Created By: Xtifr on September 17, 2012 Last Edited By: Xtifr on November 11, 2012
Troped

Exotic Extended Marriage

Polygamy emphasizes the foreignness of a culture or species

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Indexes: Otherness Tropes, Marriage Tropes

As [maternal grandmother] was in early clan marriage (Stone Gang) and shared six husbands with another woman, identity of maternal grandfather open to question. But was often so, and I'm content with the grandpappy she picked.
--Manual Garcia O'Kelly-Davis, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein

People of strange, exotic cultures are often depicted as being far more open to extended marriages, with three or more participants, than we are. Common in Speculative Fiction, this helps emphasize just how different these people are from us, especially if they are human or Humanoid Aliens that resemble us.

In most of the world today, marriage is limited to two people at a time, but that has not always been the case, there are a few places where it's not the case now, and some authors like to speculate that it may not be true in the future.

Historically, the most common form of extended marriage was one man with multiple wives. The technical term for this is "polygyny", and it has appeared in a wide variety of cultures. For this reason, adventure stories set in an exotic corner of the Earth are most likely to feature polygny. To some extent, this can be Truth in Television; more of the world allows or at least accepts polygamy than many westerners realize.

In works set on other worlds, all sorts of extended marriages can be found, often associated with a Free-Love Future. Extended marriage is often shown as an element of both utopias and dystopias. And when it comes to exotic aliens with bizarre alien biology, all bets are off. Monogamy may not even be physically possible.

Subtrope of Polyamory. The existence of this trope is often a necessity for a Marry Them All scenario. See the Useful Notes page, For the Love of Many, for a broader discussion of the general topic.

Examples:

Anime & Manga
  • In Cat Planet Cuties, the Catians have no issues with a male choosing multiple mates. This becomes relevant to the plot when Kio's house is converted into the official Catian embassy, leaving Kio free to marry all three of the girls in love with him.

Literature
  • In Robert A. Heinlein used this trope a few times, as part of a broader theme of Polyamory in his works:
    • The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress features extended marriage as a common part of life on the moon, in large part because of a shortage of women. The protagonist, Mannie, is part of what he calls a "chain marriage".
    • Friday starts with the protagonist in a group marriage in New Zealand, although they divorce her after she exposes their racist hypocrisy. She later joins a much healthier group marriage.
  • In Donald Kingsbury's Courtship Rite, the harsh life on the Lost Colony of Geta has led to extended marriages being quite common. Marriages of up to six people are allowed, and a six-marriage is considered the most perfect, balanced ideal.
  • In C. J. Cherryh's Chanur Novels, the cat-like Hani form prides, with one dominant male and a group of related females.
  • In the Earth's Children series, set in the distant past before the rise of civilization, most matings are one man & one woman, but sometiems a man will mate with two women, or a woman with two men. Whatever works for them.
  • The Sharing Knife has a case where a Lakewalker couple couldn't have children, their families were pressuring them to break up, instead they brought a second husband into the relationship. The husbands are married to each other as well.
  • The novella "The Outcasts of Heaven Belt" by Joan Vinge features a starship crew who are all an intermarried group (although it's usual to have a "special" relationship with just one spouse).
  • Gail Dalton's One Rose Trilogy has a society where the size of a marriage ranges from a minimum of four to a maximum of twelve.
  • In Wen Spencer's A Brother's Price, a plague has left the world seriously gender-skewed, with 5-10 girls born for every boy. The solution for this is for boys to marry all sisters in a family. The hero, of course, goes on on to marry all of the princesses of the realm.
  • In the Honor Harrington series, the planet Grayson (where Honor has dual-citizenship) allows extended marriages.
  • In Nnedi Okorafor's The Shadow Speaker, Badass Princess Sarauniya Jaa has two husbands.
  • In David Brin's Uplift series, uplifted chimps are often involved in group marriages, and the species known as the Gubru forms marriages in threes, and don't become sexually differentiated until after marriage, when one member of the threesome will become dominant and the sole female, while the other two become male.
  • Vonda N. McIntyre's Starfarer series has at least one married triad.
  • In Jack McDevitt's Omega (part of the Priscilla Hutchins series), the newly discovered alien race known informally as the Goompahs have a complex system of shared spouses that the researchers studying the race have a hard time figuring out. Conjugal relations are allowed throughout a particular marriage group, but most individuals seem to have one or two preferred spouses within their group.

Live-Action TV
  • In Farscape, Rygel once had many wives, before he was deposed and ended up with the rest of our refugees.
  • In Star Trek: Enterprise, Denobulans (both male and female) tend to have three spouses each. Dr. Phlox, the Enterprise's chief surgeon, thus had a total of 720 people he was directly or indirectly married to.
  • In Babylon 5 Londo Mollari has three wives, all Arranged Marriages, whom he hates. It's apparently not uncommon for high status Centauri nobles, and made easier by their six "appendages".
  • Clarice on Caprica is married to multiple men and women, who are all married to each other. This is implied to be unusual but perfectly legal.
  • In an early episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the Enterprise crew has visitors from an alien race where the women are larger in stature than the men and hold all of the business, scientific, and government jobs as well as any occupations requiring physical strength. The smaller men are thought to be better suited for domestic and artistic endeavors. Important women, especially, have multiple husbands, and they all share a marital bed.

Tabletop Games
  • Blue Rose has "star marriages", where all the participants are considered to be the spouses of all the other participants, even if they are not sexually involved with each other. They are quite common in the islands, uncommon in Aldis and almost unheard of elsewhere.

Web Original
  • In Chakona Space Chakats are polyamorous, with a saying that "love doesn't divide, it multiplies". In addition Foxtaurs and Caitians are polygynous due to skewed gender ratios (3-1 and 8-1 females to males respectively). The former two species are Terran, but uncommon enough on earth that mates of different species have to get used to their idea of monogamy as a foreign concept.


Community Feedback Replies: 55
  • September 18, 2012
    MorwenEdhelwen
    The Desert Song involves this.
  • September 18, 2012
    Omeganian
    Perhaps you should add a reference to Marry Them All.
  • September 18, 2012
    Xtifr
    ^^ Can you be more specific?

    ^ Will do.
  • September 18, 2012
    captainsandwich
    I think this is a case of People Sit On Chairs, at least in cultures where an extended marriage is not uncommon (unless it is a different type of extended marriage).
  • September 18, 2012
    randomsurfer
    Comes up from time to time in the Earths Children series. Most matings (ie marraiges) are one man & one woman, but sometiems a man will mate with two women, or a woman with two men. Whatever works for them.
  • September 18, 2012
    Andygal
    The Sharing Knife has a case where a Lakewalker couple couldn't have children, their families were pressuring them to break up, instead they brought a second husband into the relationship. The husbands are married to each other as well.
  • September 18, 2012
    Lumpenprole
    The novella The Outcasts of Heaven Belt by Joan Vinge features a starship crew who are all an intermarried group (although it's usual to have a "special" relationship with just one spouse).

  • September 18, 2012
    Khantalas
    Blue Rose has "star marriages", where all the participants are considered to be the spouses of all the other participants, even if they are not sexually involved with each other. They are quite common in the islands, uncommon in Aldis and almost unheard of elsewhere.
  • September 19, 2012
    Xtifr
    Hmm, I think captainsandwich may have a point. I was amazed to find that we didn't seem to have any tropes about any form of polygamy, so I may have made this too broad to start with. I think there may be at least two valid tropes here, but extended marriage by itself probably is not a trope.

    I think for now, I'm going to go with the Speculative Fiction Exotic Extended Marriage trope (name TBD) where the author uses unusual forms of marriage to emphasize how different a culture is from our own. Most of the examples so far fit that trope. I'll rewrite the description very soon.
  • September 19, 2012
    JohnnyCache
    • In Star Trek Enterprise, Denobulans (both male and female) tend to have three spouses each. Dr. Phlox, the Enterprise's chief surgeon, thus had a total of 720 people he was directly or indirectly married to.
  • September 19, 2012
    Xtifr
    ^ Oh good, I was hoping someone would chime in with a star trek example. I figured there must be one.

    I've changed the name and description to make this more "tropey". I removed examples that didn't fit the new definition (like The Bible), and edited some of the others to emphasize the "otherness" aspect. I'm definitely open to suggestions for a better name.
  • September 20, 2012
    randomsurfer
    On Babylon Five Londo has three wives. I don't know if that's normal in Centauri culture or if he's special because he's an ambassador (and future ruler - they also have multiple wives).
  • September 20, 2012
    MorwenEdhelwen
    @Omeganian: It involves a supporting character with a harem and has a polygamy vs monogamy concerted number.
  • September 20, 2012
    69BookWorM69
    @ randomsurfer I'm glad you mentioned Londo. I thought on first viewing that that fact was intended to add to exotic feel of the Centauri (that and the hairstyles), since they otherwise look very like ordinary humans (more so than the Minbari and the Narn).
  • September 20, 2012
    DRCEQ
    • In Cat Planet Cuties, Kio is given a viable solution over having tobchoose between three girls who is in love with him because since his house was converted into the official Catian embassy, it and all residents who reside inside it are aubject to Catian law and cultured. The Catians have no issues with a male choosing multiple mates.
  • September 20, 2012
    Xtifr
    Can we get a version of the B5 example that doesn't involve the forbidden first-person? Is it really that you're not sure, or is it actually never explained? Anyone?
  • September 21, 2012
    Arivne
    The Useful Notes page For The Love Of Many discusses polygamy and other forms of relationships.
  • September 21, 2012
    zarpaulus
    ^^ In Babylon Five Londo Mollari has three wives, all Arranged Marriages whom he hates. It's apparently not uncommon for high status Centauri nobles, and made easier by their six "appendages".
  • September 21, 2012
    zarpaulus
    Web Original
    • In Chakona Space Chakats are polyamorous, with a saying that "love doesn't divide, it multiplies". In addition Foxtaurs and Caitians are polygynous due to skewed gender ratios (3-1 and 8-1 females to males respectively). The former two species are Terran, but uncommon enough on earth that mates of different species have to get used to their idea of monogamy as a foreign concept.
  • September 21, 2012
    Prfnoff
    In Paint Your Wagon, Jacob Woodling comes to California with his two wives, Elizabeth and Sarah, who don't get along with each other. Ben Rumson warns him that, whatever Mormon law says, the law in his parts prohibits polygamy. Elizabeth ends up being auctioned off.
  • September 21, 2012
    Xtifr
    ^ I don't think Mormons are exotic enough to count, really. At least not in California. If the guy had shown up with his two wives in Osaka, in the 1800s, in a Japanese work, it might fit.

    I'm thinking of making another trope about more mundane, stigmatized polygamy, which your example would definitely fit, but I haven't decided yet. It's not a topic that interests me as much as this one does. But it's certainly a trope found in many works.
  • September 24, 2012
    Xtifr
    Seems like there have to be more examples out there. So far, we're purely Speculative Fiction, but this should also cover "exotic tales of far-off lands" from 19th c. lit, and the like. Also, I'm pretty sure there's more Spec Fic examples to be found.
  • September 29, 2012
    Chabal2
    • Sillage has an alien species that apparently requires two females and a male for procreation.
    • Lucky Luke: in The Prophet, the Daltons come across a religious community that appears to be based on the Mormons. The guy who takes them in calls his family to greet them, first the twenty or so kids (shocking Joe), then his four wives. This isn't what makes them the most alien to the Daltons, it's that they don't use money.
  • September 29, 2012
    Xtifr
    ^ With your first example, is marriage involved? Otherwise, it sounds like it belongs in Bizarre Sexual Dimorphism or the other pending YKTTW, Bizarre Alien Sexes.

    The second sounds like it might fit, but I'm a little hesitant because I'm afraid it will lead to people shoehorning Mormon examples that don't. I'll probably add it, but I think I want to rewrite it a little to emphasize the exoticness, which may take me a moment.
  • October 6, 2012
    Xtifr
  • October 7, 2012
    norsicnumber2nd
    Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Cristina and some Spaniards in Barcelona.
  • October 7, 2012
    Xtifr
    ^ Get married? This trope is not Polyamory. I haven't seen it, but nothing in either our description or The Other Wiki suggests there's any sort of extended marriage going on. If this is really an example, you'll have to be a little more specific, please.
  • October 8, 2012
    norsicnumber2nd
    ^ The Spaniards are married (I think) but feel there's something lacking and decide that it's the American Cristina, who they meet when she spends a summer in Barcelona. The feeling is mutual and so the married pair and Cristina sort of become that.
  • October 8, 2012
    Xtifr
    ^ Unless all three get married, that's just Polyamory, not this trope. For that matter, unless the marriage happens in part to show how exotic the Spanish culture is, it wouldn't be this trope.
  • October 9, 2012
    NightNymph
    I tried to find which episode this was, but was unable to find it. I believe it is an early one if that helps someone with better Star Trek knowledge remember and fill in the details...

    In an early episode of Star Trek The Next Generation, the Enterprise crew has visitors from an alien race where the women are larger in stature than the men and hold all of the business, scientific, and government jobs as well as any occupations requiring physical strength. The smaller men are thought to be better suited for domestic and artistic endeavors. Important women, especially, have multiple husbands, and they all share a marital bed.
  • October 9, 2012
    Arivne
    ^ @Night Nymph: That was "Angel One". Descriptions at Memory Alpha and The Other Wiki.
  • October 9, 2012
    Xtifr
    Got it. And honestly, I would have accepted it even without the episode name. :)
  • October 9, 2012
    zarpaulus
    I noticed that David Brin's Existence got mined from Polyamory. Gerald is a mid-21st Century American
  • October 9, 2012
    Xtifr
    Hmm, interesting. I haven't read it yet (though it's on my list). I'd say it counts if its intended to show how American culture has changed over the next few decades. Needs clarification one way or the other, and removal if it doesn't count.
  • October 9, 2012
    zarpaulus
    ^ Well, come to think of it his more famous Uplift universe features some possible examples. The Gubru for instance require two males and one female. And uplifting hasn't changed the mating habits of chimpanzees and dolphins that much, which their human patrons may have picked up a bit.
  • October 10, 2012
    Xtifr
    ^ A quick skim of the source material reveals that Chimps definitely have group marriages, but I didn't spot any confirmation about dolphins one way or the other.
  • October 11, 2012
    norsicnumber2nd
    I honestly had a lovely debating society debate about this today. And, as we discovered at a point interest interval (we had to web search it) an extended marriage only requires a marriage between two members of a poly-amorous group, though often in exotic cultures there will be one member of the group married to all the others individually, each of the others only married to that one person but still polygamous. Yay debating society!
  • October 12, 2012
    Mozgwsloiku
    Discussed at length in the MPLFIM adult fic Xenophilia: Because of the sex disproportion, not only are ponies polygamous (a herd typically composed of a male and several females), but since the male is very much not expendable, many of the gender roles are reversed - the protagonist is rather uncomfortable with the mares trying to protect him whenever he is threatened.
  • October 13, 2012
    NightNymph
    ^X8 Arvine: Thank you. I actually saw that episode when looking for which it was, but the women in that one don't look like the ones in the episode I was thinking of (Unless there were two different types of people). The photo of that woman looks very human-like, whereas the ones I remember were very strange-looking. The women had a very severe hairstyle - piled up on top of their head like a weird 18th century wig - they wore long dresses, and their face wasn't quite human. The men reminded me almost of thin hobbits. And the size difference was pretty dramatic - the men aliens were a good bit shorter than the women, at least a head shorter.

    The description for "Angel One" mentioned Riker sleeping with one of the women on that episode... the ones I was thinking of, Riker would not have been attracted to - at all. If there were two types of woman dominated societies in that episode, then that is probably it. If not then perhaps there were two episodes of Star Trek: TNG with such a situation.

    I was very frustrated when that was the episode that kept coming up in my searches, because that wasn't what the women I remembered looked like. If i remember correctly there were either some type of negotiations or the Enterprise was taking them somewhere. The aliens stayed in guest quarters on the Enterprise.
  • October 13, 2012
    Xtifr
    ^^ What's a MPLFIM? And if this is an "adult fic" (does that refer to fanfic?), it may not be appropriate to add, due to the new no-porn rules. Plus I'm confused by the ponies thing. To the best of my knowledge, few animals engage in actual marriage, unless this is a cartoon or something.
  • October 14, 2012
    zarpaulus
    ^ Generally MLP FIM is short for My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic, some of the male fandom are a bit pervy.

    In fact having read the fic in question I think it just an excuse for the author's self-insert to have a threesome with Rainbow Dash and Twilight Sparkle. And the show canon suggests that they're monogamous.
  • October 15, 2012
    Xtifr
    ^ Ah, what they call "clop-fic"; one of things that saps my will to live on this planet any more. :)

    Ok, but since you've read it: does it really involve marriage?

    And on a separate topic: @/Night Nymph, I'm confused. Does the current description match the episode title that was found, or do I need to change things a bit? I don't insist on having the actual episode title, but if I do have one, I'd rather not mislead people about the plot details.

    For that matter, are you sure you aren't confusing two different episodes?

    If there are two different episodes with different examples, I'll happily mention both, and I don't require them both to have a name as long as the descriptions are sufficiently descriptive.
  • October 15, 2012
    zarpaulus
    ^ No, he decided in his version of Equestria that marriage was mostly a "nobility" thing for alliances and stuff.
  • October 16, 2012
    NightNymph
    ^^ Xtifr: I don't think it does. The "Angel One" episode is definitely an example, but my description does not match. Since I could not find any evidence of the episode I remembered's existence, I'd go with the "Angel One" example until someone with the series on DVD (I wish) can come along and confirm my memory on the other.

    The "Angel One" episode is similar in that the women are considered "superior" and have multiple husbands, but they are not as physically different from the men as the one I remember and the "aliens" look mostly human. The information for "Angel One" is easily found, because the "exotic marriage" was a main plot point, and because the episode is notorious for being really bad.

    I'd skip my example for now and go with "Angel One" as that is easily confirmed. Sorry about that. I'd hoped someone more familiar with TNG would remember (I liked all the early Star Treks, but am most familiar with my favorite, Deep Space 9)
  • October 16, 2012
    Xtifr
    ^ The whole series is available, at least in the US, through Netflix streaming, so we're not just limited to people so dedicated that they own the full DVD collection. On the other hand, while I have Netflix, I'm not a dedicated-enough fan (though I like the show) to go through every episode searching for this example. Sorry.

    Can someone make a proper writeup for the "Angel One" example? I could probably force myself to sit down and watch it if necessary, but I'd hope that someone out there already knows the details.
  • October 17, 2012
    Arivne
    I have just read the entire "Angel One" transcript and there is no mention at all of polygamy or even polyamory.

    So "Angel One" is not an example. :(
  • October 18, 2012
    Xtifr
    ^ Hmm, ok, then maybe I go back to Night Nymph's original description, with no episode name, since (s)he seems to be pretty clear that "Angel One" is not the episode (s)he had in mind.
  • October 22, 2012
    Xtifr
    YKTTW Bump. If you haven't got more examples or comments, how 'bout a hat? :)
  • October 27, 2012
    Xtifr
    Another YKTTW Bump. C'mon, folks, if this isn't ready to launch, please tell me why.
  • November 5, 2012
    Xtifr
    Bump again. Hats would be greatly appreciated. (As would more examples, of course.)
  • November 9, 2012
    Mozgwsloiku
    Xtifr: 1 It stands for My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic. 2 Yes, it is technically Porn With Plot, if a really good one - which is why it doesn't have a page of its own and my entry here does not contain anything sexual. 3 Yes, MLP ponies obviously - they are an inteligent species rather than animals, and as such do have a notion of marriage, if slightly different. (fun fact - the story has a spin-off that among other things contains a full blown sociology essay on the pony attitude towards clothes as a measure of social status and how it clashes with human nudity taboo.)
  • November 9, 2012
    Mozgwsloiku
    Zarpaulus: Definitely a better love story than Twilight. EDIT: Not that its hard or anything.
  • November 9, 2012
    Xtifr
    ^^ That's all very well and good, but I'm still not seeing Exotic Extended Marriage in anything you've mentioned so far. If you can write up an example about this trope, I'll be more than happy to include it. Otherwise, you might want to add this on Polyamory.
  • November 10, 2012
    Mozgwsloiku
    They did get officially married in the (teen-rated) sequel.
  • November 11, 2012
    Xtifr
    ^ If you mean it's an example, please write it as an example.
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=kpk7krrlpj20t1c2j1cuwl8x&trope=ExoticExtendedMarriage