Why you should care

Because milk, it may do somebody good. 

Sarah Dohrmann is a Brooklyn-based prose writer. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Harper’s, Tin House, n+1, and The Iowa Review. She is at work on her first book, which is a memoir.

A Creole friend of mine who was born and raised in the Mississippi Delta once told me that a wise old woman once told her that if a man drinks from a glass of milk you have poured for him, he will be your man forever. It was a way to “catch a man” that my friend and I joked about. She was at my house in Brooklyn, and we practiced with each other how we’d do it.

“Here,” we’d say, “have some milk.”

“But I don’t drink milk,” the man would say.

“You don’t drink milk? What kind of man doesn’t drink milk?”

That’s the shame technique, and we realized that we liked it a little too much. Then we decided that if a man had to be shamed into drinking the milk you’d given him, he wasn’t worth giving a glass of milk to. Take two:

“Here, have some milk.”

“But I don’t drink milk.”

“You don’t? Not even organic?”

“Nah.”

“Really? But this milk is so pure and smooth and creamy and delicious. You sure you don’t want any?”

“Yeah, I’m sure.”

“But it’s organic!”

That’s the ole strong-arm technique, the one where you basically have to beg the guy to drink your milk. Also no good. OK, take three:

“Oh, look! Here’s the very last of the milk. Just a tiny bit left. Here, you have it.”

“Really?”

“Yes! I want you to have it so your bones will stay big and strong.”

“Mmm,” he says, because the self-sacrifice/mommy/flattery thing really works. He practically licks the inside of the glass. And now you’re looking at a lifetime of appealing to his big and strong bones. For a while he’ll like getting his ego stroked and you won’t mind doing it, but then he’ll get hip to what you’re doing, he’ll hear the condescension in your tone, and he won’t trust you anymore, which is OK because you’ll be tired as hell from having to deliver it all the time, and soon enough the whole approach rots your relationship from within.

Here’s another (this was my friend’s favorite): You pour yourself a small glass of milk, then you pour him a small glass of milk.

He says, “You drink milk?”

You shrug. “Yeah, sometimes.”

And you sip a bit from your glass, then hand him his glass, and then he sips a bit with you. Because no, he never really drinks milk either, but apparently neither do you, so it’s OK to have a little now. So you quietly sip your milk together while your heart explodes. That one’s nice.

There will be men who come and go, and sometimes there will be no men at all, and that’s normal.

My friend said that the old woman said that you can’t just give your glass of milk to anybody. This is obvious, but it’s an important part of the story. There will be men who come and go, and sometimes there will be no men at all, and that’s normal. Some of the men you meet will be charming, and you’ll think, “Wow, I really wanna give this guy a glass of milk!” But then he’ll cheat or lie or not call back. And some of the men, though wonderful, will be just plain boring.

And sometimes the men will trick you too, because it’s what each party is doing sometimes, often without realizing it — both are thinking maybe this is the person to be with. Neither of you are in love per se, but everything else lines up nicely. So you almost give this man a glass of milk, only something keeps you from pouring it — you can’t even say what, exactly — and then one day he will fade away too.

And then there will be dry patches again. And you will get older. And the men you meet will be married, or they’ll be separated and on a wild tear as if they’ve just been released from prison, and giving a glass of milk to a guy like that would be a mistake no matter how much you might like him — you know enough now that he just ain’t ready for another glass of milk.

And then the blue jeans that looked pretty good last year don’t fit right anymore, and you’ll notice coarse gray hairs growing from the crown of your head, and you’ll start to worry that you don’t have what it takes to get a man to your kitchen table in the first place. And more time will pass, and you’ll slowly begin to forget about the milk, about the day you and your friend joked about it — your friend who is married now because she didn’t forget the old wives’ tale when she met the man she wanted to marry.

And then you have a thing with someone, just a regular man. He’ll be in your kitchen, and you’ll look at him and you’ll think, “My god.” You pour him a glass of milk. It’s just what you do. And without saying a word, he takes the glass and gulps the whole thing down.

That one’s my favorite.

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