As I prepare to get married and live with a dude, there are many changes happening in my life. One of those changes is getting cable TV, since my darling fiance’s quality of life dramatically improves when he is able to watch the Cornhuskers year-round. I never considered myself a big TV person, but now that I have more channels than books, I have quickly adapted to the TV-watching lifestyle (the inner bookworm in me is horrified by this new reality).
As a result of my new channel-surfing skills, I stumbled upon TLC’s newest show, “My Five Wives”, another show about polygamy in Utah. What caught my attention was that the head honcho – Brady – of this particular polygamist clan claims to be “feminist” and “progressive”.
Huh. Somehow, I find that hard to believe. Or rather, that his definition of feminism is so inaccurate that he only thinks he’s a feminist. My curiosity piqued, I settled in to watch the pilot and spent an hour getting continuously punched in the heart strings. Here’s why:
3. This family started out Mormon – the kind of Mormon that believes polygamy gets you to heaven. Now, I’m not going to knock that religion or pretend I’m well versed in it. But what struck me was hearing Brady proclaim that he no longer believed in that religion, and just prescribed to a fluffy, unstructured and morally relativistic idea of faith and God. He even gave a lecture to his children saying, “Whatever religion you guys embrace, as long as that religion teaches you to be the best person you can be, that’s what’s important.” His kids and wives just kinda stared at him like he was speaking in tongues. If I had spent my whole life fully embracing certain religious practices, only to have my spouse take that away, I’d be a little alarmed, too.
Now his wives, all beautiful and smart and apparently loving mothers, went into this polygamist marriage truly believing they were following their faith. Then 15 plus years after dedicating themselves to this, their husband pulls out the religious foundation from underneath them. One of the wives stated, “I believed polygamy was going to get me into heaven. Now I just stay because I love my family.”
So, let me get this straight. Wife enters wicked hard relationship situation, sacrificing to follow her faith, then husband decides, “Eh, I’m kinda over this whole Mormon thing, but let’s keep things the way they are while I figure out a way to justify this lifestyle without any religious backing.”
Now Brady claims that he follows some themes of Buddhism, and that he believes in “progressive polygamy”, which basically means he believes in polygamy not for any religious reason, but just as a lifestyle alternative. And then he claims everyone in his marriage is “co-equal” and oh yeah, he’s also a feminist.
2. So Brady is responsible to five women. He has 24 children spread among them. He works full-time. He says good-morning to every wife every morning, and rotates his evenings with them (so they see him every 5th night). He claims to try to talk to each child every day. In short, he has to attend to the emotional needs of 29 people EVERY DAY. This is a guy who is spread very thin, something that his wives complained about often on the show.
But then guess what? Brady decides he wants to GO BACK TO COLLEGE. Um, is he a Stephanie Meyer’s brand of vampire that never has to sleep? Cuz that’s really the only way I can see someone with that large of a familial commitment squeezing in higher education. But maybe he wants to get a better degree so he can provide a better life for his family? Hmm, I could see that. But then he discloses the degree he’s getting…
Electrical engineering? Business? Accounting? Finance?
Nope, nope, nope, nope.
PHILOSOPHY. Now don’t get me wrong, philosophy is a needed and respectable field of study. But I really don’t see how a responsible husband to 5 wives, and father to 24 children has the luxury of getting a degree just because he wanted to fulfill his “dream”. He’s taking time away from his already monumentally overwhelming family obligations to pursue a degree for funsies?
Honestly, when you become a spouse and a parent, this whole life game stops becoming about you. It becomes about your family, and putting their needs and desires above your own. When your wives and children only see you for small snippets at a time (so much so that one wife considers herself a single mother), I would hope that his main goal in life was to properly manage his time and priorities to maximize bonding time. Perhaps he likes school because it gives him a break from the 29 close relationships he’s supposed to nourish daily… Which is fine, but again, you don’t really have that luxury when you decide to marry 5 women and father 24 children.
If I were one of those wives, I’d be a little (lot) bitter about that. But I’m kind of a curmudgeon anyway.
1. The number one way this pilot was like getting sucker punched to the heart muscle, is this:
His wives are so obviously, heart-breakingly LONELY. It is depressing. Every wife stated in varying ways, that sharing their husband was lonely, hard and decreased self-confidence. They all agreed the hardest thing about polygamy was sharing Brady, that he wasn’t there all the time. They talked about the tricks they employ to combat jealousy, such as not thinking about where Brady is when he’s not home with them. Or how they “soak him up” the nights they do have them. Or even how happy they are when its their birthday and they get an extra night with him.
And the saddest technique to combat the lonely? Brady-shaped body pillows.
You read that right. One of the wives painted Brady on body pillows and gave one to each wife “to cuddle when Brady isn’t there”. She even painted the wife’s name on the pillow so they could imagine that even though Brady isn’t home, he’s still dreaming of them.
If that doesn’t break your heart, then you should spend some time playing with puppies or babies cuz you need to build some compassion in that ticker of yours.
In closing, this show has definitely proven to be interesting, if you can get past the painful scenes. The wives all seem to truly be loving mothers and seem to work hard at making this arrangement work out for their children. But while Brady claims they are all “co-equal”, being that he’s a “feminist” and all, the only thing these women are equal in is their loneliness and low self-esteem. It makes me want to be friends with all of them a start a support group.
Instead, I’ll keep watching the show with my Catholic therapist cap on, and pray for all those families out there trying to figure this relationship stuff out (including my own).
Holy Family, pray for us!