How Many Wives Should A Man Have?

That Nigerian gentleman with 107 wives (and 165 children) who was recently in the news reminded me of an observation made by a now-forgotten philosopher (could it have been Philip Wylie??) many years ago regarding the number of wives a man would have in an ideal world.

This philosopher suggested that, in an ideal world—without laws against polygamy—each man would have three wives.

He described the role and duties of each. One wife would serve exclusively as sexual partner (referred to in France as “mistress”), the second would serve as both sexual partner and stimulating conversationalist (referred to in France as “mistress”), and the third would serve as devoted homemaker and mother to their children (referred to in the U.S. as “nanny”).

He went on to declare that under such an arrangement there would no longer be any divorces, as the husband’s multi-faceted needs would be sufficiently satisfied. Of course, this declaration exposed both his ignorance and sexism. Not only did he not anticipate wives being the moving party in a divorce proceeding, he assumed that men would never tire of the sex object (Wife #1) and seek a replacement.

But enough with the men. What about the women? If three wives are, in theory, the optimum number for men, how many husbands would a wife require in an ideal world? My guess is five.

1. Handyman: Someone to fix stuff around the house, fill out their tax forms, take the car in for repairs, mow the lawn, trim the hedges, repair leaky faucets. Because things break and require mending, a wife needs a husband who knows his way around the shop, someone who’s familiar with the business end of a span wrench.

2. Earner: Preferably an accountant, lawyer, pharmacist or business executive. Someone who can make a decent income and provide his family with not simply a subsistence income, but a low-end luxury existence (regular vacations, a modest summer home, private schools for the kids). Security matters to a woman.

3. Companion: A cool, urbane, well-read, witty, slightly ironic guy, preferably a pipe-smoker with a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy who can also paint, write poetry and play a musical instrument other than the banjo. Someone to stimulate her mind by being able to discuss an array of intellectual topics (e.g., Veblen’s “Theory of the Leisure Class”).

4. Stud: A guy with a handsome face, rippling abs, a tight butt, who’s hung like a horse, doesn’t ask questions, and is always able to perform (even after a rough day at the gym). A boy-toy with enormous patience, compassion and tenderness, who—like a well-preserved European sports car—exhibits little wear and tear. The archetypal Pleasure Unit.

5. Father: Someone to provide a strong male role model. He plays with the kids after school and on weekends, helps with their homework, does science projects, builds model airplanes, reads them bedtime stories, hits them fly balls, takes them to soccer practice, and, when the son reaches puberty, teaches him the necessary “guy stuff.”

As for that Nigerian fellow with 107 wives, we’re not sure what to say. That figure defies comment. Either something very serious was lost in translation, or Nigeria’s definition of “wife” more closely resembles Facebook’s definition of “friend.”

David Macaray, a Los Angeles playwright and author (It’s Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor), was a former union rep. He can be reached at: dmacaray@earthlink.net. Read other articles by David.