Kate Zernike's story in the New York Times on rich guys who dump their wives for younger models over and over again, "The Ex-Ex-Ex-Men," is sad.
It does raise the question, though, of whether we should think of this phenomenon as serial monogamy, or serial polygamy. Since polygamy is illegal in our country, these relations have the form of monogamy. Often these deluded playboys imagine that they are in love and that this is really for life. For a while.
Still, polygamy seems to be a closer model. In formally polygamous societies, only rich men can afford multiple wives, leaving poor guys without any. In those societies, each woman and her children typically has their own house, while the husband moves from one wife's house to another. In our society, the rich man pays off the old wife so she and her children can set up their own household, while he moves on to the next. The lead example in the Zernike story is Ron Perelman, who recently dropped wife number four, Ellen Barkin. The story noted that Perelman had paid off his four exes, according to their prenuptial agreements, in the amounts of, respectively, $8 million, $80 million, and $30 million, while Ms. Barkin got $20 million. Evidently wife number two understood her man the best.
The theory of the prenuptial agreement is that it removes any temptation for the poorer party (unless you're Oprah, that would be "her") to try to get half through a divorce, while it costs the richer party (read: "him") enough to make him think twice about dumping her and moving on. And a $20 million payout to his most recent blonde might give the average millionaire pause. To a billionaire like Perelman, though, it is just another business expense.
In Perelman's case – or Donald Trump's, or any number of hugely rich guys who give themselves "weddings" every few years -- this sequence of payoffs, though, suggests another way of thinking about what these relations amount to: prostitution.
Sad, sad, sad.