Every date I went on during my year-long stint in Los Angeles reminded me of the economic nightmare we live in and how I’ve been conditioned me to assess potential partners. Nearly every face I swiped right on and had the fortune of meeting in person was job-hunting and/or living at home with their parents. I was working as a designer for a small startup at the time, which meant my entire livelihood depended on my company’s ability to convince capitalists to give us their money. The ridiculous size and nature of my income compelled me to pay for most dates, an act of camaraderie with whichever liberal arts graduate I happened to be seated across from. It didn’t make sense that my date should spend 10% of their monthly budget with some stranger when I was being paid more than most of my high school teachers (and some of my college professors) because I was fluent in keyboard shortcuts and knew how to move a few pixels around.
But now that I was a bonafide member of the professional class, the paranoid, survival-oriented parts of me would bite their metaphorical nails and say “I’m not trying to stick it out with someone else who hasn’t ALSO won the lottery!” Was I supposed to avoid dating down, financially speaking? I couldn’t pay for every date going forward, and few relationships last long with a financial power imbalance like that. I hated myself for wanting to go back to graduate school, thinking I was hungry for “people with ideas”, when I was actually thirsty for “hot people who could afford college”. I missed my last lover. She had so much given to her, like me. It made things simpler, except I was the one with less in that relationship and unable to afford the counseling that might have saved it. Could an economist have predicted our demise or was I just a shitty boyfriend?
Such is the plight of petty-bourgeois dating during late-capitalism; the frantic, pathetic, and virtually futile attempt at defending one’s social position and finding a compatible partner while simultaneously being pushed into poverty. Success in a sick economy shrinks your dating pool, pulling you further from your peers. If you have a college degree, how well do you relate to someone who doesn’t? What are the odds of a person being financially dependable in this economy without one? We naturally gravitate towards securing and maintaining the lives we’ve constructed for ourselves, even when it means perpetuating many of the same cycles we despise. We can wax poetic about equality, but we’re constantly selecting for someone that doesn’t interrupt our regularly scheduled program. This is the grand hypocrisy: our attempt to extend unconditional love to our partners so long as they meet several conditions.
I know it’s fucked up, but I’m not going to fall behind or settle with someone I can’t relate to because my economy demanded I ostracize myself by acquiring an expensive college degree from an elite academic institution filled with other neurotic intellectuals. What should I do? This is what my parents wanted for me, and I’ll most likely want for my children; to be “educated” and “successful” in a world that doesn’t have to be dog-eat-dog, but I know very much is. We all have to play the game to a certain degree as we attempt to change it, trapped in deeply entrenched bourgeois rituals, attempting to save our spot in the circles we’ve spent our entire lives fighting for a place in. But somewhere along the way we agreed not to talk about it. A person’s choice of partner is off limits! Love wins! But we never take our eye off the ball. It’s why movies about a burnout dating the suburban princess is a genre, why stories of a pauper marrying a princess exist. They’re entertaining anomalies, fun thought experiments that make for great fiction because they’re so far removed from the reality of dating in a classist society.
And when we do finally find someone that checks all our boxes, socio-economically speaking, the real work begins: getting two hyper-specialized individuals from isolated upbringings, educations, and professions to fall in love; two puzzle pieces desperately trying to smooth their edges just enough to fit together without falling apart. Maybe I’m falling victim, like the rest of the nation, to a nostalgia that suggests things were simpler in the past. But in a lot of ways they were. We weren’t as anxious and atomized and specialized, or forced to be at least. We weren’t constantly living in fear of going broke either.
On the bright side, we’re all going to end up impoverished at some point. Those of us in the professional class will have nothing left to cling to, no status left to protect. Our subtly smarmy lives will start to resemble everyone else’s who got the short end of the stick a little sooner. And if our heads are somehow spared the guillotine when the inevitable collapse comes, we can rejoice in the fact that we’ll finally be able to relate with our peers again.
And maybe date a few of them too.