Feeling guilty about having things bought for me is, however, even more difficult to avoid. I'm so pleased by and grateful for the wonderful things I've gotten while I've been on Old Home Sod, but my pride and my sense of fairness (I'm never sure which, if either, has the upper hand) have me wishing like hell that I made a living wage. Again. After all, I'm past the three-decade milestone and I'm a healthy person with a good mind: I feel as though ought to be supporting myself much better than I am.
It's hard to agonize over every purchase; it can also be hard to have other people foot the bill because they know you're poor. And it's hard to work like hell and still not be able to afford a lifestyle that makes most of your out-of-grad-school acquaintances, friends, and family either pity you or shake their heads in wonder.
There are reasons why I've never done the things a woman is supposed to do in order to "hook" a wealthy man, which is, after all, the most traditionally honored way of making a living as a Person with Ovaries. The primary reason is that I want to support myself; I want to be an equal partner in any enterprise that would so thoroughly affect my life and my sense of self. (A secondary reason is the sheer aggravation and ickiness of it all: for this gal to be skinny and conventional-acting enough to attract most wealthy men would be a full-time job, not to mention one I'd deeply loathe. I hated working at McDonald's, but at least the grease smell washed off after four or five showers. Playing by The Rules would leave an ethical stink that'd never wash off.) In fact, I once stopped dating a well-to-do man largely because he wouldn't stop buying me expensive gifts and meals I couldn't reciprocate from very early on in the relationship. It just felt too creepy and embarrassing.
There are also reasons why I didn't go into the law or become an accountant or do any of the other things at which I'd be perfectly competent and which would provide me with a good living. One of them is that I don't want to spend my life doing things I can't care about passionately and thoroughly. (That's not to say that one can't care passionately and thoroughly about the law or accountancy; it is to say that I don't think I can.) One of them is that I honestly feel that the way I can best serve the world is to do the work I am best suited for. And I think I'm doing it.
But it hurts to feel so much shame over not being able to pull my own weight financially; to feel like a parasite even though I'm doing what I am in large part because it's how I think I can best serve society. And sometimes, I'm not sure my belief that I'm doing the right thing outweighs that sense of shame.
A couple of years after I started grad school, the money I'd saved from three years of full-time work started running out. Thanks to bad (or, rather, a complete lack of) financial advice from the university, I also wasn't able to take out adequate student loans to cover my own expenses, so my credit card debt was escalating dangerously. I didn't mention any of this directly to my parents, but they must have figured out that I was in bad shape, and they sent me a check.
I cried for hours after I opened the envelope. I wept with humiliation because I couldn't afford not to accept the money and because I knew I wouldn't be able to repay it. And it just felt so wrong to keep taking money from people who had already supported me for years and had certainly earned the right to all of their own paychecks. But I still needed it. So I deposited the check.
I still feel bad when other people pay my tab. I've learned to reconcile myself with it a bit more than when I got that first check from home. But if I leave academia, I'm pretty certain it will be because I just can't stand not being able to pay my own way anymore.