The Editor is unsatisfied that the supposed ratio of 14 women to one man in the microscopically-incestuous supposedly-cosmopolitan city in which she lives, is any reason to overlook this relentless manhunt. Literally, a manhunt.
Very few women can claim – as a little girl – to have pronounced to themselves: “When I grow up, I want to be somebody’s second wife.” Unless you have the Catherine Zeta-Jones or Calista Flockhart compunction to be so calculating — and/or, I could say, shrewdly clever — in assuring your financial future.
But, really, society – i.e. you, me and the friends we see – projects an unspoken understanding that girls start their adolescent manhunts with the intention of being the first.
Not even governments have a label for “Second Lady”.
(You’re either the First Lady, or you’re not.) So shrink this into the private microcosm that is marriage and you have an awkward, tragi-comic situation where second wives, be they simultaneous or subsequent wives – are concerned.
But a quick glance through the annals of history tells me that polygyny (definition: one man having multiple wives; a branch of polygamy) is not quite discouraged in several civilisations and religions. It’s not legal by the law of some lands, but it’s certainly not discouraged.
In Imperial China and in many traditional Islamic societies, to take on more than one wife required considerable resources – usually of the financial kind, yes? – and so polygamy – legalised or not – was a status symbol of a man’s prowess and standing in society. Society opinion being what it is, multiple wives – although officially an offence to the first wife’s dignity – became a status symbol denoting wealth and power.
Confucius is said to have quipped that if a man can first manage a family (of several units?) then he can manage a small country and thereafter, a veritable nation.
It is a good thing Confucius is not in politics now. But I digress.
Possibly my favourite rationale for polygamy comes from Chechnya, where once the Republic’s Deputy Prime Minister, seeing the resultant depopulation after the ravages of war, declared that the situation was perfect justification for legalising polygamy: “We must welcome (this idea) and spread (polygamy) because we have 10 million lonely women.”
Within Malaysian society, – where, the last time I checked, we were still in peacetime – there are whispers aplenty of second wives being not just a norm, but positively an expectation that one’s powerful husband simply must have, in order to have ‘arrived’ at the gates of that super chi-chi club for of the exclusively rich and shameless. (Sorry, I meant rich and famous.)
I mean, after all, [insert society diva conversation here]
‘If no other woman is running after my husband, then is he not attractive or powerful enough? And does it say something about me that I married him and no other woman finds him attractive?’
Oh, the dilemma.
It’s like one Ferrari in the garage is not quite the accessory nowadays: the first wife must be able to complain to her friends of the presence of a second wife in order to have something substantial to chew over during Tuesday lunch at the bistro.
The word from the other camp, I hear, is that if a man deigns to marry you rather than merely have an affair with you, it is an achievement of sorts.
Who cares about aspiring to win the Nobel Prize for peace when you can traverse the rocky road of (extramarital) romance and come out a champion? The financial benefits, simultaneous-second-wives quip, are perfect accompaniment to having the freedom and space to go out shopping with friends when he isn’t cocooned at her place.
He’s probably more stable financially in later life than when he started out, so joint mortgages and escalating debt may not be an issue, so you get to enjoy being pampered. If he thought he had enough money to support a second wife, then he probably does.
For Wannabe Second Wives, think and repeat this mantra: he’s been housebroken and trained in Marriage 101, so you don’t have to do the hard work.
The open hostility, however, faced by second wives, from relatives, grown-up children and friends of the first wife, is termed ‘an occupational hazard.’ Think… Camilla Parker-Bowles.
The Camilla complex can befall any woman, even the strongest among us, but at the end of the wedding party, second wives can remember this simple truth: your darling chose YOU, out of hundreds of choices, to be his life partner, so really: you can’t be all bad as your husband’s ex-wife’s in-laws think you to be.
But as I’ve said: does any woman really make being a second wife their life’s ambition? If it means the man in your story is given a second chance at true happiness (cue violin music and flowers blooming) then fine.
But if it means your hero had to leave his Number One to make you, Ms Number Two, his legal-Number One, just be aware he can always leave you too. And if you get to keep the car, the condo and the carats, then maybe you can make a career out of being Number Two.