Scott provided a shot of romance in my life just when I needed one badly. We went dancing on our first date, and I loved the feel of his strong hands on my back.
Strong hands come with his job description: He's an electrician. Scott was my first blue-collar boyfriend. He seemed less inhibited and more fun than the professional men I typically dated. He also seemed, well, nicer.
Forget the old notion of "marrying up." As baby boomer women advance in the workplace, they are broadening their field of available suitors by pairing up with blue-collar men who seem less threatened by their success and independence.
"A lot of contemporary women in the workforce are getting tired of a certain competitiveness and ambitiousness of men who are very successful, and are finding blue-collar men to be refreshing, more direct, and possibly offering more communication and more attention," said Elyse Goldstein, 62, a Manhattan psychologist whose husband worked in the fuel-oil industry. "Blue-collar men can be nicer. They have a sense that they're not the princes of the universe. They're not such big prima donnas."
For female boomers, career success translates to the ability to date and marry men who earn less than they do at a time when they have less patience for massaging oversized egos.
"Raymond was definitely in a class by himself in every way," said Odette Duggan, 48, a Department of Education manager, whose husband, Raymond, is a maintenance worker. "He was willing to talk. He was more candid. He was flexible and willing to go to my thousands of black-tie events."
Odette even forgave Raymond for showing up in sweatpants at one of their first Broadway outings. "He made up for it because he had one suit. But that one suit was Armani," said Odette, who had previously dated bankers, a lawyer, and an Internet entrepreneur. "When I said he should consider buying a tux, he was like, 'Okay, let's go get a tux.' He was moldable."
Given that women's education levels and career achievements have surpassed those of men in some key areas, it's not surprising that they are finding fewer available mates among their social peers. In 2011, women held 51 percent of management and professional roles across all industries, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The same year, the number of women with college and more advanced degrees exceeded the number of men for the first time.
Add to that, recent research, confirming what women have long suspected -- that men are threatened by their success. Men's self-esteem plummeted when their female partners outperformed them on intellectual and social tasks, making them feel more pessimistic about the relationship's future, according to a study published last fall in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
So, what's a woman to do? "You could construct a situation where the rules are clear from the beginning, and the fellow is lower in social status," Goldstein said. "It could take the competition off the table."
She says that approach worked for her and her husband of 22 years and that he is proud of her success. "I was sick of all the triple Ph.D.s and M.D.s.," she said. "They weren't caring, and they weren't nice."
Odette and Raymond Duggan have been married for 15 years and live in East Harlem with their two daughters, Faith, 12, and Isabella, 10. The family's main breadwinner, Odette has a master's degree from Hunter College. Raymond studied brickwork at a London trade school and coordinates maintenance for the Central Park Conservancy.
Along with their differences in work and education, Raymond is Irish, and Odette, Dominican -- creating a "grand trifecta," Raymond said. "I'm from a working-class family, and my mum always pushed me to get a trade more than she pushed for education. Living in New York City is expensive, so it helps that Odette's an educated person who can earn a decent salary."
Grand trifecta or not, their relationship works.
Raymond attributes that to their shared values -- a commitment to their family, their Catholic faith, and enjoying life while spending within their means. "When Odette and I were going out, we talked about a lot of the stuff we wanted in life, and we always seemed to pick the right box," said Raymond, 48.
Nil Alptekin O'Boyle says she and Tom O'Boyle, her husband of seven years, have disagreements like any couple, but none of them spring from the fact that she has worked as a marketing manager for most of her career, earning roughly twice his salary as a correction officer.
"There were nights I had to work till 9 or 10 o'clock," said Nil, 51, who now runs a dog training service in Myrtle Beach, S.C. "He was a shift worker -- he worked from 7 to 3, period. You'd think that someone who worked a shift wouldn't understand, but it was never an issue. Or if I had to travel -- never a problem. He's respectful of my space and what I need to promote my career."
Being on different schedules worked to the couple's benefit, as Tom, 56, would do chores while Nil was still at work. "He would take the dogs out, feed the dogs and run errands," she said. "It was always a huge help. That way, by the time I got home, we could do whatever we wanted -- have dinner, catch a movie, go shopping."
Similarly, when Raymond gets home from work, two hours before Odette, he picks the kids up from school and cooks dinner. Laundry duty also typically falls on him.
Though Raymond's child-rearing style initially was more "hands-on" than Odette's, he has moved closer to her philosophy over the years. And his feelings about the importance of education also have shifted.
Faith and Isabella attend the elite Nightingale-Bamford School, Odette's alma mater, and it's a foregone conclusion that they will go to college. "Now I'm pushing for education because that's what they need," Raymond said. "Things are a lot different than when I grew up."
Sometimes, though, a couple's differences can have the opposite effect. "I have seen those relationships fall apart because of too many differences," Goldstein said. "I once broke up with a blue-collar fellow who was so adorable, but there was something about the fact that he packed bologna sandwiches in a lunchbox that gave me the sense he wasn't for me."
Last year, Peggy Malloy's doubts about her handyman boyfriend prompted her to move out of their Poughkeepsie home. Malloy, 54, who manages the supplement department in a Manhattan health-food store, would get turned off when Tony Maresco showed up for dinners and church meetings in dirty clothes because he was running late from a construction site. She thought he was disorganized and managed his time poorly.
But he won her back nine months later. Compared to the professional men she had dated, "he's more down-to-earth and real and connectable," Malloy said. "There are no airs."
For his part, Maresco views Malloy's recent promotion from nutritionist to manager as a boon for the relationship. "I'm all for the community of us growing," he said. "It makes me feel happy -- happy for her and happy for us. She's making more money and she's more satisfied at work."
Maresco now keeps a list of his current projects and the tools he needs for each, thanks to Malloy's influence. And he is more conscious of the clothes he dons before he leaves the house. "I think we have a lot more ability to grow because of our different backgrounds," Maresco said.
I came to the opposite conclusion about Scott -- that our differences were stunting the relationship rather than stoking it. I found that because we had very little in common, we also had very little to talk about. He didn't ask me questions about my work because discussing it made him feel insecure. Sometimes he didn't get my jokes and our conversations faltered.
Now I realize that dating a blue-collar guy wasn't the problem. It was just that I had chosen the wrong blue-collar guy for me.
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