Sunday June 5, 2005
The King of Swaziland has just married his 11th
wife. No commitment-phobe he. One must salute the
man; most of us can't even find somebody we want to
go to the cinema with. Jeez, how we faff around and
need our space and keep our options open. The King
of Swaziland doesn't sit in the pub, muttering:
'Look, I just don't know what I'm doing on Saturday.
Can we play it by ear?'
His Majesty Mswati III doesn't refuse to book a
holiday because 'who knows where we'll be a month
from now?' He doesn't worry that leaving a spare
pair of socks in his lover's wardrobe is 'a bit of a
big step'. He just gets married and married and
Mswati, who is only five years older than me, has
already married more people than I've agreed to go
on minibreaks with. But this is slow for Swaziland;
his late father, King Sobhuza, had more than 70
wives. Only 11 for Mswati? The courtiers must think
But just as I was thinking what fun it would be
to live in Swaziland and get married without ever
having to worry about having chosen the wrong
person, because I could choose up to 70 more, I
remembered I'm female. So I wouldn't be the
indulgent selector. I'd be the one plucked
prematurely from school and smeared in ceremonial
red ochre, in order to marry once and then twiddle
my thumbs for 331 days of the year, 331 days in
which the boredom would be punctured only by
insecurity and jealous fear (350 days, if the King
took further wives or hurt his knee at football and
wasn't up to a conjugal visit).
Even to get that far, I would have to catch his
majesty's eye during the annual reed dance. That is
where he chooses his brides, from a row of jiggling
hopefuls. I expect the competitive ones dance for
him as sexily as possible. Perhaps some go for the
wacky approach, just to be noticed. Some, no doubt,
dance in a reluctant, frightened, shuffly manner.
That would be me. But only because that's how I
Basically, it's a sort of Swazi Strictly Come
Dancing, except, being an absolute monarch, King
Mswati acts both as the judge and the voters. If we
want to take our 'Western values' to Swaziland,
perhaps the answer is simply to lock his current 11
wives in a glass house, put it on TV and get the
British public to vote 10 of them out.
But one must always consider the possibility that
our values are wrong. According to the World
Polyamory Association, the 'monogamy myth has
created incredible wounds on the human psyche.
Polyamory promotes balance and partnership society.'
Sounds plausible, huh?
So let's say I passed this dancing test. 'I shall
have that one,' the King might growl. 'The pale one
in the QPR jumper who looks a bit cross and isn't
quite in time to the music.'
I can see compensations in being chosen. No
secret affairs on my husband's part; no need, of
course. Plenty of time to myself. And perhaps I
could start a poker game in the harem. But there's a
flaw. However logically one makes the case for 'polyamory'
as being preferable to secret adultery, there is no
getting round the ultimate problem of jealousy. I
have felt that lonely emotion in the past, heating
my blood and hurting my stomach, squeezing the tear
ducts and poisoning the brain; and it is so
involuntary, so all-encompassing and resistant to
being silenced, that I can't believe it is anything
other than a basic human instinct, common to us all.
A couple of months ago, polyamorous psychologist
Meg Barker presented a conference paper in which she
argued that 'the movement needs a new lexicon to
cover its alternative lifestyle'. For example:
'There is not a word,' explained Ms Barker, 'to
describe the warm feeling a polyamorous person will
get when they see one of their partners getting on
with another of their partners.'
You know what? I bet there bloody isn't.