I first fell in love with the idea of polygamy in much the same way I fall in love with a lot of other things. I was inspired by an episode of This American Life. Episode 99 to be specific. I Enjoy Being A Girl, Sort Of. Forty seven minutes in during Act 4 (at 47:04 minutes to be specific if you want to fast forward) of the program a well educated, attorney describes the benefits of her polygamist marriage. This episode also features David Sedaris so even if you couldn’t get past that polygamy bit, it’s a great episode.
In the show Elizabeth Joseph describes it as the ultimate feminist lifestyle. She starts off by saying that when she finished college she knew she wanted to be married and have a family. And her options were to find someone her age and spend 10 years finishing raising him where his mother left off or find an older man who’d be more mature of course but would probably have baggage. Neither sounded appealing. And by the way that is why I LOVE This American Life. They have his magic way of making convention sound so stupid. I mean why would you want to finish college and then marry an immature brat that you’re going to have to spend 10 years teaching to pick up after himself and generally think about anyone but himself. OR marry someone older whose already done all the things you’d like to get to do with someone for the first time? Everywhere you go, everything you do, he’ll have a story about already. Both those options seem to suck. But they are the option that convention sort of lays out for most women. I’m sure there is an equivalent illustration for the male side of that story, but being a perfect woman I couldn’t think of it. I know that is probably a bit of an over-generalization. But I love a show that can overgeneralize convention and make it sound so horrible and then look at a counterpoint which is usually overgeneralized in the negative and make it look so awesome.
Elizabeth explained how she had these really close relationships with these other women. Always someone to help out. Always someone to lean on. They would have tequila parties. I imagined something like that house of women on Practical Magic. And they seemed to all be independent strong women most of whom had jobs. When a handful of them had babies around the same time, they asked one of the other wives who was really great with the kids if she would quit her job and then paid her to provide the childcare. They valued each other. She said that her arrangement allowed her to have this career and independence that she never had to feel guilty about. It was the ultimate feminist lifestyle.
It might be good to note that I listened to most of this episode while I was 82 months (yes 82) pregnant with Bob driving around town with Nola strapped in her car seat trying to get her to go to sleep so that I could take a nap after having done house work all morning. I worked full time at the paper, which was a rewarding yet demanding and draining job. Jay worked full time and was going to school in his spare time to get pre-reqs for medical school. We were both so busy and tired all the time. I sat in the driveway thinking “We’ve got to get us another wife or two.”
Of course several years later my favorite show on TV was Big Love. And my best friend and I always talk about joining families. Maybe compound living is the solution. Seems those people get a radical label as well. Maybe what I’m really looking for is the 1950s. Where people were neighborly and relied on one another. Community wasn’t just a place your house was it was where you lived and an extension of your family.
I understand the stereotype of polygamy. And the abuses. And I don’t mean to make light of a something that IS a really horrible thing for some people. Because I’m pretty sure that most old men who take on underage wives in the name of their religion are dirty old men taking major liberties with their faith. But I think you can find some parallel to this in just about every religious organization. People taking major liberties. Elizabeth’s relationship was not about faith though. She didn’t believe there was religious component to her choice. It was the lifestyle she chose. Her mate was the person that she felt would be the best husband to her and father to her children. I had never thought of people choosing to live in polygamy. We lived in southwest Colorado for a while and there was a polygamist group who set up shop in a town not too far north of us and I remember how horrible I thought that must be. But Elizabeth made it sound so appealing I wanted to take out a personal ad. Married couple with small child and baby on the way looking for soul mate(s) to share their life with. Prefer celibate, non-smokers with adventurous spirit and love of food, travel, doing dishes and 3 a.m. feedings.
I wouldn’t really want to share my husband. But I wouldn’t be opposed to a harem of sister-wives either. It seems like it would be this multi-layered safety net to life. Sometimes a few extra hands would be nice. Especially right around nap time. My nap time.