Bigamy: A Modest Proposal

Granted, it’s been a slow summer for hard news, but with the

alarums and excursions over the computer-created film Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within , you’d think the Martians had

landed and a digitized babe with a permanent good-hair day and her space-hunk

cohorts were out to get everybody in Actors’ Equity. “The synthespians are

coming!” shrieked the headlines of so-called think pieces. (In fact, the real

creepiness lies in the photographs of Aki Ross, who, as a fulfillment of the

male idea of female perfection, is indistinguishable from those blandly

beautiful, symmetrically featured models who stare at us from the pages of the

glossy magazines.)

Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts need not fear redundancy: We’ll

always go to the movies to see live actors in all their glorious and

untouchable individuality. The real threat-or opportunity, as Steven Spielberg

perceived in A.I. -is closer to home.

How about a perfect child, with an even temper, good table manners (since he

doesn’t eat) and perfect love? But why stop there? Forget about synthespians …

how about a synthusband?

In a sense, that’s what I’ve had during the past few weeks,

since I’ve stayed out at the beach, a virtual recluse, while my husband

remained in the city. His presence is missed, but oh how I’ve loved him in

absentia. When he calls in the evening, I thrill to the sound of his voice, picturing

him on the other end of the phone in synthusband perfection: In my mind’s eye,

he’s just emerged from a shower and shave, glistening and spiffy. I can almost

feel his smooth skin over the telephone.

Some women may respond to a grizzled face, that designer-stubble

look recently favored by aging hipsters, but not me. I’m a soft-skin fetishist,

as simple-minded, no doubt, as Proust’s Albertine, who in The Captive is described as “one of those women who can never

distinguish the cause of what they feel. The pleasure they derive from a fresh

complexion they explain to themselves by the moral qualities of the man who

seems to offer them a possibility of future happiness, which is capable,

however, of diminishing and becoming less compelling the longer he refrains

from shaving.”

In any case, a synthusband would be without facial hair. Of

course, then you’d be deprived of the before-and-after pleasure of a real

husband, whose transformation at the end of the day is one of those perpetual

wonders that regenerates love and fuels the mating dance through marriage’s

twilight years. A synthusband would be programmed to order: neat and clean and

well-dressed; an excellent driver; as eternally soigné and gleaming as Cary Grant; as smart as Einstein; an

encyclopedia of information, but not at breakfast; only interested in sports

when called upon; and his hearing would remain unimpaired as the years wore on.

He’d be a responsive conversational partner, yet he might

lack something in originality. Keen insights would be out of the question, as

would variations in emotional intensity and a sense of humor-all serious

losses, I admit, but in return he’d order what you tell him to order at

restaurants.

Since the production of synthusbands is too remote just now,

I have a more modest proposal: bigamy. My friends, in all honesty, isn’t half a

husband really enough? We live in a servantless age; men haven’t delivered on

the promise of equally sharing household duties. An exclusive devotion to

high-maintenance husbands is something we high-maintenance wives just can’t

quite manage.

Bigamy has been criminalized, hence carried out in secret

and then maligned for that. But in most cases, the man has performed his

responsibilities twice over. In The

Bigamist (1953), directed by Ida Lupino, Edmond O’Brien plays a businessman

married to super-executive Joan Fontaine and living in San Francisco. An

employee at the agency where they’re trying to adopt a child discovers that he

has another establishment: a wife (Lupino) and child in Los Angeles. Suspicion

is aroused by his extensive travel: He is “on the road” a lot, in the manner of

Charles Kuralt. From these two examples, it would seem that the typical

bigamist, shuttling between two women, is not some dashing (or sleazy)

lady-killer-a Casanova, Condit or Clinton-but a sweet, empathetic guy who wants

only to keep each of them happy. So why, once the women find out, does there

have to be anger, hurt, rage? If we’re in on the deal to begin with, it changes

the equation completely.

The wives of Tom Green, the Utah Mormon polygamist, appeared

on television to show their solidarity. And to let us know it wasn’t about

S-E-X. I believe them. It’s about proselytizing through propagation, just as in

early Biblical times. The Mormon temple of Stepford wives is not quite what I

had in mind, but the point remains: With all the deadbeat fathers and no-show

hubbies, and commitment-phobe singles of both sexes, isn’t it time to lay off

the bigamists who do the work of two? What I have in mind is a more equitable

arrangement whereby we divvy up the dirty work, unload the guy on Wife No. 2

when we’re ready to do a runner.

We’re always fascinated by stories about double lives,

spies, impersonations and spouses who disappear. Interesting, isn’t it, that

it’s always husbands who go missing, never wives. In the Chandra Levy story, a

passing suspicion is voiced that she might have “kidnapped” herself,

disappeared to put the screws on betraying Representative Gary Condit, but we

don’t really believe it. Women are the ones who stay home and wait. And wait.

If compulsive philandering is a way for men to achieve certain freedom, bigamy

would allow for a certain coming and going, but within prescribed fair-practice

limits. Having brought the thing into the open, we’d know where he was at all

times and could make our plans accordingly.

If he does cut out for good, then we’ve got each other, and

if he predeceases us, we can both attend the funeral. It’s not as if going

halfsies on the benefits and burdens of a husband’s love is completely alien.

After all, we’ve been living in virtual bigamy all our married lives, sharing

(and competing with) that most influential and irreplaceable of first wives:

his mother Bigamy: A Modest Proposal