Choose the Wife

Several times in the Bloggernacle I have made reference to a Sunstone column, which I thought was entitled “The Polygamy Game.” I have searched numerous times in vain for it, and have never been able to find it. So I finally decided to actually look through my print collection, and I just now put my fingers on it. I couldn’t find it with a search because (1) I had misremembered the title of the column and (2) that particular issue (No. 102, 19/2 [June 1996]) is not yet available at the Sunstone website [and a friend has borrowed my New Mormon Studies cd-rom and not yet returned it]. The column I have wanted to share with you all, but until now have been unable to, was written by Robert Kirby, and is entitled “Okay–Polygamy’s Passe.” It appears on p. 59. As a public service, I will type it in below for your enjoyment.

About five minutes after the Mormon church got started, my ancestors joined up. They went through all the initiatory rites to be Mormons in the old days: whippings, burnings, mobbings, and really, really long meetings.

Eventually along came the big Mormon trial–polygamy. My ancestors participated in that, too, although probably not very successfully. Kirby isn’t exactly a common Mormon name, and none of us are general authorities.

While none of my relatives now practice polygamy, I have a few friends who do. I asked one of them what benefit there could possibly be in having more than one wife. John said it taught him great humility.

I told John he was an idiot. The average male gets sufficiently humbled from being married to only one woman. Anyone who needs six wives to humble him has to be a slow learner with a bullet-proof ego.

Glorious Hopes. Even though the LDS church abandoned the practice, lots of Mormons claim that polygamy is still God’s plan and that we’ll be living it again some day. I hope not.

Right now, my marriage is at least a fair fight. There’s only one of my wife and one of me. When my wife and I don’t agree on something there’s no way she can gang up on me.

Still, my wife and I are Mormons, and so we try to stay in practice for the big day. We do this by playing a little sacrament meeting game we call “Choose the Wife.”

The game assumes that all the women in the ward are husbandless and we’ve been “called” to choose three of them as new wives.

Even though it’s only pretend, Choose the Wife can get pretty heated. It’s earned me at least one hymnal up the side of my head. But it usually doesn’t come to that because there are strict rules.

Acutally, there’s only one rule. The rule is that my wife and I have to agree on who the wives will be. This explains why we’ve never actually played a round of Choose the Wife all the way to the end.

Basic Rules. Because the choice is limited to the women in our ward, there’s no way I can pick Kim Bassinger [sic] or Pamela Anderson to be my new wives. I can live with that because there’s also no way my wife can stick me with Whoopi Goldberg or Felix Urioste.

Choose the Wife goes something like this: I pick Sisters X, Y, and Z as our new wives. In turn, my wife chooses Sisters A, B, and C. Then we begin negotiating.

It’s the negotiating that makes me realize I would have made a lousy polygamist.

My wife invariably claims that I pick Sisters X, Y, and Z because they’re slim and attractive.

Conversely, I argue that Sisters A, B, and C are gruff and demanding, each weighing about as much as a fully loaded Buick.

Contrary to what my wife believes, Sisters X, Y, and Z aren’t chosen for their looks, but rather for the looks of their husbands. It’s probably cheating, but I figure that if Brothers X, Y, and Z seem content and happy, I stand a good chance of being treated well, too.

My wife says polygamy isn’t fair and won’t be until we can play “Choose the Husband.”

While there aren’t many women in our ward that I’d want to marry, there are a lot of men I’d like to see get whacked in the head with a hymnal.


  1. I don’t know. I don’t find Pamela Anderson attractive in the least. And it’s not really her looks.

    I look at her and I just instinctively know, “that is going to be a miserable woman to be with.” Same with Jennifer Aniston.

    I’ve encountered other impecably dressed, attractive faced, and pleasingly shaped women who also turned out to be emotionally high maintenance if not downright neurotic.

    That’s not sexy to me – no matter what her breasts look like (or her face if we want to keep it a little less crass).

    Personality is important, looks are important, how she’s running her household are important. I don’t want someone who is causing me extra stress. And stress, by the way, kills the sex-drive.

    Actually, I think I’d better stick with my own wife. She’s set my expectations rather high and it might be mean to make any other woman either a) live up to them; or b) get me accustomed to a new set of expectations.

  2. Great article,
    My wife and I have actually played this game; it has always concluded with my wife choosing women she would like to be around more.

    If such a choice ever actually had to be made, I think I would just sit back and allow my wife to do the picking.

  3. In keeping with polyandry, are wives allowed to “choose the husband”?

  4. Classic. My favorite line: “Even though it’s only pretend, Choose the Wife can get pretty heated.” Understatement of the century.

    I have often thought that since none of us has to deal with the _really_ hard trial of trying to make polygamy work in practice (like many of our ancestors), the least we can do is try to come to grips with the principle in abstract. My experience is that half the people (ahem) usually get heated before any progress can be made along those lines.

  5. Over in the disaffected Mormon underground, we used to get a new plural spouse for every 1000 posts. Just 99 more posts and I’ll be up to husband #7.

  6. …the least we can do is try to come to grips with the principle in abstract.

    I’m not so certain. I think that all we can hope for is compassion for those who lived through it and maybe get a few laughs out of it in the long run. Thank you Bro. Kirby.

  7. Stapley,

    I’ve got loads of compassion for those who lived through it, no worries there, but why is that the best we can hope for? Unless we are ready to say Joseph was a womanizing false-prophet who published a “revelation” to justify his lasciviousness (which I fully reject and I feel sure you do too), then why can’t we set our sights higher than compassion and a few laughs.

  8. Perhaps because we can’t understand it. Church members did a great job defending themselves in the 19th century. The Church has subsequently moved away from all of those defenses and rationalizations save one: that the Lord told them to do it. I really doubt we can do better.

  9. J.,

    I can sympathize with your feelings. There’s a lot ugly about how polygamy was practiced. And absolutely, there are things that we just don’t understand. But I agree with Jacob that a laughs-and-compassion approach seems to deliberately minimize (or go against) what we do know.

    Joseph thought that the formal restoration of polygamy was a Very Important Thing. He told associates that if he had not followed this law, his prophetic calling would have been taken away from him. (That’s in Remini at 153; I think I saw it in RSR, too. I don’t have the details of the communication at my fingertips, thoughy I’ve seen it mentioned; you’re way better with the primary source stuff than I am anyway.)

    That’s a statement of surprisingly strong force, and underscores the relatively central place of polygamy in Joseph’s beliefs. Are we aware of other statements of that strength — that “if you don’t do X, your prophetic calling will be taken away”? Joseph told people that the restaoration of polygamy was very important to God.

    He saw it as an important part of the restoration of all things. Joseph was a restorationist, and polygamy seemed to play an important part in his theology in the Nauvoo years.

    Is that particularly neat? No, not really. Does it fit well with a 2006 worldview? Definitely not. But it is what it is — and since we know what we know, I don’t see how we can simply say compassion-and-laughs is all we can do. That just seems like a cop-out. With the information we have, we can do more. We can try to understand what it meant back then, why people entered it, how it affected them, what prophets said it meant to God. We can ask questions about the differences between then and now. And so on.

  10. Sure, I am familiar with the prophetic ultimatum, and I agree with all the aspirations you mention. I was too far reaching in my earlier comment. The compassion and laughs should be the least we can do. Understanding the historical context, as you mention, is all we can hope for (like this for example). I do draw the line at projecting the historical context onto us or the eternities…just as the Church seems to do as well.

  11. J.,

    That makes more sense (and as you note, is consistent with your other online writings).


    File that away in the “now they tell me” department. If only I had known that three years ago. The Bloggernacle has a much stricter policy — 10,000 comments just to get plural spouse number one — and I’m still light years away.

    Hmm — I wonder if my frequent-flyer miles will transfer . . . :P

  12. Kaimi, what can I say. The bar is lower over there, because by definition, we are not celestial material.

  13. Nicola Pike says:

    I laughed my self silly. A great article. I have a running argument with my sister. she rejects the idea of sharing her husband very adamently and I’m more prosaic about it. I agree with the brother that says that the wives might go for a woman they can get along with and I would be of a similar mind. What we are all forgetting is why it didn’t work. yeah it might have been difficult in those days but the truth is that it was because of the law of the land that they got rid of it in the first place. which makes me wonder because there are some countries where polygamy is legal and I know in Africa it is common for missonaries to stumble because they can’t baptise someone because they have several wives and they don’t understand why they should only have one.

  14. Jokes and laughs about polygamy tend to confirm the aceptance of inequality in the church. No one dare laugh about blacks in the priesthood or the hypothetical reinstatement of some day not allowing blacks the priesthood. We are embarrassed that it ever unfolded the way it did. And yet, there were profets who preached that denying blacks the preisthood was an eternal thing that had to do with disobedience in the pre-existence (see ).

    I wonder sometimes why women allow the jokes about polygamy to persist in our culture. Is it acceptance or indifference to the principle that makes joking about polygamy acceptable? Do women get a genuine laugh out of this or is there underlying frustration that is hidden?

  15. Jen, perhaps it is because many of us are decendants of very good people who happen to be polygamists.

  16. I sometimes say to my wife “If Polygamy were re-instated, can she by my second wife?.” She doesn’t always find it funny.

  17. Gee, I thought about this at Sunday this week and thought, “I’d rather not, thank you very much.” Didn’t mention the game.

    I need to write a longer post about some of the issues some day.

  18. Mark Butler says:

    In the eternities, far better to be married to any righteous man, even if you have to share him, than not be married at all. If there is a net shortage of men in the celestial kingdom, you can bet that the women without husbands will be begging the Lord to allow them to be married in polygamy.

    The reproach spoken of in Isaiah 4:1 is the fact that eternal glory is impossible without entering into the new and everlasting covenant of marriage. That should be obvious enough.

  19. Polygamy in Utah had three heavy burdens:
    1. They were busy enough trying to tame a wilderness. That is enough for most people.
    2. They had the rest of the US all over them because of polygamy.
    3. They knew the general outline of living polygamy, but not the details. All that had to be worked out and the deveil is in the details. It would have been challenging enough without items 1 and 2 adding weight.

    I wonder if the church had been left alone for a couple generations, how living with multiple wives would have worked out. To the rising generatons it would have been just normal and not the massive emotional and social change the first generation went through.

  20. “In the eternities, far better to be married to any righteous man, even if you have to share him, than not be married at all. If there is a net shortage of men in the celestial kingdom, you can bet that the women without husbands will be begging the Lord to allow them to be married in polygamy.”

    sure. how else are they going to get spirit pregnant and have spirit babies for all eternity (which, obviously, is the only way women can be happy).

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