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Victoria Coren
Sunday June 5, 2005
The Observer

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Queen of Swaziland? Let me join the queue

Victoria Coren
Sunday June 5, 2005
The Observer

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 married again.

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 he's gay.

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 always dance.

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.







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