What happened before and after my friend asked if Joshua and Charlotte are siblings

I met Sophie* more than two years ago because of our shared interest in home birth.

I never told her my marital status.

It wasn’t relevant to a relationship.

She was interested in my head covering, so it was a point of conversation which led to sharing somewhat of my beliefs. I shared what we did with Biblical feasts and what, in the context of Mormonism, I have come to believe about them. Sophie was very interested in my points of view regarding religious and spiritual matters, and we had shared child birthing, feeding, and rearing points of view.

I wanted to go over to her home often, but life is just busy, and my plan to teach her how to make challah never got off the ground.

When our Chanukah party came up, and we had a Facebook invite list, I was mentally going through who I wanted to come to it and Sophie popped into my brain.

So, not really thinking about it beyond sharing our feast with her, I sent an invitation via Facebook and she responded positively.

I wasn’t really sure how to confront the polygamy issue, so I decided to wait until she was actually there and tell her face to face on my porch. I’m kind of in a place of just telling people when they are in circumstances that will lead them to find out anyway. It’s probably not the safest but it gives absolute clarity on where they stand, and I get to do it in a take-it-to-the-front format.

However, two hours before the party began, right in the middle of preparations, I got a phone call from my son who happened to be in town. I hadn’t seen him for 9 months. He is in the Army and been deployed to Afghanistan.  I really, really want to maintain this relationship for many reasons, but it’s kind of been on sketchy, tenuous threads and definitely on his terms.  So I opted to leave the party preparations, visit him, and get back as soon as I reasonably could.

Well, I didn’t give the heads up to Joshua and Charlotte because I thought I could get back early to take care of disclosure.

That didn’t work out.

I got a text from Sophie, asking for the address and I gave it to her.

As time ran later, I began to worry about getting back on time but there wasn’t a definitive point to leave and I finally just said that I needed to leave. I got in my car and checked my messages.

Imagine my absolute relief when the last text message appeared on my screen.

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I was floored. There are literally less than a handful of people who have reacted positively upon immediate disclosure. Sophie made #5.

So, I bawled my way home and walked into a huge hug from Sophie and a bunch of laughter and just absolute happiness about how it all went down.

*Name changed

 

What happened after my sisterwife’s friend asked if Joshua and I are siblings

Everyone at the party stopped talking and watched to see what would happen next. They all knew Joshua and I are not siblings, and they were curious to see how our new acquaintance would take the shocking news of real-life, in-your-face polygamy.

Just minutes earlier Joshua and I had met Sophie* for the first time and were getting to know her and her family. Melissa was supposed to have been there to make introductions, but a phone call had unexpectedly pulled her away from our Chanukah party before Sophie arrived. Melissa had texted Sophie telling her she would be gone and to “look for Joshua and Charlotte”.

So there we were, just chatting away. Joshua and Sophie made the connection that they both used to live in the south. She and I talked about Jewish feasts, home childbirth, and extended breastfeeding. Sophie said to Joshua, “This is a nice area! How long have you lived here?” He wasn’t sure how to answer because Melissa and I currently live in the same house, but we moved in 2 years apart. So which date should be given as his answer? I think he said, “Well, Melissa moved here in June, but we’ve owned the house for 2 years.” Sophie followed up, “So, were you renting it out in the meantime or something?” Awkward.

I started to realize that Sophie didn’t know that her friend Melissa was a plural wife, and that it wasn’t going to be Melissa that broke the news to her. At the same time, Sophie was trying to sort out what exactly my connection to Melissa was.

She gestured to Joshua and me, “So, are you two brother and sister?” That was the moment when our conversation got interesting to the rest of our party guests. All faces in the room turned to us as I tried to decide how to answer.

Our polygamy is not a secret (anymore), and we don’t lie about it, but we also don’t announce it everywhere we go. We like to tell people when it comes up naturally (altho, for various reasons, we occasionally make a point of going out of our way to tell someone). The awkwardness was simply the fact that it was Melissa’s friend, not my own, who asked the question.

I looked at Joshua and said, “She doesn’t know!” He gave me a knowing nod and I said, “And it’s up to me to tell her?” He laughed and said, “I guess so!”

I turned back to Sophie and said with a smile, “No.”

She said, “Oh, I noticed from the Facebook event invitation that you all have the same last name. Are you Melissa’s sister?”

The confusion was setting in. It was time for the truth to be told. I simply said, “No. Melissa and I are both married to Joshua.”

Then we all waited. We have had so many different reactions when people learn we are polygamists; we never know what we’re going to get.

telling someone you're a polygamist final

I was pretty surprised when Sophie got excited and spoke with a voice punctuated by exclamation points. “Oh! I had no idea Melissa was a polygamist! I love polygamy! That’s great! Are you guys Mormon? I wish the LDS Church still practiced polygamy!”

Our long-time friend Hugh* butted in on the conversation and teasingly said to Sophie, “Stop encouraging them!” I bantered back by telling Joshua to spit in his food.

“I have so many questions for you!” Sophie went on. And she really did. She was interested and positive and was a good listener. Her response was amazingly supportive.

That moment of truth, that moment when an acquaintance learns about the polygamy, is bound to make or break a budding relationship. Some of my friendships have ended over the issue of polygamy; other potential friendships have never really gotten off the ground. Quite frankly, it could just as easily be a non-issue: I’m happy to be friends with people who are single, monogamous, or polygamous — why do so many people care which I am? There’s a lot more to me than the fact that my husband has another wife. I am grateful for those people in my life who haven’t let my polygamy get in the way of knowing me personally.

*name changed

Finally

About ten years ago, my husband and I bought our first house together.  While I lived in that house, I planted trees and gardens.  I bought furniture.  I hosted events.  I had a variety of houseguests.  I put up pictures and had pets and houseplants.  While I lived there I went from 1 child to 3 children and began homeschooling.  I had a variety of Church callings and a good selection of friends and friendly neighbors.  I was in living that house when my belief system about the LDS Church crumbled (although I stayed an active member for a number of years).  I also gave birth in one of the bedrooms upstairs.

In that same bedroom, my husband and I first discussed the possibility of his marrying my best friend Melissa.  (Short version: I could no longer ignore the spiritual experiences I was having regarding God’s will in the matter.  Joshua and I had never talked about it before, but I opened the conversation with: “So, Joshua, are you going to marry Melissa?”  His answer: “Well, I don’t know.”  My shocked reply: “What do you mean you don’t know?  I know!”  Two days later he had his first conversation with Melissa about it; I think it’s fair to say the latter conversation was far more awkward than the former.)

A few weeks later, in that same upstairs bedroom, I announced to my husband my plan to essentially give the house to Melissa and her children and move with my children more than an hour away, in order for her teenagers to have the space they needed to finish growing up.

That very day, about 5 years ago, we packed up a single carload and I moved away from my trees and animals and gardens, most of my possessions, my friends and neighbors, and the only home most of my children had ever known.

Gradually, tediously, over months and many many many trips between the two houses, Melissa patiently helped me finish moving out of the house which was now, bewilderingly, hers.  And she made that house her own, changing out the kitchen appliances and paint and window coverings and furniture and animals and gardens to better suit her preferences.  She continued the arduous task of parenting children without their father.  And she got used to being a plural wife.

Melissa has now lived in that house longer than I ever lived in it.

For 5 years, my children have had just one parent half the time.  I tell you, it sure is a special treat for the kids when Baba walks in that front door after they’ve been stuck with only me for a couple of days.  Two of our children don’t even remember life before their father was a polygamist.  They don’t remember what it was like to eat dinner and have devotional with him every single night.  They’ve developed habits such as asking me every couple of hours whether Baba will be here today, and writing things down they don’t want to forget to tell him.

For 5 years, my husband has had more than one carpool to get to his job.  (It’s very confusing for his fellow carpoolers.)  He’s had multiple houses and yards to maintain.  He’s been forced to have duplicates of numerous things (including cars, lawn mowers, and property tax bills) so he can frequently seesaw between his two domiciles.  And I can’t even count the number of times he’s needed something but has turned up empty-handed because the tool or other item was in a different county.  He’s been like an unlucky stepchild, constantly going back-and-forth between two houses.

Over the last 5 years, all of us have had more difficulties than I care to list right now.  We’ve also had a lot of personal growth and character-building, but I’ll save that for another time.  I’d rather get to the good news.

For 5 years, Melissa has been finishing the job of turning children into adults.  Her youngest is now 18 years old.  He recently graduated from high school and is launching out on his own.

We are all ready for a big life change.

Melissa’s time in my old house is coming to a close.

Tomorrow my sisterwife finally moves in with me. 

Well, sort of.  I live in a house with several separate apartments, all connected on the inside.  Melissa and I will live together, but each of us will have our own part of the house, our own front door, our own master bedroom, our own kitchen.

Our husband will no longer need duplicates of so many things.  He will get to come home to his entire family every evening.  The children will get to see their Baba and their other mother daily.  Melissa will have to do a lot less driving.  And she and I get to begin a new phase of our relationship.

I can’t wait to see what happens next.

You should know me by now

Throughout the Seeking Sister Wife episodes so far, Ashley Snowden frequently talks about how she and Dimitri are looking for a sisterwife “together.”

I remember when I thought plural marriage was going to be a team effort.  I thought the 3 of us would spend all this time together.  I definitely thought we would all live together.  I saw the theoretical benefits of having another mom around to help with kids.  I imagined that my husband having another wife might mean I would get more time alone with my husband (because my sisterwife could watch the kids, instead of me always taking care of the children and my husband and me never getting time alone as a couple).  At one point I even fantasized that I would share Melissa’s (teenaged) children with her the same way she would share my little kids with me, that we’d all just be one big happy blended polygamous family.

Boy, was I wrong about all of that.  I remember realizing that, no, I was going to be left out of plenty of things.  It wasn’t going to work out for us to live together.  I wasn’t going to get the benefits of another woman around to share the workload.  I wasn’t going to be included in every event and every date and every decision.  I wasn’t going to get more alone time with my husband while my sisterwife babysat my kids.  And her teenagers certainly weren’t going to consider me their second mom (wow, was I naïve about stepchildren).

I’m not saying that to highlight the negative.  I just see similarities between what happened in my family with Melissa, and what’s happening in Ashley’s family with Joselyn in episode 3.

Ashley is very much in control as the steps are taken to begin dating Joselyn — the setting up of the online profile, the checking of their dating website messages, the responses to Joselyn, etc….

Then, when Joselyn is coming to visit the Snowdens in person, Ashley insists that the first “date” be with both herself and Dimitri.

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“I think it makes sense to do the first date together.”

I’m not criticizing Ashley.  I love how gung-ho she is about living in polygamy, and she’s one of my favorite people to watch on the show because she’s confident and well-spoken, and I think she and Dimitri are cute together.  I just see so much of myself in her!  I too was pushing and involved and confident and gung-ho, and I had this vision of how things were going to go, that we were going to do everything together.

And then my reality set in.

I don’t know.  How Ashley’s family turns out will probably be different than how mine turned out.  Perhaps her life will actually end up looking the way she currently envisions.  I only know mine hasn’t, not at all, and there are a couple of moments in this episode that I watch and think, Oh, I know how she must be feeling!  

One of the moments is when Dimitri suggests that he and Joselyn go on a date that evening, just the two of them, and Ashley stay home with the babies.

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Dimitri suggests he and Joselyn go out sans Ashley, and he waits to see how she will answer.

Of course this was going to happen at some point.  But it seemed to catch Ashley off guard.  Maybe she thought when it happened that it would be her idea?  After hesitating, she responded with a not-so-confident, “[Of] course.”

Obviously my husband was going to spend time one-on-one with my future sisterwife as well.  He had a relationship to develop with this new woman.  But it was still a time of intense emotion for me, when the theoretical became real, very real, and I wasn’t always thrilled with how things were playing out.

Dimitri knows Ashley well, and in a scene outside the restaurant, he asks her several questions directly: “You’re not just, like, passively okay? You want me to go?  You’re, like, cheerleading me to go on a date?  Pom-poms, Team Snowden?”

And to each one, Ashley says, “You should know me by now.”

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“You should know me by now.”

Dimitri concludes, “She makes the I’m-not-feeling-it face.”

I remember Joshua asking me if I was sure I was okay with what was happening.  And I was absolutely convinced that I was doing what God told me to do, so I wasn’t about to change my mind, and I always answered, “Yes, yes, yes, I’m sure,” even when I was crying and didn’t know how to handle the strong feelings I was having.  (My poor husband.)

Ashley does go on to say, “You go on your date.  Have a great time.”  This is her being brave.  This is her trying to be supportive, staying the course, and holding in the emotions.  The emotions are hers to sort out, not Dimitri’s.

Y’all have your own castle

In the episode of Seeking Sister Wife called “Risky Business,” Ashley tells her mom Donna that she and Dimitri are starting to date again.

“When I’m doing something I know my mom won’t approve of, I just love telling her about it!” said no one ever.

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I think the conversation between Ashley and Donna went pretty well; here’s what Donna said [timestamp 33:23], and it is my favorite SSW moment thus far:

You a queen and he a king and y’all have your own castle, so you make your own decisions, and you do you.

– Donna (Ashley Snowden’s mom), Seeking Sister Wife, S1E2

What better response could you expect from a parent?  I absolutely love this.

Parents need to let go of having control over (or even having a say in) their adult children’s lives.  I’m happy for Ashley that her mom could be so mature and accepting of a lifestyle she wouldn’t choose for herself or her daughter.

I’ve had my share of similar dialogues.  They can be very difficult.  In our house, we’re not allowed to complain, but we’re allowed to say that something is “not my favorite.”  So I’ll just say… Conversations like that one are not my favorite.

When we tell people about our polygamy, we never know what to expect, and we have gotten a whole spectrum of responses.

Some responses were laughable, some were cringe-worthy, some were supportive, some were hurtful, and some were memorable enough that they’ve become classic stories in our family.  We’ve been cursed (literally); we’ve had people overcome with the Spirit and gain a testimony that we’re doing God’s will; we’ve had people shrug as if we just told them we like to eat spaghetti for dinner; we’ve had the cops called on us; we’ve had our Church leaders called on us; we’ve had DCFS (child protective services) called on us; we’ve had people stop talking to us; we’ve had people tell us about Dreams they’ve had about us; we’ve had people act shocked; we’ve had people nod and say, “Yeah, I figured.”  We can never be sure how a person is going to react, but we always learn something about the person by how they behave towards us after they find out we’re polygamists.

Strangers have been easier for me to tell than people whom I’ve known my whole life.  I suppose it’s because with a stranger I have nothing to lose: if they respond negatively, the relationship ends before it even begins.  But with a long-time friend or a family member, I’ve invested in the relationship and will suffer a great loss if they reject me.

And rejection has been in plenty.  Perhaps I will describe the depth of it in future posts.  For now I’ll keep it on the positive side and share one of my favorite stories of a person’s reaction to my polygamous status:

We were at a large gathering and were meeting a lot of new acquaintances.  Joshua and Melissa met this guy and got introduced as husband-and-wife, and 5 minutes later I met the same individual.  He asked who I was married to, and I pointed out Joshua.  He was confused and said, “But… I thought she was his wife…” and I just stood there nodding and smiling, and it slowly dawned on him what that meant.  He said, “So… You’re polygamists?!”  I confirmed and waited to see what his reaction would be.  Pause… pause… pause… “That’s awesome!

All these experiences, both positive and negative, help us figure out who our true friends are and who it is we want to continue having in our lives.  And maybe my sisterwife Melissa is right when she says, “We are a test for people, to see whether or not they will be kind to us.”

Thank you for making breakfast, Aunt Vanessa

In the first scene of “Let the Seeking Begin!” [timestamp 03:30], Sharis prompts her children to say thank you to “Aunt Vanessa” for making breakfast.

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Aunt is a cute way to have children address their other mothers, although it seems inaccurate, given that Vanessa isn’t really the aunt of Sharis’s children.  I suppose one could argue that Vanessa is their mother’s sister[wife], and that makes the title Aunt reasonable.  Further, even if I find it strange, let’s remember that Sharis is the one who grew up in polygamy, so what do I know?

Another common way for children to address their father’s other wives is to call them Mom [first name].  In one plural family I’ve seen, the children refer to all the women as simply “Mom.”  This is heart-warming, but it seems impractical.  Besides, using the title Mom instead of the title Aunt doesn’t solve the problem of inaccuracy.

What do we do in my family?  My children generally call my sisterwife “Ma-Melissa”.  (Or is it “Mama-lissa”?  Or perhaps “Mom-Melissa”?  I’m never quite sure, given the first syllable of her name. 🙂 )  Other times they might call her “Mama Melissa” but sometimes just “Melissa.”  The phrase “the mamas” is often used to refer to both of us, as in, “Please obey the mamas,” or, “Ask one of the mamas for help with that.”  (Melissa’s children are from a previous marriage and they have never called me anything but “Charlotte.”)

It would be interesting to take a poll and get some data on what the most common naming practices are in plural families and what the reasoning is behind them.

The relationship between children and their other mothers is something in between Mom and Aunt.  I think there ought to be a term, peculiar to the plural marriage world, to describe this something-in-between relationship.

What about Maunt?  Or maybe it ought to be spelled Mont??  Hmmm… I wonder if that word would ever catch on…