“Why buy the cow, when you can get the milk for free?” We’ve all heard this saying before. Especially as it relates to cohabitation or in the words of my mother “shacking!” While some still chide moving in with a man before you’re married, many encourage moving in together before tying the knot.

Reasons to cohabit can range from financial reasons (the ability to save money), living proximity (where one partner relocates to avoid a long distance relationship), getting to know the person better (you truly know someone when you live with them), having children (the need for the family to be under one roof), and plenty of other reasons. One of the main reasons usually tend to be about finances, and in an unstable economy many couples rely on one another to make ends meet.

In some cases cohabitation is a temporary phase leading up to marriage—  but there’s no guarantee of marriage, which is why some believe it’s best to move in together after the wedding takes place. The fact is marriage isn’t for everyone. Given the low marriage rate in the black community it’s safe to say many cohabiting are simply living in a roommate situation with their mate. Here’s where the “free milk” factor comes into play. In a tough economy ½ on bills sounds good…but at what cost? The cost of giving a man domain over the household without a commitment, the cost of playing house- cooking, cleaning, etc. without a long-term commitment. Let’s face it, many sista’s can/have/are and will do it all on their own. This isn’t an ode to the independent “I can do it all on my own” women, this is simply to say if you can do it all on your own— why risk giving the milk for free?

In comes, “Smart Cow.” A smart cow realizes a man is in the plans… but a man is not the plan. Big difference. Cooking, cleaning, and going ½ on the bills- sure it’s a win win or lose lose situation for both female and male if it does or doesn’t work out. But a smart cow knows ain’t shit free. Especially in an imperfect world where the majority of black children don’t have the foundation of a traditional family structure. Perhaps it’s time we dispel the notion of cohabiting before marriage (for those that plan/want to be married). More power to those that are successfully cohabiting— if it means the father, mother, and children are all under one roof. Any other reason would be detrimental to strengthening the traditional family structure in the black community.  

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  • A Woman, Not a Cow

    I am always taken aback by casual uses of this figure of speech and a lack of sustained critique regarding its meanings, insinuations, and implications.

    I am neither a cow nor akin to one, and “milking” is an inapt metaphor for my sexual and emotional activities in relation to my companion.

    Neither my body (nor my soul, nor my affections, nor any other part of my person) can be put up for sale and bought.

    Entering consensual sexual intercourse with a partner to whom I am not legally married is not an act of “giving” my merchandized vagina “away” for “free,” but one of sharing sexual pleasure, indulging our desires, further developing our physical, emotional, and spiritual bonds, etc.

    Such phrases like the one haphazardly employed in this article and subsequent comments only further underscore the oppressive nature of patriarchal marriage for women. Historically in many western societies, including the United States, marriage worked to ensure that men had exclusive sexual access to a particular female human (and yes, I purposefully use “female” instead of “woman” here) and dominion over her re/productive labors. In such societies, women have been viewed as chattel (like cattle, or cows, if you must), a piece of property for which men had to pay dowries and finance the “upkeep.” If marriage is so drastically different today, then why the hell do people unwittingly use such archaic and draconian phrases as “Why buy the cow, when you can get the milk for free”???

    Why do so many of the phrases used to refer to women and their sexuality (whether intentionally degrading or ALLEGEDLY benign and “respectable”) render us as animals?

    If so many people believe that most, if not all, straight men are sex-crazed savages whose entire universe revolves around plotting and scheming on how to extract sex from women while providing the least amount (if any) of anything in return; and that women are incessant victims of men’s advances, unable to use our own capacities for reason and knowledge of our own desires to determine what kind of companionship best suits us; and that marriage is the only institution that protects straight women’s interests from the sex-obsessed, obligation-dodging, irresponsibly-child-siring creature that is supposedly the human male, then humanity is in big trouble. I would never enter into a relationship–let alone a marriage–with a man whom I could not trust to uphold his commitments to me absent the threat of legal repercussions.

    While I have no doubt such men and women exist, the solution to such quandaries should involve a concerted effort to reorient people’s views on relationships, kinship, sex, gender, sexuality, procreation, parenthood, and the like, in ways that are healthy and beneficial to all involved, rather than proscribing marriage as THE obligatory and surefire remedy for such “ills.” There are cultures in this world in which unmarried men take care of their children, are faithful to their partners, and do not shirk financial responsibility, out of their sense of moral obligation, rather than a legal impetus. And there are many cultures in this world in which men do not take care of and/or help raise their children, unapologetically and repeatedly cheat on their spouses, sire offspring outside of their marriage, and consistently fail to fulfill their financial duties, within the allegedly protective and legally-binding institution of marriage.

    And it irks me to no end that some people assume everyone wants to get married and that most people enter cohabitation with such expectations, even if they “refuse to admit it.” Believe it or not, many people view marriage as oppressive, not protective for women and filled with sanctity, and are opposed to it on many grounds. And many people on this earth, especially women, get married under conditions that are akin to slavery (mail-order brides any one?). Further, many women regularly get raped under the confines of marriage, and the institution has served to protect the men who commit such heinous acts (she is HIS wife, after all, he can do with his property as he pleases).

    For those of you who see no harm in the figure of speech, what about the analogy is apt for you? In what ways are you and your person akin to a cow? Does your partner keep you in a pasture, or is your living situation more akin to a factory farm? Do you graze on grass or eat corn? Does he take you out into the barn to milk you, or do so in the house? (Okay, so I’m being facetious, but this figure of speech makes my teeth itch. UGH!)

    • Stanley

      This is one reason the comment section is usually better than the article.

    • Kristie

      A Woman, let me commend you on making one of the most articulate and rational comment regarding cohabitation/marriage I have seen to date! You got a fan here!

  • Robbie

    Marriage for me. I prefer to be a wife. It is all about picking someone that sees things the way you do and that shares the same moral values as you do. I cannot understand the people that look down on marriage when it is the people taking the vows that are at fault. Why blaming this sacred institution of God when You and No one else is to blame for your failure! It is time to stop blaming marriage and start pointing the fingers where exactly they belong.