Saturday, January 19, 2008

So THAT'S How She Does It

Marriage law is quickly becoming one of my favorite classes. The readings are fascinating and the discussion is much better than I anticipated. I was fearing the class would be composed purely of feminists, and while I agree with much of feminism, it would make the class significantly less interesting if everyone just nodded along with one other. Instead there's a complete diversity of sex, marital status, sexual orientation, and political persuasion. Our professor is a well-known feminist, but with with a Chicago "law and economics" twist, which results in some unique reasoning behind her generally predictable conclusions. All in all, it's an excellent class full of the type of discussions I feel like I should be having in law school.

Last week's topic was polygamy (really polygyny- multiple wives) and what it contributes to marriage law and opinion. I fully expected the assigned readings to condemn polygyny, and while most did, there was one offering it up as a solution to modern women trying to "have it all." In the article, Elizabeth Joseph, a lawyer living in Utah with her husband and his eight other wives, praises polygamy for "enabling women, in a society full of obstacles, to fully meet their career, mothering, and marriage obligations." According to her, "monogamous women must make compromises to have it all... the kids need to learn to fix their own breakfast, your husband needs to get used to occasional microwave dinners, and you need to divert more of your income to insure that your pre-schooler is in a good daycare environment." (Brief interjection: my kids making their own breakfasts and my husband getting used to microwave dinners, or gasp- cooking his own, are not the compromises I'm worried about.) Elizabeth lives with one of the other wives and both their children, and that wife is who watches her daughter during the day. At night the two women, now very close friends, share a simple dinner and relax. On Mondays their husband eats with them; Elizabeth says it's a "special day" with the kids "excited and on their best behavior." Sex, because you know you were wondering, is "by appointment." Elizabeth explains that "most evenings, with the demands of a career and chasing after the needs of a toddler, all I want to do is collapse into bed and sleep. But there is also the longing for intimacy and comfort that only he can provide, and when those feelings surface, I ask to be with him." She recalls "with a shudder" the taste of monogamy she got on a two-week trip with her husband- "little things began to grate on my nerves. We ran out of things to talk about . . . monogamy is monotony." The article ends with: "all nine wives are equally convinced that polygamy is God's gift to the modern woman."

This particular argument for polygamy had never occurred to me, and while I rejected it out of hand, it kept me thinking long after the class was over. Why is my "singular" marriage so fulfilling (and so far from monotonous), and why is Elizabeth Joseph's lifestyle so repugnant to me? And I think it comes down to the deep friendship- the bond between soulmates- that JP and I share. Marriage goes so far beyond the sharing of children and a bed, it's about sharing a life and a future. For me, marriage is cuddling on the couch, talking about whatever comes to mind: our day, the news, politics, Landon, our retirement, whatever. Marriage is feeling him next to me at night and knowing that when I have a nightmare he'll be there to hold me. Marriage is knowing what the other person means without explanation. Marriage is laughing, flirting, and arguing. Marriage is placing your future in the hands of another and trusting in the life you're building together. Sex and sexual attraction are critical, but the idea of sharing JP's bed with another wife isn't as offensive as the thought of sharing our daily interractions and random intimate moments. Don't get me wrong, if JP ever cheated on me, I'd leave him, but a thoughtless one-night-stand wouldn't be nearly as devastating as another woman taking my place as his confidante, best friend, and first phone call.

Reading the article made me sad for Elizabeth Joseph. She may think she's having it all, and she may honestly not mind sharing her husband, but she has no idea what compromises she's making.


  1. Great post. I feel exactly the same way about my husband--he's my soulmate and I would never want to share him with another woman!

  2. That is an absolutely fascinating take on polygamy. I've heard arguments in third-world countries, where many women die in childbirth and can't support themselves, about how it allows all women to be taken care of, but never considered it in a first-world context.

    I come from a Christian perspective, and interestingly enough there's more support for polygamy in the Bible than there is divorce. Just something fun to throw into certain conversations... :-)

    That said, I, too, couldn't even fathom sharing my husband with another, even in our worst moments.

  3. There was a special on TLC late one night about a guy with three wives. These women swore that it was terrific for the same reasons - they had support in raising their family, household duties, etc. BUT - when the guy tried to add another wife into the mix, these women's true feelings were exposed. They went from fully supportive of the concept to just what you'd expect: jealous, angry, mistrustful.

    Apparently, it worked great until the new wife came along - the other wives didn't like her. She had different theories about housekeeping and the other wives thought she was lazy. They were frustrated because they had no say at all in whether she joined the family or not. I guess if you have to share your husband, it's even worse if you don't get any say on who you have to share him with. There was a lot of talk about "learning to live with her" at the same time they were extoling the virtues of the multi-wife household! It's interesting that it's so easy to see a bad situation from afar, but that these women were so close to the situation they couldn't admit to themselves that they had a lousy setup - even though it was obvious that they were unhappy.

    No way I'm sharing my husband!

    Oh - and thanks for visiting my blog! Please stop in again!

  4. I understand the appeal of sharing your husband in that she basically gained a wife. She got to go out and work while the other wife stayed home. However I don't share well with others so that wouldn't work for me. I would need to be the alpha wife. I already compete for my husband's attention with the baby, his boss, his friends, the TV, etc. The last thing I need is to compete with 8 other women too. He is my best friend. And what happens if you hate one of his wives? How weird would that be? I also worry about someone who can run out of things to talk about with a spouse after 2 weeks alone when they only see each other once a week normally?

  5. i cant even think about my boyfriend's ex..well i mean we dated for awhile,broke up and now we are back together but it kills me to think that he was close with another girl besides me. i like to pretend girls in his past never existed.but i agree with you, it would be devestating either way if my man cheated on my whether that be physically or emotionally. there is something about that special bond..

  6. I'm totally obsessed with "Big Love." Modern polygamy is fascinating.

    The author's argument is definitely flawed because of her underlying belief in male domination of women, which is a basic tenant of fundamental mormonism (I'd go so far as to say it's a basic tenant of mainstream mormonism as well). Polygamy might be her way of finding some liberation in that domination, but it still doesn't excuse the masogyny involved.

    But I guess everyone has different ideas of what a marriage should be, and what life should be. Whatever makes you happy, I suppose. No way I could ever share my husband either. And why would he want a multitude of wives bitching at him for leaving his shoes in the middle of the floor and not taking out the trash? I'd say one wife bitching at him is plenty!

  7. Well said!
    She is basically arguing that marriage is a convenience that affords her cheap daycare and minimal sex. You're right she has no idea what she is compromising.

  8. excellent definition of marriage, ll. you've now pronounced me good and married. :)

  9. yeah, I don't know that I could give up that emotional intimacy, either.