The Blue-Collar Husband

Grease monkey, originally uploaded to Flickr by Rowan Peter.Do people look down on professional women whose husbands have “blue collar” jobs? Reader C worries about her fiance, a mechanic…

My question is this: I am an aspiring law student who comes from a poor background. I really have no idea how educated people *truly* look at those who have less of an education than them. I am looking at T14 law schools and am very excited, with hopes for southern Biglaw (Richmond, VA). My fiance is a mechanic – he loves his career and would not change it for the world, however, I am worried – will my colleagues judge me because of this? Have you ever seen it be a problem? I hope I don’t sound shallow but I feel like it’s a legitimate concern. I want to know if I should expect anything out of the ordinary, or if the occupation of spouses is nil when it comes to things like raises, promotions, assignments, etc.

First, congratulations to you and your fiance! Whatever I or anyone else may say about this topic, the bottom line here is that as long as you love each other, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. If, when you start work, you find it’s a problem, chances are you’re not with the right employer for you anyway. (Pictured: Grease monkey, originally uploaded to Flickr by Rowan Peter.)

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That said, you are likely to encounter some differing views on your husband’s profession. Readers have joked a lot that they would love to be electricians (set your own hours and prices, always in demand, etc.), and my own first thought was, “that’ll be great, because when you start to make real money you and he can buy a franchise or set up his own shop and really start to pave your own way.” But that may assume an ambition that isn’t there on the part of your fiance — maybe he has no desire to ever run his own shop or be a boss/manager. So let’s say he is just a mechanic — does it matter?

I say no, his profession does not matter: a happy spouse is a good thing. (Some bosses may even be more open to hiring a woman who definitely makes more money than her husband because they may see “stay at home dad” written all over him, whether or not that’s true.)

However, other things may have an impact on your career — for example, can you picture him in a tuxedo at a gala dinner? Will he refuse to wear a suit or more business-type clothes when you go to “bring-a-date” firm events? Can he make dinner conversation with people on “educated” topics? On a more basic level, are his table manners and his grammar good (or is he open to improving them)? Will he be understanding of the social games you may have to play, and be willing to support your social requirements at these events? These are the kinds of things that will alienate him (and you) at firm events, and they really come down to one of the main questions (IMHO) of marriage: are you both team players?  Is he a true partner?  If he is, then there should be no problem.  If he isn’t — well, you have bigger problems than what people think of his profession.

Readers, what do you think?  How do people view women with husbands in “blue collar” professions?

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  1. “However, other things may have an impact on your career — for example, can you picture him in a tuxedo at a gala dinner? Will he refuse to wear a suit or more business-type clothes when you go to “bring-a-date” firm events? Can he make dinner conversation with people on “educated” topics? On a more basic level, are his table manners and his grammar good (or is he open to improving them)? Will he be understanding of the social games you may have to play, and be willing to support your social requirements at these events?”

    Frankly, I know more PhD scientists and engineers than blue collar workers for whom the answer to all these questions would be “no.” This is pretty offensive, Kat.

    • I don’t think Kat meant to offend. I think that she was just saying that in many careers it is important to attend social events and make a good impression, and that one has to consider one’s SO in that context (which is relevant to Reader C’s question). Maybe its unfair, but an auto mechanic (and a scientist and an engineer) would be less likely to be comfortable in a suit and mingling at lawyer social events than a banker probably would be.

      I cringe to admit this, but I really did a double-take when meeting the spouse of one of my super-smart, high-achieving (and very good looking) colleague. She showed up to our holiday party with her husband, who was wearing an ill-fitting wrinkled suit, a gross toupee, terrible posture, and could not hold a conversation due to his mumbling. After my double-take, I shrugged it off and figured it was none of my business who she married (although he was definitely not the type of guy I would have guessed). I am sure that there are others in our organization who viewed her in a different light (and not a flattering one) after meeting him. For all I know he was a well-educated individual but he made a terrible impression at that party, and I am sure my colleague has suffered for it. That said, I think if he had been a confident auto mechanic who wore a better suit and could competently mingle, he would have done fine.

      • Similar story about coworker’s spouses — a coworker of mine brought her husband (college educated, blue collar job) to a not-quite-formal but not relaxed sit-down dinner at a partner’s house. Her husband got up mid-meal and disappeared for about 20 minutes.

        As it turned out, the husband did not drink wine. He had gone out to the store to buy a six pack of beer, and brought it to the table.

        Eyebrows raised all across the room.

        I think the takeaway here is that your spouse’s behavior DOES reflect upon you, whether that is fair, proper, PC, whatever, or not. The job/career may not matter, its how someone acts and how potentially awkward issues are handled.

    • also found it offensive – the educated part.

    • karenpadi :

      It’s a valid concern and I’m going through the comments just to second that concern. My last long term boyfriend was a Silicon Valley nerd/scientist. He was never comfortable in a suit or at firm events. So it’s not limited to blue-collar workers (heck, we even have lawyers who can’t meet these standards in my office).

      If a SO can’t do these things (mine couldn’t eat with a napkin on his lap), it’s perfectly OK to not bring the SO to work events. Just say “he has a conflicting event” or be honest and say “these types of events really aren’t his thing”.

      • I think it’s perfectly valid to be concerned if your SO would answer no to any of the questions that Kat posed. I think it’s offensive, however, that her post implies these are issues specifically for blue-collar workers. And the “educated” part was especially insensitive.

  2. I honestly, honestly have no clue what most of my coworkers spouses do for a living.

  3. It’s worked for men for years–plenty of bigwig guys have wives who are secretaries or LPNs or whatever. That probably doesn’t help in terms of the prestige question–people will be judgmental no matter what you do–but you might like to talk to some men in these kind of asymmetrical (as seen from today) relationships about how they dealt with their differences in approaches to careers, if you have any.

    I’m a bit jaded, because I (a prof) dated a guy for a while who didn’t finish college, works selling airplane parts over the phone. He knows lots of nuts & bolts stuff, but what really got me is that with years of experience managing restaurants and plenty of complaints about a co-worker, he didn’t apply when mgt position in his dept came open, and whined endlessly when hated co-worker got the spot. There were other things too–attitude when he was asked (or given the opportunity, depending on which of us you ask) to make a presentation at a company-wide meeting, unwillingness to do a n y thing after hours, etc. He really couldn’t get his head around professional activities that are not specified in a job description. You might want to try to project down the road a bit and think through where you both will be thinkingwise a decade or more into your career.

  4. Anonymous :

    Oh geesh, my husband won’t do any of the stuff Kat mentions at the end of the post: wear a suit or tux to (or even in most cases attend) my work events, have patience with the social niceties/ games of the legal profession, etc. And he’s in a “white collar” profession!

    Good thing I didn’t read this before saying “I do.”

  5. backtowork :

    I think telling people that your spouse has a blue-collar job is surely easier than telling people that your spouse is unemployed. But what we discovered, during that unemployment period when we dreaded social events, is that most people really only want to talk about themselves and what they’re interested in. If you steer the conversation away from yourself, then the question of what your husband does (or doesn’t do!) may never come up.

  6. My thoughts are as follows:

    1. Congratulations on finding someone you love and who loves you back, and on being in a position to attend a T-14 school and have the big law option ahead. Not easy feats nowadays, and good luck with both ventures :)

    2. I agree with others above who said that you should be proud of where you came from and of your fiance and not try to be something you’re not for the sake of other people. How we’re perceived is often based on how we present ourselves, if you act like you’re embarassed of your fiance, people will think he’s embarassing. If you act like he’s the bee’s knees, people will assume the same.

    3. Like Kat said, I think the one issue where this can come up is at firm functions/bring-a-date events — IF he is uncomfortable in those situations. I have one friend from law school who has a “blue collar” SO and, frankly, he is not someone she can bring with her to many functions. He is perfectly lovely one on one, but he feels like he is being judged when he hangs out with too many lawyers or clients (regardless of how nice people are to him) and he starts to drink a lot, and gets withdrawn and resentful. I’m not suggesting that would happen to you, or that this is an issue for anyone else in a similar situation, just something my friend deals with. As a solution, she just doesn’t bring him places, inc. colleagues’ weddings, the company holiday party, etc. She has made her peace with this arrangement and it works for them, but it does lead to occasional strife and the random comment about how she’s hiding her man from her coworkers.

    Frankly though my SO – a lawyer with a rather sought after job who should be great these things – is also sometimes a terrible date when it comes to events he could give a sh*t about. Just taciturn and really awkward half the time (he thinks nothing of playing with his blackberry, letting long silences drag on, etc.). So it’s really more of a ‘know your partner’ kind of deal, not a ‘who your partner is,’ necessarily. For me, personally, the important thing is that he can be “on” when I need him to, doesn’t take offense when I tell him that now is the time to act like a social butterfly, and he never gives me any grief for going to events without him.

    4. As concerns Kat’s comment about table manners and speech, I agree that those are important but, frankly, I have seen plenty of lawyers – though perhaps not from very fancy firms – who say ‘ax’ instead of ‘ask,’ who chew with their mouth open, who wear terrible suits with terrible shirts and stained ties, etc. A J.D. does not guarantee you’ll know which fork to use!

  7. Hmm. This is a very political question. Honestly? Yes, some attorneys (and doctors, and stock brokers, and bankers – anyone who makes big bank with a big degree) will look down on anyone who doesn’t also have a big degree and a big salary. These people are jerks. There are also murderers, thieves, assholes, and general d-bags in law and in life. You get to deal with all of those things at some point because you are a human (although hopefully not too many murderers!). It’ll be an issue sometimes. But most of the time it won’t, because most people aren’t jerks.

    But I’d say a HUGE part of this depends on your fiance. Is he the type to be totally unselfconscious when answering a question about where he went to school? Or will he be withdrawn and awkward and just make it weird? I’ve seen it go both ways with lawyer-friends sporting blue collar husbands. I’d say it really depends on him.

  8. This is an interesting topic. I think there are people with all levels of education who would feel uncomfortable in a room/gala with biglaw attorneys. It isn’t exactly my idea of a great time and I am an attorney. The functions I have with my (government) coworkers are pretty low key, casual, and welcoming to everyone regardless of profession and that’s the way I prefer it.

  9. If you’re both confident and unapologetic about your career choices, I think people will find it interesting that your husband is a mechanic — he probably knows about a lot of things that they don’t, and vice versa, as opposed to when someone’s spouse is a lawyer. If you’re in the kind of place where people are so snobby that they think people with certain jobs are beneath them, you probably don’t want to be there too long anyway. (But speaking as a big firm lawyer, I don’t think most places are like that.)

  10. First, Congrats on your engagement! I think if you find that your expectations are in line and it works for you and your husband, that’s all that matters!

  11. Some people will look down on you, and some people won’t.

    In my experience though, the most problematic are the people who don’t think that they are looking down on you, but who can’t examine their own privilege enough to see that they’re treating you differently. They’ll make assumptions that are probably well-intentioned, but hurtful nonetheless (for example about table manners and grammar, or that you & spouse wouldn’t be interested in attending certain kinds of social events). To me, it always felt a lot like hearing people say “I’m not racist, some of my best friends are black.” The people who you know are looking down on you are so much easier to write off, to avoid.

    You have to decide how much you can put up with, and how much you can (or want to) “pass” as the upper-middle class crowd, or you have to be really lucky to find a workplace where it doesn’t matter. For me, after 3 years of feeling like I didn’t belong in law school, I decided I’d rather not spend my life in a career where I felt like an outsider.

  12. Interesting topic. The main thing that strikes me is that a male attorney would never be concerned about his wife’s job. As long as she was polite, attractive, and could fit in, no one would care.

    • I disagree, considering what I’ve heard male coworkers say behind each others’ backs. And in fact, I have a male friend (professor) who refuses to date “teachers or social workers.”

      • Funny, that male friend (professor)’s opposite number is the arrogant investment banker who says he wants to marry a teacher or social worker.

        Translating investment banker-ese into plain English, we get, “I want a woman who makes 1/100000 what I make, so as soon as I get her to pop out the heir, I can use my superior earning power and bullying skills I learned early in life and honed on the job, to pressure her to quit work and devote her time to helicoptering over the heir, and maybe popping out a few spares, and doing the charity circuit to get our names on the social calendar. Also, I want to marry my mommy, and saying ‘teacher, especially elementary-school teacher’, sounds somewhat less Freudian.”

        • Woa — typecast much? This is just as bad as saying all automechanics are uneducated slobs.

          • As a former teacher and a licensed social worker, I had to comment… I’ve been told throughout my life that I ought to become a lawyer and I often find I have more in common with lawyer ladies than I do with women in my fields, largely for reasons that bring me to this site. I spend a great deal of time with celebrities and other wealthy folk (including you fah-ncy lawyers hehe) and fit in just fine, thank you. I also have no plans to procreate.

            Yay for the lawyer who is open about not dating someone like me… it saves me the trouble of wasting an evening figuring out he’s an @SS. As for the other who wants such, well, give him my # ;)

          • (and by that I meant so I can give him a reality check, not so I can date him and be morphed into a robot wife) hehe

  13. Research, Not Law :

    My husband’s profession isn’t blue collar – but it’s often mistaken for such. (Furthermore, his hobbies are all in that realm, so he’s frequently seen picking me up from work in his truck wearing a flannel shirt, carhartts, and muddy boots). So I can offer some perspective.

    I do get some “ohh?” responses when his occupation comes up in conversation. It doesn’t seem like a negative judgment, more simply surprise. The vast majority of my collogues’ spouses (and social networks) are white-collar professionals, so it’s just not an expected response. Honestly, their next question is usually to ask for advice!

    I’m sure there is an occasional person who does judge my husband based on a stereotype that he’s lazy, stupid, boring, uneducated, or all of the above – but that would make them a jerk. (And, as the OP probably knows, he’s not any of those things). He mixes as well as any spouse at company functions, too. I’ve certainly never had the impression that it portrayed me poorly in anyway.

    I do agree with above comments that finances can be tricky. It’s absolutely not a dealbreaker issue so long as (a) he’s comfortable making less and (b) he knows that YOU are comfortable with him making less. Note that for (b), your words are important, but your actions even more so.

  14. It gives me pause that this woman even thinks twice about the blue collar job of her fiance. It says to me that she in some way looks down on him and his choice of profession and that trouble may well brew in the future as she distances herself more and more from his working class background. Long story, but my husband came from working class background, didn’t finish high school, attended some college, but didn’t finish that either. We met when he was my driver picking me up at the airport from a business trip. Up to that time my dating life was filled with high-achieving professional men (lot like me), who frankly didn’t do anything for me. My driver husband, however, was so real and solid, no nonsense and such a wonderful breath of fresh air. I was head over heels in no time, married within 6 months, had our first son 10 months after that and have had a wonderful nearly 30 year marriage. Fact is, he just REFUSED to play the game and I respect him more for it, while I on the other hand did for way too long till I set out on my own nearly 20 years ago. I thank God for him and his perspective. He was house husband, stay at home Dad for a time and still handles most of the housekeeping (I do the cooking) because he is better at that stuff than I am. While I do the core work in our business and put in more hours as a result, he handles all the money stuff (is our CFO and brilliant at it) and has the same no-nonsense attitude in the business that he has in real life. Plus he is all alpha male and plays the bad cop to my good cop when needed (and sometimes we do the reverse, as well). I never once thought twice about what people would think of me taking a mate from a different class background, never thought less of him, but hold him up as as perfect a life mate and business partner as I could have. Further I am convinced his IQ is way higher than mine (as if that matters), he is also a very accomplished musician/song writer, just way way more than a working slub. Come on girl, do you love this mechanic fellow or not? Are you willing to let him lead you when necessary? Will you always respect him? I don’t feel good about this relationship because she had to ask the question. She better think long and hard about how she will feel 10-20 years out and it has far more to do with what she thinks and feels than it does what her business partners and colleagues do. Good luck.

    • Bingo.

    • That’s a good story!!

    • THIS. I thought the exact same thing – it’s a problem that she’s even asking the question in the first place. I would be shocked if they made it through law school if shes already thinking about stuff like this. I also found Kat’s response kind of offensive with all the assumptions made about the fiancé. Does he have good table manners? Really?

    • Don’t be so quick to judge. My SO worked in retail when I was in law school, and I was very uncomfortable about it whenever other law students asked. I got more than a few surprised “oh!” responses, and I still don’t think that they were just responding to my discomfort. Just because I was a little embarrassed about his job doesn’t mean we don’t have an otherwise strong (and yes, long-lasting) relationship. Law students/lawyers can be pretentious and elitist *sometimes*. Worrying about how people in your field will respond to someone that’s very important to you, and whether they will unfairly judge that person, is perfectly reasonable.

  15. I would marry a BLUE collar guy unless he was a jerk.

    After all, look at RUFUS in Gossip Girl! She married him and he is Blue collar.

    I want a guy who respects me, not a doofus.

    Alan was white collar, but a drunk. FOOEY on him!

    The manageing partner is white collar, but he likes to look at my body. FOOEY on him, too.

  16. Black-tie? :

    Do most biglaw attorneys have experience going to a lot of firm events with their spouses? I am third year associate at a big firm in D.C., and I have never once brought my husband to a single firm-related gala-type event (the only firm-related event he’s been invited to was a picnic at a partner’s house). In fact, I have never been invited to or required to attend a single black-tie event for the firm. I attend cocktail receptions and other networking events, but these are not the types of events where people bring their spouses. Yet I always hear or read about biglaw lawyers discussing all the fancy events they have to attend, and Kat mentions here that Reader C should anticipate bringing her husband to these events. Is my experience/firm/city just unusual? Or are fewer people going to these events that I believe?

    • I think it depends on how well you get along with your colleagues. I work for an international organization. No one brings spouses to our official work events unless the spouses work in the same field, but many people’s spouses come to happy hour. My department also periodically has weekend get-togethers and everyone brings their spouses or kids. When we have baby showers (always outside the office), we invite male colleagues’ wives. We have gone to each other’s weddings. If I’m having a party, I invite my colleagues and their spouses in addition to all my non-work friends.

      In smaller markets, I think it’s very common to bring spouses along to things. I once had a callback interview dinner in a mid-sized city with 2 partners and an associate, and one of the partners brought his wife.

  17. Black-tie? :

    Do most biglaw attorneys have experience going to a lot of firm events with their spouses? I am third year associate at a big firm in D.C., and I have never once brought my husband to a single firm-related gala-type event (the only firm-related event he’s been invited to was a picnic at a partner’s house). In fact, I have never been invited to or required to attend a single black-tie event for the firm. I attend c*cktail receptions and other networking events, but these are not the types of events where people bring their spouses. Yet I always hear or read about biglaw lawyers discussing all the fancy events they have to attend, and Kat mentions here that Reader C should anticipate bringing her husband to these events. Is my experience/firm/city just unusual? Or are fewer people going to these events that I believe?

    Read more:

  18. Not a lawyer, but my husband is a blue collar worker. He went to college and graduated, but was downsized. He found jobs to supplement his lost income and has just stayed with those jobs. he takes care of the kids and works at night.

    I do get some “flak” for having a BC husband. Mostly it’s from members who feel their you-know-what doesn’t stink. None of my co-workers ever think twice because there are some other “house husbands.” I’ve never been embarassed by hubby at a work function; he knows how to “behave” in professional situations.

    There was one time he felt a bit awkward. I took him on a VERY nice golf weekend to a very well known course/resort. We were taking a shuttle to the golf course and the driver was making small talk with hubby (ignoring me). Driver asked “so sir, what business are you in?” and hubby replies “no business, I’m a stay at home dad. My wife works.” – which isn’t entirely true because he does work outside the house. Driver sputtered a bit and shut up. He never asked me what I do – and I didn’t care. But it was the first time hubby has ever been put on the spot like that.

  19. LurkerHere :

    First off, Congratulations! As for the situation, I’m in a similar place myself:

    My now fiance and I met randomly one night, and our backgrounds as a result are considerably different (90% of my friends, I would say, falls into a middle to upper-middle class, minimum Bachelor’s Degree-holding, “white bread” families). My family is conservative Korean; my dad has a JD and worked for the Korean government as a diplomat for his whole life, and my mom has a MEd in Nursing Pedagogy/BN in Nursing Science and worked as a Professor until she had children and chose to stop working. Now, on the other hand, my fiance’s parents never went to university, his father is an Industrial Pipefitter and his mom had a college (in Montreal, they follow the French system, so you have High School –> College/Trade School –> University) certificate in Human Resources and thus worked in that field and worked very hard to progress & compete with those who had university degrees.

    Our situation is similar; I myself have a BA/BSc in Economics & Psychology, while my fiance has a collegial diploma in Aeronautics (I’m a Market Analyst, he’s a Aeronautics Technician).

    Needless to say, this was a huge problem for my parents – the Asian culture values education highly and so having a “blue collar” fiance is shameful, at least in their eyes (not to mention the shock of having a Non-Asian son-in-law) – but we found ways to make it work. There was, and there still is, a lot of intolerant people who will pass judgement on your union, but as long as you guys are happy and find a way to communicate/overcome the uncomfortable moments, I see NO problem whatsoever. Just know that self-absorbed status-seekers are pretty airheaded and thus their opinions do not count for anything – what does count is that you guys care about each other and that you will work together through everything.

    Funny trivia fact: in the Victorian times, well-to-do women loving blue-collar men was considered a MENTAL DISEASE. They had a nice name for it, which in modern parlance is used very differently – Nymphomania. Lovely, how people judge each other constantly, isn’t it?

    • LurkerHere :

      *an Aeronautics. Sorry. I’m a stickler for grammar.

    • “There WERE, and there still ARE, a lot of intolerant people”

      Sorry. I’m a stickler for grammar also.

  20. MissJackson :

    Perhaps you missed the thread earlier in the week where a bunch of BigLaw attorneys (myself included) all said what we would do it we could start over again (hint: they were mostly blue collar jobs)?

    Are some people going to be judgmental? Yes. Are those people worth your time? No. Would those people find something else to be judgmental about if you were married to another ‘professional’? Yes.

    And… as for finances: you are just as likely to be better off, and anyone with half a brain should have figured it out. I assume that your blue collar boy didn’t take out $160k in student debt to go to law school/b-school, right? That’s a hefty head start.