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.