Cows and milk, birds and bees, living in sin

A few months ago, my mother asked me if I was pregnant.

This is precisely why I do not wear ANYTHING empire waisted. That particular dress, I normally wear belted. But good to know it can double as maternity wear when the time comes, huh?

I can’t remember a more awkward moment in this vein since, back in high school, she persuaded my cousin to email me a long diatribe about boys, girls, and getting the milk for free. Or however that goes. (I know Mum was behind this. Trust me.)

Seriously. I was probably 15 at the time. Guess she hoped to get me early.

That whole thing about cows and milk? Words can’t express how much I despise this trope. It essentially implies that men only want women for sex. Like there’s no other reason a guy would ever want to marry a woman. (While no doubt this is true for some, it would be a huge mistake to tar all mankind with the same brush. Those are definitely not the kind of dudes you want to be marrying.)

While the intent is all well and good – protecting the honour of your sisters and daughters – this is incredibly demeaning to women. And actually, it’s rather harsh on men, too. Let’s give them some credit. Not all of them think with their junk 24/7.

It’s also obviously patently untrue. How many couples do you know that have lived together then gone on to tie the knot?

Oh, and I was at a comedy show just the other night where another audience in a couple turned out to be newlyweds (2 years) but had been living together for 16 years before that. (I haven’t exactly been lighting a firecracker under our wedding plans, but we won’t be getting to that kind of ballpark, at least.)

Course, cohabiting is not always all it’s cracked up to be. I wouldn’t swap it for anything, but it’s definitely not a painless thing for us. Our story is much more like this than it is this.

There’ve been a couple of good pieces in the NY Times recently on this exact topic: this one points out that more and more professional types are maintaining separate dwellings and this one the fact that often we drift into cohabiting rather than making a clear-cut, conscious decision to. And as a result, “couples who cohabit before marriage (and especially before an engagement or an otherwise clear commitment) tend to be less satisfied with their marriages — and more likely to divorce — than couples who do not”.

While we kind of slid into moving in together for practical reasons (in fact, before I was really ready), thankfully, it’s worked out (after all, disentangling your relationship is infinitely more difficult when you physically live together and have mingled other aspects of your lives). Given how different we are, I think moving in together for the first time as newlyweds would have been disastrous.

There’s the argument that cohabiting makes getting married less special. I can understand that. As it relates to us, I don’t buy it, but marriage means different things to different people (to me, it’s a new level of emotional reaffirmation/commitment).

Was I going somewhere with this?

Basically: live together or don’t – whatever. It’s not a one size fits all kind of thing. But the sooner that ‘buying the cow’ phrase disappears, the better.

Do you hate that saying? Or think it stands true? (I have friends who don’t support gay marriage; I can deal with differences of opinion. Outwardly, at least.)

12 thoughts on “Cows and milk, birds and bees, living in sin

  1. I do. I very much dislike that comment for the same reasons that you do. I DO think that sometimes people can get comfortable with the cohabitation because it seems to be “marriage-lite” – i.e. providing all of the day-to-day benefits of marriage while requiring few of its obligations. This is a problem when one partner wants to get married and the other is fine with the status quo or doesn’t want to get married. That said, the “cow and milk for free” line bugs me, because it’s insulting to both men and women.

  2. I definitely hate that saying, and I think if my mother had been remotely willing to acknowledge the possibility of pre-marital sex, she would have mentioned it to me when Peanut and I were living together before we were engaged or married. I think, instead, she convinced herself that we had a two-bedroom apartment and lived chastely. :)

    I guess if she had brought it up, I would have said that in this case, the cow was taking the farmer for a test-drive. *I* was not willing to get engaged or married to someone I hadn’t lived with. But man, I’m really glad I didn’t have to make that comparison!

  3. My mom told me the same thing, but she also got married when she was 20 and I think back in her day living with your boyfriend was still taboo. I never wanted to get married, and wanted to date whoever I was with at least 5 years before getting married, but since me and my BF have been together since we were both 20, we lived a part for 4 years, then moved in together in our 5th year. I’m glad we waited until we were ready, that’s definitely my suggestion for anyone thinking about it. I also think that if you are worried he won’t propose if you live together, then make sure to have the marriage talk and see if he even wants to get married in the first place.

  4. My mom didn’t use that expression when Ryan and I were dating, she’d just say things like “Do you want to turn out like [someone we knew who had an accidental teenage pregnancy]?” whenever she had the chance. But, I agree, it’s a stupid thing to say.

  5. Tried commenting earlier, but the internet ate it.

    Personally, I hate the expression as well. I find it quite demeaning. There is a male counterpoint to the expression with pigs and sausage, but I’ve only ever heard it as a rebuttal to the cow one, never as a lesson. That being said, and I really hate to say it, the saying may have a grain of truth to it. This may just be due to where I grew up and the people I knew, but the girls who waited ended up getting married years before the girls who didn’t.

    I’ve cohabitated before, more than once, and I have no interest in doing it again. I’ve worked really hard to get to the point where I have a home of my own, and I’m not willing to give that up because someone wants to test drive marriage without a commitment. At this point I would not consider moving in with a significant other unless I was engaged. That’s just me though.

  6. Repellant. I can’t recall that my mother herself used that metaphor, but the message was the same: the main thing men want from women is sex, and if you give it to them before they marry you, then they won’t marry you. Of course, back in the Pleistocene, when I was a girl, marriage was the whole point of a woman’s life. So, you were explicitly trained to manipulate a man into popping the question.

    The other issue, too, is that in the 1950s and early 60s, it was much harder to avoid getting pregnant. And an unwed pregnancy could indeed ruin a young woman’s life — permanently. That was not an idle threat emanating from our prudish parents’ mouths. Even if you managed to get an abortion (and survive it, hardly a given!) or to sneak off and “visit” some shirttail relative in another state for a lengthy period (this often meant you were relegated to a home for unwed mothers) before you started to show, simply having had a baby before marriage meant you were very unlikely to get a proposal from a man who was desirable husband material. Financially and in terms of social class, it could doom a young woman, literally destroying her future. For that reason, adults felt that extreme measures were called for. Hence the nasty stories and unpleasant tropes.

    As for demeaning women? Well…you know, that’s how life was in those days.

    I’m very surprised, though, that the saying persists today. Thought we were slightly more enlightened now.

  7. Well, if we looked at this phrase for me, it would be “why buy the cow when you get the soy milk for free”. When my boyfriend and I got together, he was aware of the fact I was waiting until marriage to have sex (or at the very least, I was a virgin and didn’t treat sex lightly). So, he’s not getting any milk for free!

    We actually lived together before we started dating; we were living in an apartment for 4 people…so once we were “together”, I guess that meant we were “living together”, though we had our separate rooms and everything. Eventually 5 years in the same apartment, we moved to a new place, just the two of us.

    Well, as for having a mom butt-in on things relating to sex…that wont ever happen for me. My mom gets uncomfortable the minute you mention anything relating to sex. Even when I try to assure her I’m not doing things, that makes her uncomfortable. At the same time, she is very anxious to see me get married and have kids. Parents are confusing, aren’t they?

  8. That phrase should be banned forever. It’s always skewed toward the woman, as if she’s so terrible for putting out before marriage, but what about how HE’S doing the exact same thing? Drives me insane.

    More and more, living together without marriage is a viable option. I think that it should be given the same consideration and thought as marriage though, because drifting into living together because your leases are up and hey, why not, is the wrong reason to join households (Mr. Dollars and I have been together for almost four years and we didn’t feel ready to move in and caught a lot of flack for it). I am type A and would not be able to move in at first after marriage because what if I can’t stand the way he hangs the towel after a shower? What if there’s some huge dealbreaker I didn’t know about? I am a huge “worst-case-scenario” thinker, so naturally I would avoid that situation because it doesn’t work for me. But, it does work for other people and that’s totally fine too. Do whatever works best for you and your situation!

    That comment got long fast. Sorry for the rambling!

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