Being the Secret Wife

Oh boy, do I remember those days. A year and a half of staying hidden.

I told my family very early on. Because of the chaos and backlash it created, I still have nightmares about interacting with my father, now 5 ½ years later.  Thus, we decided to keep our marriage secret from everyone else for a time

One of the parameters of my becoming a wife was that in spite of the legal and social risks involved, I was not going to remain secret forever. However. the immediate repercussions of outing our marriage with people with whom I stood to have a lifetime continuing relationship was incredibly daunting. Also, we needed some recovery from the upheaval which was created by my family. These things were a higher priority than announcing to the world that we had entered a union we believed was heavenly but would be treated contemptuously.

Thus began the interaction with Joshua and Charlotte’s extended families which rapidly became a bane to my existence. I was part of the family and there was concern about me being left out as well as we wanted the extended family to meet me and perhaps create a relationship with me before we gave them the news. I was invited to every extended family activity by Charlotte and Joshua as well as in contact with Joshua’s brother’s family on a regular basis as they were living in the same house as Charlotte. I went as Charlotte’s friend.  This rapidly proved difficult.

Every time we interacted with family or in public, I made sure that I walked separately from Joshua and that I did not make eye contact with him. I never sat next to him and we made sure we only spoke about trivial matters in voices loud enough for others to hear.
At the time, hiding everything seemed so vital.  Now I realize that we were much more concerned about it than we probably should have been. However, it was quite a shock to others when we began to reveal ourselves.

When we thought we were ready, we started telling people one at a time; knowing that the risk of rejection was very real, as it had already happened with some people very close to us. There was new trauma with every reveal, and we felt the need to take time to regroup after each.

It’s been 4 years of living openly, and apparently, we still have people to tell.  At a recent family Christmas party, one of the great-uncles came up to me and asked how I fit in the family. I responded, “I’m Melissa.” He then asked exactly how I was related. I told him that I was Joshua’s other wife.  I watched him as he rapidly swallowed several times, blinked furiously, and then stammered “Oh!”  Thankfully another of Joshua’s uncles was standing nearby and came to the rescue.  He redirected the conversation in a very deft manner.

At our Chanukah party, we had this delightful experience.

Things are better now. I have much more confidence in sharing, and I am much more at peace with peoples’ reactions – regardless of what they are. There is nothing anyone can do that hasn’t already been done by someone closer.

I have gotten to a place where I’m kind of unfazed by responses.  Simply because those who will accept us will, and those who will not will not – regardless of former relationships or perceived expectations. That is hard won, bitterly painful knowledge.

I’m at the point of telling shopkeepers and others in my daily life randomly, and it has been extremely interesting as I have shared.  People will share that they too have polygamous backgrounds, and it almost seems conspiratorial as they do – like we are both in on some great secret.  It immediately becomes a shared reference point between us and creates a sort of bond.

Those early days were so tough, and revealing ourselves to a largely unfriendly world was incredibly painful stuff.

Last week I had a moment of realization.  I realized that because of how hard it was, and the constant stress and difficulty of that time, it is literally a miracle that I am here, married to the man of my dreams, and living happily with our plural family. Only by the grace of God could we have gotten to this place. He is so much bigger than the rejection of men.

How the teens took it…

Note from the blog owner: Melissa is my sisterwife and she is a new contributor to the blog.  This is her first post.  

 

I have been asked many times how my teens reacted to me becoming a plural wife.

I’ll tell you: Horribly. And I don’t blame them.

Let’s review the collapse (there will be other blog posts fleshing out these experiences):

All my life I was raised to be very judgmental of others: hair, weight, clothing, how people carried themselves, etc.  It was never just, people are different.  No.  There was some immeasurable standard to which all were compared, and to which all failed to measure up to.  They were mocked, made fun of, and there was an undercurrent of haughtiness embedded in my very soul.  I laugh now because my family was hardly the type who could lord anything over anyone.  Sincerely, my own grandmother was annoyed by us – she is likely the one this critical worldview was passed down from in the first place.

Naturally, I passed all of that judgmental world-view on to my children.  In the line of attack were people who lived in any manner differently from North American, mainstream, LDS, intact nuclear family.  The sad part is that my own family didn’t meet the criteria for which I judged people – I was a divorced single mother.

Believe it or not, I was the worst toward polygamists.  I didn’t know any polygamists, and I didn’t need to.  I believed they were apostate, weird, and likely inhuman.  I was mainstream LDS, born and raised in Colorado (with a 6-year stint in Seattle), and educated in Utah.  I’d been living in Utah since 2000.  My only reference points toward those living in plural families were news stories about how horrible the fundamentalists were; from not educating their children, to wearing old-fashioned garb, to their reprehensible lifestyle of sharing husbands.  I was particularly horrible during the Texas events of 2008.  I declared that all of the FLDS children should be removed by the authorities and raised by others.  I confess that I vocally cheered at their trauma.  God, I am such an ass (that was a prayer).

Five weeks before our lives were rocked by a series of events which left us homeless, (which in turn led to a series of events that created the structure, and mind/soul shift, for me to become a plural wife), upon hearing about a local plural family, I started off on a mean-spirited diatribe about how disgusting I thought their entire lifestyle was. We were in the car. All of my children were with me. And I was a monster. What a stage I set.

the teens primary colors

As all of this was going on, I did not prepare my children for my change of heart, and I don’t know that they would have understood it. When I first approached my children with the idea, they were horrified.  They thought I had lost my mind. Suddenly, their rock-solid mom was adrift and they thought she was mad, unstable, brainwashed – everything I had said about polygamist women.

As time progressed, I did other less than mindful things which were ignorant to the venom others held and created a huge backlash for myself.  I put my children in the care of my parents who were terribly misinformed and highly malignant against this lifestyle.  My father told my children that my husband was going to take my 16-year-old daughter as a wife. My parents called my ex-husband – a man known to them as an alcohol/crack/porn addict, and spouse abuser – to offer him custody (apparently, they thought he would be a better parent than I, in spite of all of his limitations, and regardless of me being the legal custodial parent since September of 2000).

My father called both the police and DCFS (Child Protective Services) to report me. At the time polygamy was not illegal. Thankfully, the authorities told my father to bring my children home, or be faced with possible kidnapping charges.  However, I still had to deal with a police officer coming to my home for a keep the peace call.

At one point I attempted to go to a counselor.  I had no idea who to reach out to.  The one place which specialized in polygamy turned out to be an agency which helped women and children flee from abusive plural situations.  The counselor told me that she had never counseled anyone entering a plural marriage and could not help us.  She did have a private session with my daughter where she told my child to flee the home entirely.  I have since found out that counselors who are LGBT(etc.) friendly are the most open to those joining a family in a plural situation.  I made one appointment for my daughter with an LGBT(etc.) friendly counselor, but the counselor moved immediately after and gave us a referral.  My daughter refused to speak with the referral.

Through all of this, my kids were confused, horrified, and had no resources to sort things out.  I truly believe that I could have made it much easier had I not been all along so horrendous about those unlike myself

TL;DR bottom line: Don’t judge.  Don’t teach others to judge.  You may be eating a feast of crow, and end up being judged by those for whom you set a terrible example of judgment.