Sept. 13, 2011 -- The Dargers, the polygamist family that says they inspired HBO's hit show "Big Love," take readers inside their unconventional world in a new memoir, "Love Times Three: Our True Story of a Polygamous Marriage."
To Joe Darger, his three wives, Alina, twins Vicki and Valerie, and their 24 children, they are just like any American family -- except for a different family structure.
"It's very much part of our culture. It goes back six generations for me. I had a very positive experience growing up," Joe Darger said today on "Good Morning America."
Entering into a traditional, monogamous marriage would "have been a much easier choice," he added, but when "two loves just come together at the right moment…it was just meant to be for me."
More than 20 years ago, Joe married wives Alina and Vicki on the same day. Joe and Alina had seven children and at the same time, Joe and Vicki had another eight. A third wife joined the family when in 2000 Joe married Vicki's twin sister, Valerie, and they had another four children – not to mention the five kids Valerie already had from a previous marriage. Between them, this blended family of one husband and three wives shares responsibility for 11 boys and 13 girls.
With so many mouths to feed, the Dargers spend up to $700 a week on groceries. Everyone is required to pitch in. At around age 10, the kids start to do their own laundry and take on other household responsibilities to keep this well-oiled machine of a family running.
Independent Fundamentalist Mormons, the four parents detail their lives with three spouses, three master bedrooms, two dozen children, how they keep it all together, and the relationship challenges that ensue.
The women admit that jealousy is part of human nature and they can't help but feel pangs at times, but they lean on one another for support and dig deeper into their faith.
Each of their individual relationships with Joe is a private one.
"If it was about sex, I'd have mistresses. It's a much easier way," Joe said. "Easier than making a commitment to a family. …It's not about that side of it. It's about us creating a family."
In the state of Utah, where the Dargers live, polygamy is a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five year in prison. The Dargers have decided to come forward to paint a different picture of polygamy than that broadcast by Warren Jeffs and the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and raise awareness about their lifestyle and loving family.
Joe Darger said getting arrested as a result of the book is a "big concern."
"It's a reality that we're faced with," he said on "GMA." "The reason we need to be able to speak out is that all we see are the negative portrayals. And if we don't look at the opportunities that are out there for us to live in this country and be free, and speak up in that way, then our rights are going to be taken away from us."
Read an excerpt from "Love Times Three" on the following page, then check out some other books in the "GMA" library
Chapter Two: Our Path to Plural Marriage
In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees; and in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage]; and if he does not, he cannot obtain it.
-- doctrine and covenants 131:1–3
As we fell in love, it often seemed like the rest of the world was against us. Ours is an unusual love story, even within the Fundamentalist Mormon culture. It is not typical for a man to court, and then marry, two women at once. But despite the naysayers among our family and friends, it felt right to us from the start.
We had to learn to deal with jealousy and insecurity, which doom some plural marriages, as we dated. We quickly figured out that for our marriage to succeed we had to trust each other completely and talk openly and honestly, all the time, about everything. Prayer, along with advice from our parents and the teachings of early Mormon leaders, helped us find our way.
Like a triangle, our love story has three seamlessly connected points of view about why and how we came together to create a family. It all began with Vicki and Alina.
For a time as a teenager, I had one thing on my mind, and it sure wasn't marriage! My "P word"? Not "polygamy" but "party"! I was wild, hanging out with my older siblings and other kids who were into drinking and smoking and carrying on without a care in the world. I finally came to my senses in my last year of high school, when I realized I was headed for nothing but trouble. As I started thinking about what kind of life I wanted for myself, one guy stood out because he was already moving in the direction I wanted to go. That guy was Joe.
I knew Joe because my older sister, with whom I was very close, had married his father, and I would see him occasionally at family gatherings. In junior high, I had an encounter with Joe that left a lasting impression. I had gone with my sister to pick up Joe after football practice. There were groceries in the backseat of her Monte Carlo, so Joe had to sit in the front, next to me. As Joe slid into the seat, our bodies brushed against each other, and in that instant it felt to me like a magnetic force fell over us, pulling us together. The feeling flashed powerfully but briefly and then was gone, and I didn't know what to make of it. I'd certainly never experienced anything like that sensation with guys I'd dated.
In high school, I heard lots of talk about Joe because he was quite popular and many girls were after him. He had good values and was really grounded, yet he was willing to think outside the box and already had a lot of plans for his life. I decided to check Joe out again: when his football team played my school, I went to the game to watch him. Joe was the captain of the team, and I could see that he played with a lot of heart, passion, and energy. Everything I knew about Joe made me want to know more, but it was a year before I made a move.
In the fall of 1987, I began going by the Dargers' home more often to visit my sister and always accepted any invitations to family get-togethers. I found that I really liked Joe, but I kept my feelings for him secret. Joe had started college and had a lot going on, so I saw him only once in a while. But I was getting to know his family, especially Joe's mom, quite well. Joe's family was always doing fun things: hiking, going to aerobics classes, painting, camping, playing volleyball, having barbecues, and going on long bike rides.
My cousins Vicki and Val were often at Joe's house, too. I knew that Vicki had liked Joe for a long time, but I figured she was still trying to make up her mind about him, as I was. I kept hoping someone else would catch Vicki's interest! And if that didn't happen, I figured Joe would just have to decide between the two of us. But Joe's mom, who knew that Vicki and I both were interested in Joe, had a different idea.
She brought it up one day after I called her to ask what I could bring to a New Year's Eve party the family was hosting. The conversation turned serious.
"You like Joe and Vicki likes Joe," she said. "Instead of competing for him, why don't you just get together and date him?"
"I don't know if I could do that," I said. In fact, I wasn't sure if I even wanted to consider it. In the days leading up to the party, where I knew I would see Vicki, a million thoughts filled my head.
I thought of all the things I would be giving up, according to the standards of the world, if I agreed to a dual courtship—mainly, the luxury of a one-on-one relationship where I wouldn't have to think of anyone else as I fell in love. I would have to build two relationships, not just one, from scratch, at the same time, and to the same depth. I wasn't sure I was capable of that. I knew it would take a huge amount of openness and honesty. Was I ready and willing to trust that deeply? Was Vicki? Was Joe mature enough to handle the emotions and feelings of two women sensitively and fairly?
But all those concerns collapsed under my belief in the law of celestial marriage as an essential aspect of my deepening faith. Despite the way my family's secret lifestyle had sometimes made me feel as a child, I really liked growing up in a plural family, and I admired both my mothers. Although as a teenager I spent time partying and dating guys who weren't into that lifestyle, I'd decided I believed in plural marriage and hoped to live it someday, if I found the right person. And I wasn't set on having a special period alone with a husband as a monogamous first wife. In fact, I saw a benefit in being the second or third wife: I would have the opportunity to observe how a man treated his other wives and children, and how the women interacted with each other and the husband's children, before committing myself. As I spent more time thinking about what Joe's mom had suggested, I realized there were advantages to starting married life immediately with a sister wife. We would be able to create a family culture together, and I would be spared having to adjust later if another woman entered the family.
I decided to proceed cautiously and get to know Vicki better before making up my mind. At the New Year's Eve party, Vicki and I stayed up all night talking. I found that, while our personalities were very different, we had a lot in common. About two weeks into the new year, I was looking for something to do one day and decided to invite Vicki and Val ice-skating. To my surprise, they accepted, and we had a great time. From that point on, Vicki and I were fast friends, always together—and Joe wasn't even in the picture!
Vicki, I discovered, was very accepting and good-natured. A creative and talented person, she easily picked up everything she tried, from learning the piano to playing tennis. More important, she was deeply committed to doing what she felt was right. Her faith was strong and, like me, she hoped to create a very close family someday. I could see that if we became sister wives, she had qualities that would make it possible to work through the challenges. And even if it didn't work out with Joe, I knew she would always be my good friend. Vicki and I never sat down and had a heart-to-heart talk about our mutual interest in Joe. We didn't have to; we just knew we were in it together. But we did joke about it. Joe had been interested in a girl named Sandy in high school and, before Joe ever acknowledged our interest, Vicki and I congratulated each other on the special two-for-one deal we were offering him! Another time, the Jefferson Starship song "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" came on the radio, and we changed the words in the second line to fit us: "And we can build this dream together; Sandy's gone forever; nothing's gonna stop us now!"