How did you end up in a polygamous marriage?
I was born and was raised in Saudi Arabia, in Riyadh. A few months before my seventeenth birthday, my father, due to the Guardian System, told me that he had arranged a marriage for me to a foreign businessman in Dubai, and that I would be married within a few weeks.
At the beginning of 2017, I was married to my new husband in Dubai, and became his second wife. I didn’t ever realize that I wouldn’t be his first wife until a few days before the wedding, and I can only remember crying for an entire afternoon the day I found out I would be his second wife. It would not be until the end of last year that our husband took his 3rd and most recent wife.
How old is your husband?
How soon before the wedding did you meet him? What would have happened if you didn’t like him/he didn’t like you?
I met him about a week before the wedding for the first time. If he hadn’t like me, it’s not likely anything would happen since he had already talked to my father, but if i hadn’t liked him there was not much I could have done about it. At that point I was such a mess of nervous teenage anxiety and emotion that there wasn’t much I could have even thought or said.
Why did he marry you?
I’m not sure why exactly, it could have been for my looks or age, since his first wife is quite a bit older than i am, but I’m sure it was also due to the social connections between him and my father that would be forged because of the marriage.
Has your husband mentioned how many wives he plans on having?
He legally can’t marry more than 4 according to Sharia Law, but I can’t imagine he would marry someone else, especially at this point in his life. But who knows, he certainly could. I hope not, but it is a possibility.
Do you have a good relationship with him?
We have a fairly good relationship. Although he doesn’t spend as much time with me as his new wife, he’s very polite and nice to me, and doesn’t mistreat me at all.
Do you love him? Does he love you?
In a way I think I love him; even though I don’t think he married me for love, and I didn’t have much of a choice, I’ve learned to love him for what he is. I know he cares for me in his own way, and I know he wants me to be happy and provided for, which I am very thankful for.
Do you guys have children?
Yes, we have one child, a beautiful two-year old baby girl!
How does your husband treat you? Does he treat all his wives equally or is he biased?
It depends; he treats his first wife and I pretty much the same, or at least spends the same amount of time with us, but ever since his third marriage he’s spent most nights with his new wife. I try not to feel jealous, but it is hard not to resent him and her for it.
How old are his first and third wife?
His first wife is 36, and his most recent wife is only 16. Even though 18 is legally the marriable age in the UAE, a judge can approve a younger marriage, and our husband is wealthy enough to ensure that it happens.
What do you think of a man in his early 50s marrying a girl of 16?
I personally don’t think it’s right for such a marriage to take place. Even though legally it was allowed, the odds are she’ll be widowed before she even turns 40, which is really tragic for her.
Why are you more concerned for her after he dies than what might happen during the marriage?
I don’t think it’s right for him to marry someone so young, but at least this way she is provided for. Once he dies, I’m not sure what’s going to happen to any of us once he dies.
What typically happens to the wives once their husband dies? Say you are 50. Do you get an inheritance?
I would most likely be sent to live with a male relative, and perhaps receive an inheritance or something similar. I would have to follow ‘Iddah’ under Shariah Law and wait before remarrying though. If I an widowed while still young, I could probably remarry, but if I was older I might just live as a widow with my relatives.
He must be very rich to afford 3 wives, 3 households. Are you allowed to spend any money?
He is, as far as I know, fairly wealthy, even though he never talks about business or finances with us. Each of us gets a monthly allowance for groceries, clothes, shopping, and anything else we might need, but it’s never enough to make any really extravagant purchases; for anything like that, like jewelry or really nice clothes; anything really expensive, we have to ask him for permission.
What do you enjoy spending your allowance on?
Well, its usually not enough to buy anything more than the essentials, but I love cooking and buying new ingredients, and i always put a little aside to buy paints and art supplies with.
Are you allowed to work?
No, we aren’t allowed to work, or at least not for money. I love painting and art, so I do work on that a lot, but my husband would never let me sell them or earn a living myself. For the most part I have to rely on my husband to provide for me and our daughter.
How are mealtimes? Do you cook? Do you all eat together?
I usually cook meals for myself and daughter, and maybe a few friends, but we usually I don’t eat with our sister wives, except for on Friday, when we usually eat a meal together with our husband.
When it comes to sex, is it only ever you and him? Or is part of it that the four of you have sexual relations?
It is always only him and one of us, he has never asked any of us to have relations with him at the same time. It’s a very private affair.
Do you spend time with the other wives? Are they your friends? Or do you keep separate lives?
For the most part we are like separate families, we each have our own apartment, cook our own meals, and have our own beds, but fortunately his first wife and I do get along very well; since I left Saudi Arabia she’s been almost like a sister to me. His third wife though, she is very rude to us, since she is the youngest, and we definitely don’t get along.
How is she rude to you?
It feels like since our husband spends more time with her than the rest of us, she has a more privileged relationship with him than we do. She can get him to do things to us that he wouldn’t do otherwise, like punish us for doing innocent things, like going out without his permission, he is usually fine with, but if his youngest wife convinced him to, he will get angry and even hit us, even very softly. It’s more of symbolic than anything, but it still makes me feel awful. She also doesn’t miss an opportunity to bring me down or insult me.
What’s the best thing about your marriage?
Probably having such a good relationship with his first wife. It’s almost like having another sister, and it definitely helps make up for some of the worse parts of my marriage. Either that or being provided for so well. I’m not mistreated or neglected, and it gives me a chance to raise our daughter.
If he were to die soon, would you still be friends with the first wife?
I think we would. Even if we didn’t share a husband, I think we would have been friends anyway, and I think we would stay friends even if we weren’t married to the same man.
What is the worst part about living in such a relationship?
The worst part of my relationship is probably just the stress it brings. For instance, he spends most nights with his new wife, and she knows she is his favorite right now and uses that to treat his first wife and I very badly. I try not to hold it against her or our husband, but it’s hard not to.
Do you feel any resentment towards your father for putting you in a situation you may not have necessarily chosen for yourself?
I do sometimes. He never really gave me a choice in the matter, so I do sometimes feel resentful towards him for putting me into this situation, but it’s the culture he knew growing up, and i know he had my best interests at heart. He wanted to be sure I would be provided for, and I know that despite everything he loves me and wants what’s best for me. But it’s not easy to forgive him.
If you were given a chance to, would you get out of the marriage?
Although under Sharia Law divorce is allowed, the only way it could realistically happen for me is if my husband wanted a divorce as well, which he does not. And if I did divorce him, I don’t know what I would do or where I would go, especially since I would have trouble finding anyone willing to marry a divorced single mother. But honestly, I really don’t want to leave, although I wish it hadn’t happened at all, now that I’m married, I’m fairly well off and happy, and although it’s hard, it’s something I have to live with, and I am alright with that.
Would you prefer a different future for your daughter?
Absolutely. I would never want anyone, least of all my daughter, to be in the same relationship as me.
I would like to see the attitudes towards marriage become more western, and allow women more of a say in who they marry. I also pray that plural marriage continues to become more and more rare as time goes on.
Did you have a childhood sweetheart/relationship before your marriage?
I did have a sweetheart before I got married, he was a family friend, and I thought I was going to marry him for the longest time. I was actually looking forward to it, and I stroll sometimes regret not being able to spend my life with him. But I never had a choice in the matter, so I’ve learned to live with it.
How do you feel about the fact that a lot of the world (at least a lot of the Western world) looks down upon plural marriages. Do you ever question your own lifestyle?
I definitely question my lifestyle, and if I had the choice, I don’t think I would want to be in a plural marriage. Since I do live in Dubai, I do get exposed to more western culture than I did before, and I generally think that the west is right about the negative aspects of polygamy. Despite this, I’ve lived my whole life this way, and I’m not unhappy like many people in the west think. It’s not ideal, and certainly causes more stress and emotional strain on everyone, but it’s not all bad.
How has your life changed because of the marriage?
Before I was married, I lived with my family, and, because of the laws in Saudi Arabia, I had very little freedom of movement, and had to ask permission to do or go anywhere. Even while I was at home my parents, and especially my father, had absolute control over what I did.
Now that I’m married, I don’t have to ask permission to go out, as long as I am accompanied by another woman or male guardian, and I have more control over how I spend the small allowance I get. I also have more freedom at home, to raise our child and to talk and spend time with female friends. Despite this, if he wanted to, or if I made him unhappy with me, my husband could control me just like my father, did and monitor my every move, but fortunately he allows his wives to be fairly independent as long as we obey.