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.)

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?

Comments

  1. 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!

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.)

  5. 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!

  6. 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.

  7. 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

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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: http://corporette.com/2012/01/26/the-blue-collar-husband/#ixzz1kbOg7AqW

  13. 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.

  14. 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?

  15. 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.

  16. Anon for this :

    On the flip side, at my husband’s small firm, I am the only non-SAHM. I definitely feel awkward about that, as there is a lot of daytime socializing among the wives and they are good friends. When there is a social event, I am a bit of an outsider, since they don’t really ask me about work and I can’t participate in the conversations about their bridge groups and volunteer groups (I volunteer, but not at the trendy during-the-daytime organizations), but we can usually talk about kids. I think sometimes my husband is a little embarrassed to be the only one with the wife with the career.

  17. I work with someone whose husband is what I would nicely call a redneck. While his job may not be “blue collar”, he is absolutely an embarrassment at social events and I feel like he’s a liability to her career since she insists on bringing him to every.single.social.event. He drinks too much (and often shows up to events drunk). He chain smokes at events. He wears a bolo tie with suits. He curses like a sailor and constantly complains that his wife works too much. But most importantly, he has awful table manners and treats wait staff so badly that everyone at the table gets embarrassed and uncomfortable.

    So I sort of agree with Kat, although a lot of you were offended — I’m less concerned with someone’s career or credentials and more concerned with how they handle themselves at an event. If your spouse makes your coworkers feel uncomfortable because of his/her lack of etiquette or couth, then that may become a liability to your career and you should consider not bringing your spouse to future events.

  18. In my office, there are several young women who have husbands with non-professional jobs. One is a cook, one is a waiter, and the other a dive instructor. They are all wonderful husbands and fathers. The one young woman whose hubby is also a lawyer; well, he is a self-absorbed ass and a crappy dad. My husband has more of an office job but he is not college educated. He is also the better parent and very attentive hubby and unlike my first husband, has no problem at social events. Go for the blue collar man!

  19. Look, anyone that’s going to give you grief over this qua this is, I feel comfortable saying, a bad person. You can proceed accordingly.

  20. My hubby, the Forester :

    Wow, this is a great topic. As the comments demonstrate, there are several perspectives on the subject. I am a senior level associate at a large national firm. I am also a wife and a mom. My husband of 4 years works in an ag profession and often has to shower before dinner. He is college-educated, and smart, but also shy and can be akward in social situations. There are both pros and cons to our situation – both from a career perspective and a personal one. As with any relationship, you will face challenges. If you have faith in your love for him and his love for you, are open and honest with each other, and focus on the important aspects of life, you will be fine. Yes, some people may judge, the same way they may judge the type of purse you carry or the type of car you drive, but do not let them get to you. Be your best at work and be your best at home. Fortunately, or unfortunately, modern women can have it all. We just have to deal with the struggle to maintain “it all.” Congratulations and the best of luck to you!

  21. law talking girl :

    Education doesn’t guarantee good grammar. My boyfriend has an MA in a social science discipline and has apparently never learned to use the word “gone.” Any time “gone” is the proper word to use he says “went.” It’s peculiar but kind of cute. Maybe it’s a regional dialect thing? He is from a Rockies state and English is his first language. More on topic, anyone who judges you for your spouse’s choice of work is a grade A douchebag who doesn’t deserve to be your employer, co-worker or friend.

  22. Clueless summer :

    Some people ARE jerks. At a law school Halloween party, I was introducing my SO to an acquaintance. It being a Halloween party, I said this is Boyfriend, he’s a trucker. Meaning, of course, that was his super low maintenance “do I have to dress up?” costume. She replied with a disgusted look and said “wow, really?”. He’s not a trucker but his Dadis, so we were unimpressed to say the least but honestly, to this day we laugh about it. So, yeah, people can be jerks…but I find as long as the guy is secure in himself and happy with his career, it doesn’t matter and you can make an inside joke of whatever jerk comments people make. I think it’s only an issue, or I’ve only seen it being an issue when the blue collar SO is insecure for whatever reason.

  23. One of my close friends from my BigLaw firm — she with an Ivy League law degree and who does hardcore M&A work (i.e., works all hours) — is married to a firefighter. She brings him to occasional functions and we (all her female friends at the firm) think it is totally HOT. I mean, go home to a hot firefighter who has not been doing due diligence all day, or go home to your husband who has also been doing due diligence all day and pretty much doesn’t feel like talking? I realize I am turning this into a Harlequin romance novel, but, still — it’s hot. We could give a shit what he does. We just kinda like looking at him. And we think she rocks.

  24. Anonymous :

    Just watch for the ones that want free advice/work on their cars, I don’t know about where you are, but lawyers can be a notoriously stingy bunch up here – they might need a reminder his billable rate is by the hour too. :)

  25. I think that a lot of comments point out valid concerns (him not feeling comfortable at events etc). But I think the bigger question is why I are worrying about this before you even start law school? If people were answering more negatively would you call of your wedding? Make sure you are not the one who has the problem with him being blue collar.

    • Right? I think the question itself at such an early point in time points to a much bigger and potentially more serious issue. She hasn’t even started law school & gotten that big law job… and so at the very least it’s 4 yrs away. SO many things can happen in that time frame.
      I think worrying about this is putting the carriage before the horse.
      So it makes me think the OP is coming up with issues to get out of it– even if she won’t admit it to herself. But then again, it’s typical for law school types to worry about the next 3 decades. ;-p

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