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Just Say No to Polygamy

November 22, 2013

The other day my husband wanted to tell me about an “interesting conversation” he’d had with a coworker. Apparently, during a casual conversation about their religious and cultural differences (Christian/Western vs. Muslim/Arab), the coworker had asked my husband if he would ever consider marrying a second wife. Apparently the idea had been on this guy’s mind, because he is open to the idea of taking a second wife “in a few more years.” Rather than blurting out a resounding, “No,” which would have been just fine with me, my husband paused to consider the idea, and then answered, explaining some of the reasons why, no, that didn’t actually make much sense to him.

As he recounted their conversation, I found myself immediately emotionally involved. The coworker in question, whom I have never met but have heard a lot about (usually negative things), immediately became marked in my mind as a dirty, misogynistic pig that I would like nothing to do with. An argument ensued, in which I ranted about how revolting the very idea of polygamy was to me, and my husband played Devil’s Advocate, only enraging me more.

I guess it was inevitable that I’d come to a strong opinion on this issue, considering that I live in one of the few countries where polygamy is still legal. But up until now, the fact that men here can legally marry up to four women at a time has felt like an amusing fun fact, something to giggle about when I see a man walking through the mall surrounded by a flock of women. It isn’t widely practiced enough to confront me in my daily life, so it’s easy to forget, look the other way, or just laugh it off as a cultural quirk. Personally, I have never met anyone with more than one wife, so to have the idea suddenly associated with a real person I hear about regularly, well…something about that pushed me over the edge.

I realize that polygamy has a long history, having been practiced in numerous cultures around the world. I know that it’s mentioned in the Old Testament. I can see some of the practical benefits, especially in societies in which women couldn’t provide for themselves. Sure, maybe it was better to be someone’s second wife than to have no husband at all, no one to protect you or feed you or give you children. When times of war have left whole societies with a huge discrepancy between the number of men and the number of women, okay, perhaps it makes sense to have one man providing for more than one woman, rather than leaving them helpless.

But this is the modern world, and I live in a gated community, not a war-torn village. Hence, I take issue with my husband’s coworker’s desire to take a second wife. I don’t approve, because there’s no practical reason to do so, and the only justification I can see is selfishness on his part.

How we deal with polygamy in the West--turn it into a reality TV show!

How we deal with polygamy in the West–turn it into a reality TV show!

Part of the reason polygamy isn’t the norm here, although it is allowed, is because you have to be pretty wealthy in order to support two families (or three, or four). This isn’t like Sister Wives where they all live together as one big, happy family. Instead, you need multiple houses, multiple drivers, multiple housekeepers. You need twice as much food, clothing, school supplies, everything. It’s expensive. So one of my questions is, why would a man want to divide his resources, rather than giving the family he has an even higher standard of living? The same principle applies to the husband/father’s time. He can’t physically be in two places at once, so the wife and kids he already has are certainly going to see less of him. He will always be torn between the wants, needs, and affections of one family and those of the other, and I can guarantee you that someone’s soccer match or ballet recital is going to get missed, because he was busy attending to their half-siblings. Inevitably, the children will suffer. And if it were me, I’d probably end up with some serious Daddy Issues.

But my real problem with polygamy doesn’t lie with its effects on the children—you could make a similar argument about people who have 6 kids instead of 3. The heart of this issue is the marriage relationship, so what is taking a second wife going to do to your relationship with the first? Granted, if it’s culturally acceptable, you might not see as much collateral damage as if he had taken up with a mistress, or divorced her outright. But just because Wife #1 doesn’t put up a fuss doesn’t mean she’s happy about it, and it certainly doesn’t mean she feels loved or appreciated or beautiful or cherished. How could she, when her husband has essentially told her that she isn’t enough for him?

No, marrying again has got to have a negative impact on the individual relationships between the husband and his wives. If my husband’s coworker thinks everything will be fine, or even better, between him and his wife after he starts sleeping with someone else, it says a lot of sad and profound things about the state of their relationship currently. I actually wouldn’t be surprised if some of the women whose husbands marry again actually feel relieved, because they know they will still get taken care of, but they won’t have to see him as much. They won’t have to have sex with him every time he feels like it. They’ll be sharing the burden of pleasing this man with someone else. But THAT is exactly what pisses me off the most, the fact that marriage in this culture is more of a practical arrangement, or even a burden, than a real relationship based on love.

I know I come from some traditional values, and that today’s world is more and more open to things that run counter to practices like monogamy. But my husband’s coworker isn’t a forward-thinking liberal interested in an open marriage or polyamory—if his wife wanted to take a second husband, she’d run the risk of being killed. It’s absolutely a double standard, one that teaches men it’s okay for them to have multiple sexual partners, but if a woman does, she’s a whore.

It doesn't go both ways

It doesn’t go both ways

Ultimately I take issue with the fact that this man isn’t thinking of his own wife, the wife of his youth. He’s only thinking about himself—the sexual satisfaction he might get (for a while) from the novelty of Wife #2, the status symbol it would be to have multiple families, and who knows what other motivations. But he is thinking of himself, and himself alone. And that is not what I believe a husband or a father should be.

So, as I yelled and opined about how despicable this practice is, my husband pointed out that I was being a wee bit judgey. Well, yes, I am absolutely making a judgment about this lifestyle choice, and I don’t feel one bit bad. Is that so wrong of me? I know cultures have different values and different ideas of what a marriage should be—that’s true even within my own country. In other areas, I consider myself a fairly tolerant person, so why has this issue suddenly touched a nerve?

If I am ever introduced to my husband’s coworker, which is very possible, I honestly don’t know if I can smile and be pleasant—that’s how much his idea of marriage gets under my skin. I’m left wondering why I can’t get past this, why this issue instead of the myriad other differences between my culture and his? Is it even possible to be truly, completely open-minded, or would that mean you don’t have any convictions of your own? I don’t have the answers, but I know it felt good, and very, very justified to rant about this, kind of like Sleeping Booty ranting about body-building. Tolerance is great, but everybody has their limits.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 23, 2013 8:19 am

    I support the polygamous freedom to marry as part of full marriage equality. Part of this would be gender equality, the freedom to NOT marry, and the freedom to divorce, and protections against domestic violence. This should apply regardless of gender. A woman should be as free as a man when it comes to marrying. As such, if a woman doesn’t like that her spouse is marrying someone else, she should be free to leave the situation with fair compensation/share of the assets. One of the problems in some places is that there is polygyny-only, which is just one form of polygamy, and there is not gender equality under the law.

  2. January 25, 2015 5:20 pm

    You are so right, very well written article! Yes, agree, he is only thinking of himself, not taking into consideration the wife and children’s feelings at all by even suggesting which is NOT LOVE. I believe it’s OK to have some rational judgement in this world, in fact we need it or else we woild have no standards of ethics, values and morals. I said the exact same point today about how just because a wife puts up with the husband’s selfishness doesn’t mean she is happy about it, she is kidding herself and if caring for the hisband is such a burden, it probably shows how selfish he was in the first pkace, demanding so much sex, chores etc., selfishness and not how a husband should be, that is not loving. In my society a man and woman wed out of live, if one of you doesn’t want as much sex, maybe for a while, maybe that’s how it is, it’s out of love that you come to an understanding with one another and accept one another for who you are. You can try work on things together, that’s a marriage, that’s being life partners! Sex should be out of love and an intimate, loving act, not just a set requirement and arrangement, otherwise, why be married, just hire a prostitute? Sounds like some business arrangement.

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