‘“Big Love’” would be big trouble for Clarey
I dig pretty hard on the HBO Original Series catalog, a field that includes ‘“Curb Your Enthusiasm’” (Larry David kills me), ‘“Entourage’” (which allows me to live vicariously the lives of stinking rich 25-year-olds), ‘“Deadwood’” (my Al Swearingen impression consists only of one unprintable word) and ‘“The Sopranos’” (don’t worry, Tony’s gonna be just fine).
So it was a natch for me to catch the premier episode of ‘“Big Love,’” the cable channel’s new hour-long drama about a polygamous Mormon family, the Henricksons, who live together in a three-house compound on a fine suburban street with their collective of seven children.
My wife and I had been talking about it for days before the airing, and to each other we admitted exasperation with the lifestyle.
‘“Can you imagine?’” my wife asked. ‘“Having to watch your husband go after other women’… court other women right in front of you’… sleep with them?’”
These are things that would not go over well in my house.
And since we’ve watched the show we both find ourselves thinking about the polygamous lifestyle at odd moments. To us it seems very impractical.
Living with three wives, when viewed through the hard lens of reality, does not seem all its cracked up to be. I don’t believe it threatens my own marriage ‘— I don’t really give a crap about other people’s marriages, certainly not enough to lay down judgment on how people live their lives ‘— and I’m not at all concerned with the debate about the relative ‘sinfulness’ of having one’s own harem.
No, my own qualms about living with multiple wives are sturdily based in reality. And though, according to HBO there are perhaps 40,000 families living this way in the United States, I just don’t see how it can be done. There are so many pitfalls’….
First, you have to sell it.
How do you explain to your (first) wife ‘— the one to whom you’ve pledged your life and soul, the person whose very existence is entwined with your own ‘— that you’re still sending out invitations to the party?
‘“Sorry hon, gonna miss dinner’… got a date tonight. Don’t wait up.’”
Oh no’… that wouldn’t fly in my house. And even in traditional polygamous households I’ll bet there’s a price to pay for that sentence come morning.
And how do you tell your woman that she’s about to become part of a’… posse? That’s a neat little piece of salesmanship.
‘“Honey, I know you’ve been complaining about the workload around here and I’ve figured out a way to help. I’ve met this woman’… she loves to cook, loves to clean’… she’s very sweet’… she’s gonna come live with us and pitch in around the house. Now, I’m gonna have to sleep with her once in a while’… you know, because technically she’ll be my wife too’… you understand. But you’re always gonna be my first wife’… nobody can take that away from you.’”
Anybody who says something like that in my house is a dead man walking.
Obviously, the ability to sell the concept of polygamy involves the kind of control over one’s woman that I am either unwilling or unable to muster.
There are other problems with the scenario as I see it.
Once you’ve got the ladies on board and you have your own crew ‘— let’s say it’s three-strong for sake of discussion ‘— you now have three women, each of whom will need to feel special, to feel beautiful, to feel listened to, to feel loved, with exasperating frequency. Come Saturday morning you’re gonna have one hell of a ‘honey-do’ list, and let’s not delve too deeply into the logistical and physical challenges of sexually gratifying three women, save to say that it’s important to remember that these are likely conservative, traditional Mormon women to whom you’re betrothed so it’s not like you can take all three of them on at once, though at this point you might be able to convince them of anything’….
But these are women we’re talking about, and even with nearly two centuries of Mormon doctrine instilled in them, I can’t imagine that they’re going to toe the line every time you snap your fingers. You’re gonna have to squelch the infighting and positioning and subtle means of manipulation that exist in any hierarchal situation as well as quell any feelings of resentment that might possibly arise from placing yourself atop that throne’… your throne made of women.
Based on my experience I believe that women, that people in general, don’t like to be grouped in clusters, that we all have a need to occasionally feel like we’re the One and Only, and that we can be fiercely territorial when it comes to our relationships and our loved ones. Marital love, especially, isn’t meant to be compartmentalized or ranked. And doubling or tripling up on wives’… well, it just seems like a terrible idea.
At least that’s the way it goes in my house.
To comment on this column, email Brian Clarey at firstname.lastname@example.org.