It hit me like a bolt from the blue on a regular day in the office. Have I been quietly schooled to seize opportunities, to extract gain from every kind act? I'd possibly be flush with cash had I embraced this ideology. But wait, was this notion implanted in my mind through a seemingly harmless idiom?
Intrigued, I embarked on a mini social experiment. I solicited interpretations of this idiom from three distinct individuals, each hailing from a different walk of life.
Surprise, surprise – they all echoed the same interpretation.
Their immediate reaction was to criticize the proverbial 'cow' for foolishly giving away its milk for free. As if they were implying, "Don't play the fool in love."
My jaw hit the floor.
But then, their insights sank in, and it felt like a revelation. Their views struck a chord with my distaste for the stereotypical portrayal of relationships. It brought to mind the deeply resonant scene in "Boys N' Da Hood" when Doughboy laments, "either they don't know, don't show, or don't care about what be going on in the hood."
So, what's this potentially destructive idiom? "Why buy the cow if the milk is free?"
Hold your breath! This isn't an admonishment for those who embrace their sexuality. It doesn't imply that men will shirk commitment if a woman freely expresses her desires. The essence lies in "buy" and "free" – sketching the blueprint of a fair exchange.
Let me tickle your curiosity with a few teasing questions.
If you buy her a drink, are you purchasing the milk or the cow? If you splurge on a dinner and a movie, does it mean you're buying both the milk and the cow?
The answer? I'm as clueless as you are.
One thing we can concur on is that in this world of reciprocity, forking out something should warrant a return.
This misunderstood idiom has been the wrecking ball for countless potential love stories. Marriage, essentially a lucrative deal, can get dizzyingly confusing without proper guidance.
The unintended message we pass onto our children when we spew this idiom could be dangerously misconstrued. We teach our daughters that if a man pays, he should receive something in return, without specifying what that something should be.
Money exists in two forms: mental and physical. Mental cash is intangible, like time, while physical cash is tangible.
The idiom fails to highlight this dichotomy, leading it to be often taken literally. "Buy" and "free" become our guiding principles as these concepts chime with our day-to-day transactions. We pay for what holds value, and what we don't value is often free.
Let's drive this home with an anecdote. Imagine you're fifteen, itching to buy your first car. You have a clear picture of your dream car and when you find it at a dealership, it costs $25,000. The owner gives you two options: take out a loan to buy it immediately or work every weekend for a year at the dealership, washing cars, and it's yours.
If you opt for the loan, you get the car right away, paying the physical cash equivalent of $25,000.
But if you opt to work weekends, washing cars, does this mean the car was free?
This is the perspective shift we need when interpreting relationships and idioms. Physical cash may accelerate the path to the end goal – a lucrative deal, or a marriage. Without the right explanation, the idiom can lead to physical expectations in return for physical payments, often leading to sex. It becomes transactional, akin to buying a pair of sneakers. And what happens when those sneakers get old or worn out?