At 41, Emily badly wanted a baby, so much so that she gave her boyfriend an ultimatum, and they started trying to conceive.
Her boyfriend, a scientist, traveled a lot and kept an emotional distance. “I weighed the pros and cons and decided to go ahead,” she says, “even though I doubted I could ever be happy with him.”
Her reasoning: He made $300,000.
“I focused on the fact that I would be a good mother and he’d be the provider.” She herself earned about $90,000 as an editor, but the job was too demanding to combine with single motherhood. “It was way too scary to do it on my own,” she says.
Some would call her a “gold digger.” Others might see themselves in her and recognize her fear.
Why People Dig
Not so long ago, it was considered sensible for a woman to seek a good provider. Nowadays, we’re all expected to pride ourselves on our independence and choose (or mostly choose) someone for love. Any interest in a man’s prospects can feel mercenary, despite the still-shaky economy and even though women still earn less than men—77 cents for every dollar. And while college degrees help, they don’t close the gap: College-educated women earn five percent less the first year out of college than their male peers, and 10 years later, even if they keep working, 12 percent less. For all the news coverage of the fact that men got hit worse in the latest recession, on balance, men remain ahead.
The term “gold digger” summons up the image of 22 year olds kissing ancient lips hoping for a fast inheritance. But what do we think about college students entertaining sugar daddies who help cover their tuition? There are more than 50 shades of gray, any number of circumstances in which women (and men) who lack resources enter into relationships they might otherwise not choose. Gold-digging happens when people are greedy but also when they feel trapped.
Lorraine still cries when she thinks about how she treated a man we’ll call Dan. At first they were in love, and she was deeply grateful to him. Dan wasn’t attractive, but he was super smart and recognized her intelligence. He encouraged her to go to college, and with his salary as an electrical engineer, he helped her feed the three kids from a previous marriage she bore in her 20s.
Four years later, she’d gained admission to a top Ph.D. program and Dan offered to move with her and her kids from Alabama to Texas. Although she’d won prestigious fellowships, they weren’t sufficient, and graduate school was a “full-time job,” she says. “I let him move only because I needed him to pay the rent,” she says.
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