L.A. Affairs: I wanted an open marriage. Would my husband agree?
Last spring, after eight years of a stable partnership, my husband and I opened our marriage. In truth, I was the one to push for this change in the first place. For many, this disclosure would have been an absolute curveball. But fortunately Sam and I had been fleshing out the parameters of ethical nonmonogamy for some time, theoretically musing about the drawbacks of long-term partnership since our third date.
Years later, when we did begin concretely discussing what an open marriage would look like, we were curious about how exactly to transition from theory to practice. I didn’t foresee creating an online dating profile; rather, I was hoping to meet someone organically. This was perhaps a tall order, but I was in no rush. The beauty of our new arrangement, in my eyes, was that we had the freedom to be open to these natural, desire-based encounters.
When I got to campus, I noticed that my friends were sitting next to a friendly-looking guy who was laughing and loudly teasing them. He was handsome and tall and also smart and funny.
So, when I ventured to Highland Park with Sam and friends on a balmy night last September, I wasn’t completely unprepared when I found myself making illicit eye contact with the handsome man behind the bar. He was tall and brunet and cute — with a capital C. That night, we barely spoke beyond the innocuous exchanges required to order a cocktail, but there was a palpable energy between us. Some may call it a vibe.
I went home with my husband that night happily. I was high on adrenaline and knew this was my opportunity to share with him the details of what had transpired between the bar’s exposed-brick walls earlier in the evening. Although apprehensive at first, Sam was overwhelmingly supportive. After all, beyond a few smiles and winks, nothing untoward had occurred. But my flirtation with the bartender was an opening — a beginning.
A week later, after a negroni or two at the Capri Club, I found the courage to return to Figueroa Street. My girlfriends, bless them, had agreed to accompany me, eager to see the show unfold. Heading into the evening, I had shared my plan with my husband to ensure that he was on board with the prospect of rubber meeting the road. He had agreed, albeit timidly at first.
When I look back on those first weeks of starting our nonmonogamous lifestyle together, it is amazing to consider just how methodically we approached things — and thankfully so. Each new wrinkle required copious hours of unpacking, and every hypothetical warranted dissection. We knew that the journey we were embarking upon held risk. Thus we did all we could to ensure that we prepared thoroughly and accordingly.
I started dating a man from my past who’s vegetarian, a mild but not daunting challenge for a devoted cook like me, but he’s also diabetic.
Pen in hand, I marched into the scene of the crime. There, I found my bartender, stirring a cocktail and chatting with patrons. I was shaking. Panicked, I ordered a few drinks, scanning his face for recognition from the prior Saturday. He didn’t flinch. But I was determined to carry on and at least attempt to execute my plan. I regrouped with my friends outside, mentally preoccupied as they gabbed about more interesting matters. It was now or never.
I returned to the bar once more and asked to close my tab. With my Visa in hand, the bartender handed me my receipt before whisking himself away to attend to other guests. As if on autopilot, I clicked the pen into gear and signed my name. Beneath the line, I rewrote my name, neatly in print, followed by my 10-digit phone number. I dropped the pen onto the tray and hurried out of the bar, terrified at the repercussions of my decision.
Of course, I immediately told Sam what had transpired. Together we waited with bated breath to see if next steps were in order. The next couple of days, I didn’t hear a thing from the man behind the bar. I had just begun to convince myself that I had incorrectly written my phone number when my phone pinged while I was at dinner with friends in Santa Monica. It was him.
I was intoxicated by his confidence, which he mixed with the right dose of self-deprecation. Unfortunately, I missed the red flags.
The bartender and I would go on to date — and all that entails — for the next six months. That fall and into the spring, we soaked up everything that the L.A. bar scene has to offer: mai tais in Chinatown, followed by souvlaki at Greekman’s and shoestring fries at Lingua Franca. Our dates were limited to once a fortnight, which was the perfect frequency, given our respective scheduling needs. He didn’t mind that I was married and likely took some erotic pleasure in the whole arrangement. He was funny, kind and smart, and, it would turn out, notably younger than I.
This period, however, was not without growing pains. A devout Luddite, Sam was vehemently against relying on apps in his pursuits and was slow to find a way back into the dating pool himself. In time, though, his stance shifted. Soon, we found ourselves huddled over his iPhone, perusing the myriad alluring women who continuously filled his Hinge queue. After an initial rendezvous or two, he was back at ease in the dating world, sated by the prospect of courting a variety of dynamic women.
As I had always hoped, our marriage reaped the benefits of our new arrangement. Seeing each other in this novel light — desirable, independent, modern — has brought an even greater sense of connection to our relationship.
Things culminated when the bartender moved to Brooklyn. By then, our fling had run its course. Nonetheless, I was sad to see him go.
He was clear that if we did end up together, I’d have to move to Los Angeles. That wasn’t a dealbreaker. I’d leave New York for true love.
Though fleeting and ephemeral, my relationship (if you can call it that) with the bartender was an essential catalyst in allowing my marriage to morph into what it is today. These days, Sam and I have fallen into a seamless rhythm, marked by consensual agreements and frequent check-ins. We are both seeing people and both quite pleased with the change in our lifestyle together. And while I am no longer in touch with my bartender, if I saw him again, I would thank him. Little did I know at the time, but he was the push my husband and I needed to jump into the deep end together.
The author is a native Angeleno. She is currently working on an essay collection centered on unpacking the nuances of ethical nonmonogamy. You can find her on X (formerly known as Twitter): @Nbabcock47
L.A. Affairs chronicles the search for romantic love in all its glorious expressions in the L.A. area, and we want to hear your true story. We pay $400 for a published essay. Email LAAffairs@latimes.com. You can find submission guidelines here. You can find past columns here.
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