A Game Perspective on “Sister Wives”

I’ve been watching Sister Wives from the beginning. If you’ve been living under a rock, it’s a reality show about a polygamous family in Utah, and then fleeing to Las Vegas to avoid bigamy charges.
The good news and quite likable aspect of the show is that they really don’t seem to be playing for the cameras. It seems like normal, everyday life as much as possible. It’s something sex related and that is always good for pulling my attention.
The bad news is that it’s absolutely killing any residual fantasy of having multiple women in my life. The husband Kody seems like he is on an endless treadmill of running from one wife to the other. There’s half a trillion kids and not a moment’s peace from someone interrupting him. The only person more exhausted than Kody from dealing with the opposite sex is Smurfette.
The other thing that strikes me is that the wives aren’t happy. Oh sure they say they are happy, and that they love having sister wives and they don’t mind sharing a husband, but every single episode at least one of them bubbles up with some kind of teary outburst in the private interviews. For sure Jennifer and I have days that are better than others, and we’ve had a handful of very bad days together, but I simply can’t imagine her weeping into a camera and saying she doesn’t feel special anymore.
I really do get the concept of having a close personal relationship between sister wives, but couldn’t you also get that from having…. well… friends?
The preselection effect is constant. Four women, one man, it’s like four ducks fighting for a single slice of bread. They all get some, but it’s not really enough. He has their constant attention and half the drama the wives unleash is simply to get him to give them his undivided attention.
The thing that most interests me most though is the addition of a fourth wife, and to be perfectly blunt, a younger, hotter wife. The three original wives are all late 30s, and therefore heading into the end of their fertile lifespan. So surprise(!), Kody just ends up just magically falling in love with Robyn the younger, hotter one. That’s a pretty standard Sex Rank effect at work.
Because the other three wives are committed to the whole polygamy thing, they are intellectually defenseless against the threat of the younger woman. A regular monogamous wife watching her husband blatantly wooing a younger woman gets extremely angry and seeks to block the change or end the relationship with her husband. As it is, the sister wives do get very jealous and anxious, but ultimately fold up and decide that the new wife is welcome. The core of their problem is the polygamous relationship allows extra wives, so they can’t complain about the addition of a new wife on any moral principle without intellectually backtracking on everything they stand for. They can only complain on the basis that she’s a bitch… but she isn’t, so they have to accept her. Checkmated by their own Rationalization Hamsters.
Plus they fold up and just accept less attention and less sex because they can’t actually leave him anyway. It’s not like they can get either child support or alimony from him, because if they run to Family Court it’s a legal quagmire at best and at worst he gets jailed and they get nothing from a jailed husband. Having a mess of kids, no money and not much hope of a replacement husband/lover doesn’t give a girl a lot of options.
The broke thing is the kicker. If you’re filthy rich, say like Hugh Hefner, you can have a bunch of women in a little harem. But Kody isn’t rich, in fact he’s fairly broke, or soon will be trying to support four houses and seventeen kids when no one has a job. Unless the show is a mega success and they start Getting Paid(TM), it’s going to be a train wreck disaster. No money means he has to endlessly finesse moods and drama like a master of Game and for the most part he’s pretty good at it. But Game doesn’t feed children…
My point is, if you want to choose an alternate sexual lifestyle, I don’t have a moral high horse I want to climb on and say you’re immoral. But I will say that simply wishing the rules of Sex Rank and attraction to change or be easy, doesn’t mean they change in reality.
So here’s my predictions of the drama ahead…
The first wife Meri is the only legally married wife, and only has one kid with Kody and she’s one of the older children. If anyone can afford to leave, it’s her. If she meets someone else, she will be pulled emotionally just the same as any other neglected wife is.
The second and third wives Janelle and Christine are going to remain the work horses of the family. Janelle is going to return to working outside the home and bring in valuable income. Christine is going to be the domestic queen and have a harder and harder time of running the home.
The fourth wife Robyn will take over the family. The long story arc ahead will be her slowly beginning to assert dominance over the other wives. The showdown between her and Meri will be nasty. Once Meri leaves, Robyn takes over. Kody will end up sleeping with Robyn twice as often as Janelle and Christine.
Kody is going to be genuinely devastated when Meri leaves. So naturally he’ll take a fifth wife. The other wives will be utterly horrified by this.
And always remember this when you hear Kody say, “there are no limits to love”. He means no limits to his love. He expects everyone else to limit their love to him.


  1. Anonymous says:

    Yeah, I discovered "Game" in between the first and second seasons of Sister Wives – it's like I'm watching it with a new set of eyes… came to a lot of the same conclusions as you have with regards to preselection and so forth.

  2. Looking Glass says:

    Given the legal setups to these families, wives 2, 3 and 4 are likely drawing all sorts of welfare benefits. (Yes, if you live in their state, you're actually funding this nonsense, yay!) So they can generally survive, but paying a mortgage becomes an issue. The show should bring them in enough to at least cover a chunk of expenses, for a while.

    The first wife only having 1 kid isn't that uncommon, apparently. Had a friend in high school that was that first child. Though in that situation, the father ran off from the compound with the first wife + 1 child. If that wasn't one of the weirdest conversations I ever ran into, I really don't know many that will top it.

    Though it is funny watching people rationalize a big gaping hole in their own personal defense shield.

  3. The one man several wives scenario makes pragmatic sense to a lady if a. the man is very rich and can provide her and their children with a great life as compared to being the single wife of a less attractive poor provider. I could quote examples. The lady sacrafises attention from her husband for a better life and better opportunities for the kids. b. all the adults work and pool their resources to create a strong economic unit and leverage economies of scale. Again there is a trade off. c. either of the above and the lady does not care much for sex or male attention – good for when she goes off sex and a younger wife relieves her of having to provide for her husband's needs. Again I could quote examples and perhaps in this case win-win?

  4. Holy crap. I have been living under a rock. I have never heard of this. I watched a few episodes of "Big Love" when it first came out purely out of morbid fascination. I had to stop. It was interesting to say the least.

  5. Why didn't he just have a one-way open marriage (he can sleep around, she can't). He could get sexual variety while committing himself to loving just one woman. The wife would be less jealous, because she would know that even if he was sleeping around, she's the only woman he really loves.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Athol I would love.to hear your views on swinging in more detail. I read a post where you commented on swinging and other types of open relationships but I would love to see something more.in depth about it

  7. I can't for the life of me figure out how this stuff works out. Open marriages, swinging, poly lifestyle just all seems to be very unsettling. How can a married couple feel secure in their relationship if there are other people getting involved?

    I guess I'm just too old fashioned and insecure for that kind of lifestyle.

  8. Anonymous says:

    "Why didn't he just have a one-way open marriage (he can sleep around, she can't)."

    It's a religious thing – they're from a particular sect of Mormonism that encourages polygamy.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Kind of off topic but had to post about how a "Friend's" relationship just went down. I was perusing Facebook and noticed that a male friend had changed their status to in a relationship but complicated (and this was not with his wife). I scanned back a few months to see how it played out. July: Mutual female friend of couple moved in with them (not exactly sure why). Both husband and wife were accommodating it appears as this was a good friend. Less than one month later he posts, Went from Married to It's Complicated with wife. Less than two months later he updates to It's Complicated with new girl….the same one that moved in less than four months ago. Nice…that is why you never let someone of either sex move in with you and your spouse…it had disaster written all over it.

  10. Anytime you add an extra person to a household, it becomes complicated and difficult. Over the years I've had a friend live with me and my family and an ex-father-in-law (he wasn't the "ex" at the time…) and in both cases things got unbearable at times. Its hard enough to keep a house in order and the family on schedule without adding another adult's needs to the mix.

  11. The 9-year-old article The Problem with Polygamy discusses an obvious but ignored aspect of the sexual market place under this institution.

    "The merits of polygamy versus monogamy have been debated for thousands of years. Both sides normally assume that men, of course, like polygamy. So, they simply clash over whether polygamy is in the best interests of wives. In reality, however, polygamy victimizes men. You never hear about it because few men want to claim this particular kind of victimhood: that of the sexual rejectee.


    I have been looking in vain for 20 years for an article about polygamy that mentioned that for one man to take a second wife means, in the normal course of things, that another man will get no wife at all."

    Along those lines, it's been widely reported that Warren Jeffs' FLDS sect on the Utah/Arizona border routinely ejects maturing boys, e.g.:

    "Outside the city limits is an orphanage for teenaged boys, who are run off the polygamous grounds by the leaders of the clan. The older leaders don't want the competition for the young girls from the teen boys. There is nowhere for these boys to go, save this orphanage."

    I don't know of any society where polygamy is the norm that would qualify as a place I'd want to live. Or someplace I'd want to raise a daughter, or a son.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I asked my husband to imagine how much he would love to have more than one mother-in-law. Somehow that is rarely included in the discussion of the "joys" of multiple wives.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Anon 3:55 – wasn't the maximum penalty for bigamy always set at two mother-in laws?

  14. The casting out of boys is routine in the polygamous sects. It's a simple math problem.

    What most don't know is that with the Warren Jeffs' FLDS sect, even married men can be run out of the community and have their wives assigned to different men. It's a truly nasty place.

    A tiny handful of poly families in a huge society makes no difference at all. A poly society is brutal. The poly sects can only function because the outside society handles the influx of "excess" males.

  15. My wife and I watched most of Big Love earlier this year. A lot about the politics of Mormonism in Utah, and the politics of running a polygamous compound. The man-surplus aspect plays a big role in the story as the protagonist is a boy who was run off the compound when he was younger.

    Polygamy could work demographically in a society with a lot of either a) war, b) homosexuals or c) working-age migration.

    The latter is an interesting one because in a lot of developing societies you see a fairly high proportion of the working-age women moving from the country to the city, skewing the sex ratio.

    My wife made an interesting observation the other day: although she and I are unusual amongst our friends for being married, a lot of our friends are in close, committed, long-term, monogamous relationships… the only difference is that they're not legally married.

    Disregarding the formal, legalistic aspects of mormon polygamy, I wonder how widespread a more informal polygamy is in the hookup scene?

  16. dreadpiratk says:

    I find that keeping things on track with one wife is a full time effort- not 40 hours a week or anything, but it takes a certain level of constant attention. I can't see how splitting that attention 2 3 or 4 ways could possibly work. Yes, once in a while it sounds intriqueing to have sex with a diferently shaped woman, but who's got that kind of energy to spare?

    Once in a while i have to travel for work, and my wife gets just a little concerned, nothing really serious, and I tell her she has nothing to worry about, not becuase I'm exceptinally righteous, but becuase I'm simply too tired to fool around.

  17. Addendum: One of the most internally consistent fictional portrayals of polyamory is the "Line Marriage" described in "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress." Heinlein considers not only the physics of the relationship but the kind of society and social and environmental pressures that would give rise to it.

  18. Sconzey – I'm not in the hook-up scene, but I have observed quite a few people setting up a second relationship of varying formality – some monogamous and long term – while still being formally married. So in effect poligamy is not uncommon within Western and Asian societies. People simply do not want to leave their families, face financial ruin etc and can thus access sex, affection, companionship etc. I believe this was quite common among the upper classes in days gone by with kings etc having mistresses. In greater China second (or more) wives were common among the rich classes and the practice continues today.

    As to the issue of the person with more than one spouse being run ragged – I am sure second wives everywhere complain of neglect. In addition, a Muslim colleague shared that he would not be taking a second wife because one wife and family was already too much work! I think the model would only work if the multiple partners were very self-sufficient!

    Personally, I don't judge poligamy practices – people need to do what they think is right for them and indeed, I can see the merit in maintaining the first family rather than impoverishing all and wrecking the social structure. Most mariages don't seem to be happy anyway.

  19. Anonymous says:

    There are a couple of different 'styles' of polygamy. One is what I call 'consenting adults' polygamy. What often ends up happening is the women end up being the primary breadwinners. An anthropologist wrote her dissertation after living with the Allred group in Utah, or Wyoming for a year or two. Sister wives, and Big Love both feature 'consenting adults' polygamy, and for the most part I think it should be legalized.

    The other kind of polygamy is what I call 'creepy underage marriage' polygamy. Warren Jeffs, and a few others fit in this category. These compounds use cult mind control techniques to keep their people in line. It is truly a nasty place, and I feel bad for anyone that is born into it.

    A pretty good friend of mine is child 17 of 17. His dad has 3 wives. But all the kids come from the first wife. All the kids are single births from the same mom. Polygamy is a legacy of the early mormon church, that the mainstream LDS church would really rather not deal with. It would be pretty simple for them to do so… just decanonize the scriptures that authorize polygamy.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Heinlein's portrayal of relationships in "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" is where he really kinda falls down. He portrays the logic and the reason behind the changes to how people's relationships work, but it really misses any reality of game and human psychology.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Anonymous at 5:09, yes, I believe that is correct. Four mothers-in-law is basically capital punishment.

  22. Joseph Smith said that if you didn't practice polygamy, you were not going to be saved or something like that. Modern day LDS church has scrubbed that.

  23. ironchefoklahoma says:

    @ Anonymous@11:29:

    I agree exactly. Heinlein's line marriages sound great…until you think hard about the way people actually behave.

    I think Athol exploded this in an earlier post (cynical advice on responsible non-monogamy) explaining how those line marriages probably end: as 1 man + N women polygamous relationships + N-1 beta orbiters.

  24. ironchefoklahoma says:

    @Anonymous/10:21pm, @Candice:

    I understand your desire for tolerance of others' sexual mores. And, to a certain extent, I can applaud it. But polygamy is bad, bad news.

    Steve Sailer showed that the business model for the FLDS communities was wholesale welfare fraud. These parasites outnumber the productive "consenting adults" breadwinners. Once a society accepts polygamy there won't be any difference in polygamy styles. It'll just be the "creepy underage marriage" style. They'll have the advantage.

    Polygamous societies are prone to war, prone to instability, and lag behind monogamous societies. I can't state it better than another blogger: Monogamy is the hallmark of civilized societies.

    We can maybe tolerate a small fringe group of polygamists. But we can't keep our civilization running if we embrace it. And tolerance, sadly, is usually the first step to embracing.

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