culture" rather than one set of class assumptions ruling over the other?