I distinctly remember the first time someone looked up to me for being a polygamist.
We had been invited by some polygamous friends to a Thanksgiving dinner that was attended by an eclectic group of fundamental Mormons (some were members of a sect of Mormonism, but many were independent). I knew almost no one there. (This was the first time I met Benjamin Shaffer, the attorney who purchased Drew Briney’s law firm when the Brineys moved away from Utah.) I was introduced to a married couple and I asked them if they were polygamists. The wife said, “No, not yet. I wish. Are you guys polygamists?” When I answered in the affirmative, she said with sincerity, “Oh, that’s so great. I hope I can be a plural wife someday.” (She’s a plural wife now and one of the best I know. As one example of how she’s so supportive: She has a huge picture of her husband and sisterwife on their wedding day on her living room wall.)
That was a very nice moment for me. Up to that point, people expressed many different feelings about my marital status, ranging from outright rejection to disgust to fascination to neutrality to supportive, but I had never met anyone who was actually jealous of me for being a polygamist.
I didn’t consider myself a fundamental Mormon, but after that Thanksgiving dinner I started to feel more and more comfortable hanging around Mormon fundamentalists because of their general belief that polygamy is acceptable, desirable, even preferred.
I still spend plenty of time with people who merely tolerate my polygamy. When I’m around those people, I will either hide my polygamy or at the very least I feel an overarching sense of embarrassment/shame about it, like the girl who keeps brushing her bangs in front of the zit on her forehead.
However, those feelings of shame or embarrassment are left over from when I cared what those people thought. I’m not ashamed to be a polygamist. I’m actually quite proud of my plural family and in particular of my husband. I’m proud of my husband for keeping two emotional women happy most of the time. I’m proud of him for financially supporting a large family. I’m proud of him for bearing the weight of a marred reputation caused by society’s feelings about plural marriage. I’m proud of him for always putting his family first and for being the most selfless person I have the privilege of knowing. I’m proud of him that God trusts him with such a great responsibility. I’m proud of him for keeping peace (and restoring it when it’s lost) between all the members of our family. I’m proud of him for his wisdom in difficult decisions. I’m proud of him for functioning on 2 hours of sleep when one of his wives needs to talk with him all night. I’m proud of him for never putting himself first but for always always serving God and his family and others around him. I’m proud of him for being stable when one or both of his wives are being crazy. I’m proud of Joshua for so many reasons. I think of him as a king and I feel it an honor to be married to him. I’m proud to be one of his queens.
The feeling of pride I have over our functional, beautiful plural family has grown and expanded almost imperceptibly until an event that happened yesterday. We went to a party for Joshua’s aunts, uncles, and cousins. This party is held annually, but it was our first time attending since becoming polygamists. We used to go every year (and to other events with these people as well), and Joshua and I have been married for 17 years, so I’ve known these people for a good long time.
The family is a pretty big group, I would say about 85 people, and almost all of them are active LDS. This is the kind of group I have historically felt awkward to be around. None of them are excited that we’re polygamists, and many of them openly disapprove (even writing letters and making phone calls to make sure we know how they feel).
And yet, yesterday when we walked into the party, I held my head high. I felt like a queen. I look at Joshua as a king and Melissa as a queen, and yesterday I felt no shame or embarrassment whatsoever. I greeted everyone with a confident hug and just acted like my old pre-polygamy self. If anyone felt awkward, it wasn’t me. If anyone wished I wasn’t there, it wasn’t me. I didn’t feel like I was inferior to any of the monogamists in the room. I didn’t feel like I had anything to apologize for. I didn’t feel like I had a zit on my forehead I was trying to hide. I just felt proud of my plural family and proud of my kingly husband. It was a wonderful experience and certainly made me feel as tho I have progressed in my journey as a plural wife.
There he stood, in the front of our Ethics and Values classroom, curly brown hair, leather jacket that couldn’t hide his muscular arms, sexy 5 o’clock shadow, a deep voice. He was discussing the pros and cons of capital punishment, the controversial ethical topic assigned to his group.
I had dated a lot in high school, but now that I was in college, I was trying to be pickier, trying to figure out what my type was, and I had picked up the habit of analyzing men to discern which of his physical traits I liked and which I didn’t. I had never found a man I couldn’t improve upon, but as I sat on the back row that day watching and listening to Joshua, for the first time I couldn’t come up with a single thing I would change to make a man more attractive. I had found my ideal man, at least on the surface. Not only was he the most handsome men I’d ever met, but he was intelligent, well-prepared, and well-spoken.
At the end of Joshua’s presentation, I raised my hand to add to the discussion. Was it just my imagination, or did he like what I had to say? A little while later, I raised my hand again, but then I noticed that class time was almost gone, and I lowered it again. He noticed the question left hanging, and he approached me as the classroom emptied and asked what I had intended to say.
We talked for a few minutes before going our separate ways. But that was enough to get the ball rolling.
It was a series of coincidences that had led to our meeting. You see, we weren’t exactly classmates: We were taking the same course, but we were in different sections taught by the same professor. If things had gone according to schedule, Joshua and I would never have met. But something happened to shake things up: My brother had been called on a mission for the LDS Church, and I wanted to go with him and the rest of my family to see him enter the MTC, or Missionary Training Center. The end of the college semester was approaching, and since class time was being taken up with group presentations, my professor had started making class participation part of our grade to prevent attendance from declining. If I was going to see my brother enter the MTC, I would miss my class, so I talked to my professor in advance and got permission to make up the participation points by coming to another of her Ethics and Values sessions. I searched my schedule for a time when that would be possible. Most school days at 1:00 p.m. I was busy as an ASL interpreter for a religion class. Fortunately, those classes weren’t held on Fridays, which meant I was available for that one hour — which happened to be, of course, the day and hour of Joshua’s presentation in his own section of Ethics and Values. That’s how I came to be there that Friday afternoon.
After Joshua and I had parted company. I went to work for a few hours and then got ready for a date — a formal dance I was going to with a man named Ryan.
Now, Ryan and I were very close friends, and sometimes we acted as tho we liked each other, but the truth was that the woman he wanted to marry was away from home serving a mission for the mainstream LDS Church, and I was just a placeholder until she came home a few months later. I wasn’t particularly into him either, but we got along splendidly, and our relationship was convenient. We carpooled to school together, worked on our Calculus 3 homework together, hung out as friends on the weekend, and when one of us needed an official date for an event, the other person was usually available.
(As a side note, two fun stories: After his girlfriend got home from her mission, Ryan and she came together to my wedding reception, which was so romantic that they ended up getting engaged at it. They’re still happily married and have half a dozen kids. He’s a successful engineer, so I guess it worked out for him to study calculus with me, ha ha. Another guy I dated met someone at my wedding reception, soon afterwards they started dating, later they were also engaged. Have you ever heard of a wedding reception so romantic?)
I had asked my friend to do my hair in a fancy up-do for the dance with Ryan, and while she worked, I chatted endlessly about this man named Joshua I had met at school that day. I don’t know how I came up with so much to say about someone I’d only talked to for a quarter of an hour, but you and I both know how silly girls can be.
At some point in the course of our conversation I told her, “I think I’m going to marry him!” She responded by telling me I was crazy. (I still have the professional photo taken of Ryan and me at the formal dance, and it’s one of my favorites because of the fond memories I have of that day and even of my hairdo.)
I couldn’t stop thinking about Joshua for days, and he must have had a similar weekend. On Monday he got my phone number from our professor (with my permission), called me up, and the rest of our story is for future chapters.
I was still an active member of the LDS Church, and I was substituting as the pianist in primary. Singing Time was over for the Junior Primary, so I had a few minutes to relax before the Senior Primary came in.
The Primary President was in charge of Sharing Time, and she was having the children role play some Bible stories.
Since we believe we are Israelites, Jacob (a.k.a. Israel) is a key person in our story and covenant heritage. The trouble for a strictly monogamous Church is that Jacob/Israel inconveniently had 4 wives, and each wife was the mother of at least 2 of the sons who would become the namesakes for the “tribes of Israel.”
How does one tell the story of the family and hold Jacob/Israel up as a good example we should emulate without condoning his polygamy???
When trying to role play this awkward marital situation, what is a Primary President supposed to do?
She did what any self-respecting monogamous Primary President would do. She pretended that Jacob had only one wife, giving her the credit for birthing all 12 of his sons (and 1 daughter).
I wasn’t a polygamist back then — in fact, I didn’t even like the idea of polygamy — and yet I was shocked at this blatant mis-telling of the common Bible story.
(Side note: The famous musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoatmentions Jacob’s “wives“ and states that Joseph’s mother was Jacob’s favorite wife. As far as I remember, the play leaves it at that; the plural wives are not major characters and they are never explicitly named, so the screenplay skirts around the polygamy issue without either making a big deal about it or being inaccurate.)
Back to the Primary President. She invited 1 boy and 1 girl to the front of the room and let them dress up in some simple homemade costumes. Then she introduced them to the primary as Jacob and his “wife“, who were the parents of the 12 sons we know as the tribes of Israel.
I was stunned. I couldn’t let this error pass without comment, so from the back of the room, I raised my hand and opened my mouth and said,
“Excuse me, ma’am, but Jacob had 4 wives.”
The Primary President blushed and hemmed and stammered and couldn’t find a way to remove herself from the embarrassing situation she’d put herself into. The story was cut short and the children were shooed back to their seats.
I felt bad for correcting the Primary President in front of everyone, and yet, what would you have done?
An hour later, when the same activity was being done with the older age group, I noticed that the Primary President still had children act out Adam and Eve, Noah and Mrs. Noah, Jonah, Daniel, David and Goliath, and so on, but she didn’t dare repeating the Jacob-and-his-monogamous-wife incident, and that story was left out.
I watch every episode of Seeking Sister Wife, but I still haven’t gotten around to watching Sister Wives. My friend texted me this evening and told me she saw us on the Sister Wives episode that showed Mitch and Aspyn’s wedding, so I figured I should write about it. One of these days I’ll probably sit down and watch the episode.
The invitation had a cool wax seal with the letter “T” on it (for Thompson). I was interested to see that the bride’s name was “Aspyn Kristine Brown.” I wonder what the story is behind the middle name. I suppose her mom, Christine, wanted to name her daughter after herself, but without spelling it the same?
I was surprised to realize the reception was on Father’s Day; that seems like such a strange day for a wedding. But later I was told that the venue they wanted to rent for the reception was booked solid except for Father’s Day, so they went with it.
My sister got married on her birthday. That seems even stranger than getting married on Father’s Day. But it’s a bummer for my sister now that she’s divorced. C’est la vie.
Interestingly enough, a polygamous husband in one of the reality TV shows was married to one of his wives on her birthday, and they are also now divorced. You’re not going to believe this, but not only were both my sister and my friend married on their birthday, but they also have their birthdays on the same day! Weird! Don’t get married on your birthday, especially if your birthday is June 19th!
We know the Browns as well as Mitch. We also know all of Mitch’s siblings, including Vanessa Alldredge from Seeking Sister Wife (she actually stayed at our house when they were in town for the wedding). Half of Mitch’s siblings are polygamists and half are not. He’s the tie-breaker to tip the scale towards monogamy.
We have attended other events that were being filmed for reality TV. One of them was an event for the Briney family from the first season of Seeking Sister Wife. The event was a Meet ‘n’ Greet for Lenny, the newborn baby of Drew Briney’s third wife Angela. We were required to meet TLC employees in a parking lot a mile away from the Brineys’ house, sign a contract, and get our photos taken, before being allowed in the car that would shuttle us to the actual site. I don’t remember what the paperwork said, altho I did take a picture of it so I could go back and reread it if I ever wanted to. I remember it was several pages and after I signed it I had to hold it in front of my body while the network took a photo of me, mug shot style. (The Meet ‘n’ Greet never aired, presumably because the Briney family provided enough other drama that the footage wasn’t needed. Angela told me she was disappointed that TLC focused so much on the bad stuff instead of showing one of the beautiful themes available to them: the miracle of Lenny’s conception; the footage of his birth; the visit of his namesake, Angela’s father; and his Meet ‘n’ Greet.)
One of the things I remember from Lenny’s Meet ‘n’ Greet was that we arrived, put our gifts in the designated spot, talked to people, went inside the house, used the bathroom, chatted with Drew’s mom, asked if any help was needed with the food, etc., all before any filming took place. Then, when the film crew was finally ready, and more than an hour after the event was scheduled to begin, all the guests had to “leave” the party and then enter again, on camera this time, as if we had just arrived. That part felt fake, for sure. But most of the event felt normal, besides being surrounded by cameras, microphones, and film crew. Joshua was asked to give the opening prayer. We sat at the table with Jeff Alldredge’s daughter. If I remember right, at that point TLC wasn’t open about the Alldredges knowing the Brineys, it was hush-hush, and Jeff’s daughter wasn’t allowed to show her face in the Alldredge scenes because she had been filmed in the Briney parts of the show. In fact, the Alldredges weren’t even allowed to attend the Meet ‘n’ Greet, despite their being very close to Angela Briney. (As an example of how good of friends they are, I’ll tell you, I went to visit Angela when Lenny was less than a week old. As I pulled up to the house Angela shared with April Briney, the Alldredges came out and walked to their truck. I asked them, “Oh, did you come to meet the new baby?” and they answered that this wasn’t their first visit, that they’d already been to visit Angela several times since Lenny was born.) After Seeking Sister Wife aired for the first time, of course it came out that the Brineys and Alldredges know each other, and the control TLC tried to have over the families seemed extra ridiculous.
Anyway, back to the wedding reception. I was expecting the same level of red tape at Mitch and Aspyn’s wedding reception that we had to go thru at the Lenny Briney’s Meet ‘n’ Greet, but I was disappointed. I actually had intended to take pictures of the contract and compare it to the earlier one. The invitation to the Briney event warned us that it was going to be filmed for reality TV; the invitation to the Brown event did the same. But when we showed up to the wedding reception, we weren’t asked to sign any contracts, and I don’t remember seeing any signs posted, except for this small sign I noticed by the entrance as we were leaving:
When we arrived at the wedding reception, we paid $6 for the required valet parking and walked around the outside of the building. There’s a vineyard, so since we’re interested in wine (we make our own sacramental wine, and we even teach wine-making classes) we took our time looking at the grape vines.
Actually, while I’m on the subject of wine-making, I will take another detour to the Brineys and Alldredges. We like to take credit for Angela marrying Drew Briney because of the events surrounding how they met. We were teaching a wine class at the Alldredges’ house and the Brineys and Angela were also in attendance, and that was how they met. They were married soon afterwards. I didn’t know they had gotten married because it happened so quickly. (A few months later they had a wedding reception we attended.) My close friend April Briney kept texting me, asking if she could come visit me. I repeatedly turned her down because I was so morning sick that I couldn’t take any visitors. At some point I ran into the Alldredges and asked about Angela. They told me she had news and I should ask her myself, so I texted Angela, and that’s how I found out she had married Drew. I feel terrible because April had wanted to tell me herself but I never gave her the opportunity. I think in Angela’s Year of Polygamy podcast interview, she said she met Drew “at a fireside.” Well, that “fireside” was our wine-making class. 😊
And while I’m on the subject of husbands meeting future wives, I will mention that Jeff Alldredge met Vanessa at an event at Kody Brown’s house in Utah, which is now my house. Oh, those polygamists all seem to be connected somehow, don’t they?
Okay. Back to Mitch and Aspyn’s party. It’s always fun to go to a party where the polygamists outnumber the monogamists. I don’t know if the wedding reception fit that description, but there were a lot of polygamists at Aspyn and Mitch’s wedding reception. We visited with friends and had refreshments.
Once it was time to sit down for the program (dancing, cake-cutting, etc.), we sat pretty close to the front. I suppose that’s why my friend was able to see us on the screen. It’s probably the kind of thing where you don’t really notice anyone in the background unless you’re specifically looking for them.
I gotta say, the most disappointing thing of the night was that there wasn’t an open bar. I figured since TLC was filming it, they were also paying for the wedding, and since it was at an expensive venue, the budget was generous. Therefore, I optimistically hoped for an open bar. Alas, there was a bar, but it was not open. The three of us each had a single glass of wine (a wedding is a sacrament, after all) and the bill was $26.
However, what was lacking in the drinks category was made up for in the dessert category. My sisterwife Melissa is known for her baking, and she said the cake served at Mitch and Aspyn’s wedding reception was the best cake she’s ever eaten. Was there an earlier Sister Wives episode that showed a cake-tasting? Whoever picked this one is the winner. They had other refreshments besides the cake. I’m not really into desserts so I couldn’t tell you, but both my baker-in-the-making daughter and my sisterwife Melissa could probably tell you lots of details if you cared to ask them. They at least had s’mores, as shown in the photo below.
If you watch the episode closely I’m sure you’ll be able to see lots of familiar faces from Seeking Sister Wife. Among the photos I took are some blurry photos of Jeff and Vanessa Alldredge, and here’s a not-quite-as-blurry photo I took of their son making s’mores over a candle:
Here are some of the photos I took from my front-row seat. I suppose these are nothing new to those of you who have actually seen the episode.
I was told that Mitch’s mom (shown in the photo above) made all the beautiful hats for the wedding.
The morning after the wedding reception we left to go on our annual weeklong backpacking trip. Good times.
Mitch is a great guy and Aspyn is a fantastic match for him. I’m so glad they found each other and I think they make a beautiful couple.
When we began telling people we were polygamists, we told them in the wrong order. We should have told my parents last, rather than first; as it turns out, my father has a big mouth, and couldn’t respect my simple request to allow me to tell people my news myself. I asked him not to tell anyone for a month, and he promised me that month, and yet within 48 hours he had called both my bishop and his own bishop, confided in his friends and employees, and saddest of all, had announced my news to my brother, whom I really wanted to tell personally.
To his credit, he did call me afterwards and insist, “You should tell your brother your news.” When I asked him why he was going out of his way to suggest that, he would only repeat himself.
So, I called my brother on the phone. He was on a road trip with his wife, driving across the desert with spotty cell service. Between me wondering what my dad had already told him and the phone call frequently getting dropped, the conversation took place in less-than-ideal circumstances.
After I finished telling him, my brother’s immediate response was the following: “What’s going on? What do you need? Do you need money? Do you need help getting out? Tell me what you need from me; tell me how to react, and I will.”
I answered that I didn’t need money, I didn’t want out of the situation, that all I wanted was his acceptance. After he was convinced that I was safe, that I was being taken care, and that I was content, he stated his intention to be supportive.
And he has been.
This experience was what I thought of when I saw S2E4 (“Unforeseen Circumstances”) of Seeking Sister Wife. Sophie Winder has a conversation with her brother about her polygamy, and he says he doesn’t understand it and doesn’t agree with it.
Sophie says it sucks that her brother disagrees with polygamy.
However, she also says, “Unfortunately, he hasn’t chosen to live this lifestyle.”
This is where Sophie and I differ.
I honestly don’t care whether my brother is a polygamist or not. I also don’t care whether my friends are polygamists or not. Naturally, if someone is a polygamist, that’s something unusual we have in common, which makes a friendship more likely. But all I need from a brother or a friend is for them to be a supportive person in my life as a whole; I don’t need them to live exactly as I do.
I’m friends with plenty of monogamists, and I don’t think it’s “unfortunate” that they haven’t chosen to live polygamy. I still consider them to be “there for me.”
I definitely don’t think everyone should live polygamy. Among other reasons, polygamy is extremely difficult. In fact, Sophie’s brother cites that as a reason for not being interested in it.
After the episode aired, Sophie published a post on the Winder family blog called “Live and Let Live.” You can read it here. You can also read Joshua’s thoughts on the same conversation here.
“No! Stop. No! No! I can’t believe it!” Joshua put both hands to his face, not believing what he was seeing.
Colton Winder, standing between his wives, was approaching the local farmers market. Joshua, sitting between his wives, was watching it on TV. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seem him laugh so much and for so long.
“Must be touching at all times!” he roared with laughter, slapping his leg at the hilarity of Colton, Tami, and Sophie awkwardly clasping each other’s hands, white-knucklingly squeezing out the blood, and slowly making their way down the sidewalk. The Winders were about to come out of hiding, but for real this time. I didn’t see a single duck, but I did see lots of intimidating humans.
“I just can’t believe this!” Joshua laughed again, shaking his head.
But what started with Joshua’s hysterical laughter ended with both of his wives in tears. Did that just happen? Did the Winders, in the most awkward way imaginable, just tell the cheese vendor they are a plural family?
Part of this scene was shown again and again in the episode previews. We keep seeing Sophie confess to a perfect stranger, “I’m actually my husband’s second wife,” while Colton and Tami stand there nodding like bobble head dolls, and the vendor stares at them, looking quite surprised at what was just revealed to him.
But then… There’s a plot twist that makes this my favorite SSW scene thus far, when the cheese vendor confesses that he, too, is a polygamist with two wives!!!
The shock of that moment dropped my jaw. I did not see that one coming. That was unexpected. That was… Wait. Did that just happen? All I can say is, that was a wonderful tender mercy.
The episode shows all-too-brief excerpts from the conversation, which I would pay money to see in entirety, between the polygamous Winders and the polygamist cheese vendor. I was so touched by it that I starting tearing up. I looked over at my sisterwife Melissa and her face was red with emotion as well. God is so good!
After the episode finished, my sisterwife, our husband, and I discussed it until midnight. Joshua used the word “charming” to describe the Winders and what happened at the farmers market. Melissa called it “endearing.” Words failed me.
The Winders imagined a market full of enemies throwing tomatoes at them, then handcuffing them and putting them in jail. Instead, they ended up making a new friend. It was truly amazing. I loved it.
What did you think? Did you laugh at the awkwardness of going into public and telling perfect strangers they’re polygamists? Were you disappointed there weren’t any ducks at the farmers market? Were you touched by their luck at meeting another polygamist? What’s been your favorite SSW moment so far? Leave your comments below.