In my co-authors’ and my search for the eight cows or necessary traits to sustain a modern relationship, we conducted many surveys and seeming countless interviews. Since we were already enamored with the eight-cow story and its potential metaphorical applications, we were admittedly looking for just that number. We even asked respondents to offer only eight suggestions. Besides, eight is a nice round number and it wasn’t the ubiquitous number seven that had graced the cover of nearly every self-help book for nearly a decade.

After a few months we began to notice a distinct pattern of six cows couples felt were important to have in a relationship. The seventh cow turned out to be a catch-all type of cow that embodied various iterations of consideration being kind. The eighth cow, however, eluded us.

As we reviewed our notes and surveys, it was easy to point out the pattern of seven cows after we identified the different names couples might call the same cow. But then we started to notice that most surveys would say they were looking for one specific, yet seemingly random cow. The eighth cow would sometimes manifest as a specific career path, genealogy, body type, skill set, or even a preference to a certain hobby.

Some couldn’t even put the eighth cow into words except they were looking for someone who would just make them sigh and think “Wow!” Eventually we determined that the Wow Cow, as we soon called it, was that one thing that would make one person stand out above the others—for you, and maybe just for you.

The importance of this cow can’t be overstated, especially in a committed relationship. When your significant other stops thinking “Wow,” you are essentially, one important cow short. This was the cow that made you unique and special. It comprised your unique personality, talents, and abilities. And now it is gone.

However, the danger of losing your Wow Cow isn’t just hard on your spouse, it affects you as well. Here is a good example.

I had just finished interviewing a middle-aged couple that was barely beyond the childbearing years. She had spent the last twenty plus years losing herself to her children and family responsibilities. Now that the children were growing older, she had begun to panic. She felt she needed more children to be happy. She had spoken to her husband about adoption and even using a surrogate to have more children. However, by almost any standard, this couple already had a large family. The husband felt he was done and she wanted to keep going. They were both frustrated. Since I didn’t intend to advise this couple in the informal setting of this interview, I just listened. Then I asked the one question that I felt would help them think this through on their own.

“Susan, (not her real name) you feel you can’t be happy unless you have more children, right?”

She nodded.

I continued, “What did you like to do before you had children?”

Her expression was priceless, but it didn’t surprise me. I could tell by her reaction that she had let her Wow Cow wander away from the herd.

I continued to just listen as Susan had an amazing “aha” moment. It turns out she had spent so much of her time and energy nurturing and taking care of her children that she began to believe that she needed to have young children to be complete. In her mind, it had become her entire identity. Susan had forgotten what made Susan unique and special. It had been so long since she had visited her old self; she had convinced herself that she could never rekindle the passion needed to resurrect her long-dormant talents. Having more children was just a way of delaying the inevitable.

This couple’s situation is not unique. The pressures of life, the economy, children, and even just growing older can affect your Wow Cow. Obviously, there are times in life when you may need to give your Wow Cow a break. However, I see far too many people who fail to maintain the cow that was the initial attraction in their relationship. These relationships too often become social contracts of shared burdens and responsibilities. Life becomes harder than it has to be. In reference to the couple above—not only is maintaining your Wow Cow important in your relationship with your spouse, children actually benefit from interacting with a parent that has their own unique identity—their own Wow Cow. It makes it easier for them to realize that the world doesn’t revolve around their interests when mom and dad have pursuits of their own. And, when they do leave the nest they will have that example to follow in their own relationship. Wow Cows—they’re not just for the young—and keeping your Wow Cow healthy and fat just might be the secret to staying young at heart.

Kurt Dowdle