Every once in a while, my wife Mardell and I get into a discussion of polygamy. We occasionally speculate about what would happen if the church officially began to practice polygamy again. (This assumes a lot of things, like anti-polygamy laws being struck down). Mardell has consistently stated that she would not like polygamy, but that if it had to be done, she thinks that she would be able to tolerate it. On reflection, I think that I could probably tolerate it as well. (It would certainly be really, really weird). But I also think that, despite that attitude of potential reluctant acceptance (which is, I think, widespread among members), reinstituting polygamy would never work. Here’s why:
As noted, my hunch is that if I had to marry a sister-wife, we could find some sort of marital equilibrium. (Probably both women ganging up against me and making me do the dishes . . .). But what would be the strangest — something I doubt that I could pull off — would be the courting.
Modern marriage conventions are different from what folk did a hundred years ago. Even if I wanted another wife, I couldn’t just go up to a brother in the ward and ask for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Nowadays it requires dating and courtship — going to dinner, holding hands, going to the movies, calling each other to chat, making out in the parking lot.
And that’s the part that would be (1) incredibly weird and uncomfortable for me, and (2) almost certainly intolerable for Mardell. As much as she thinks she could tolerate having another wife, I am certain that she could not tolerate the idea of her husband out on the dating market, flirting with random single members, asking for their phone numbers, and potentially, eventually, marrying them.
And I think that this feeling is universal, or close to it. Many members are descendants of polygamists, and they may say to themselves “My great-grandma Edna did it, I could do it too.” But it’s not just marriage that would be involved — it would necessitate dating, flirting, and courtship. And I just don’t think many LDS women would go along with that. Plural marriage may look like what great-grandma Edna did, but married men hitting on cute singles looks like a run-of-the-mill tawdry affair.
And it seems to me that it is this shift in marriage and dating conventions that truly ensures that polygamy can never be reinstituted.