How It Starts

I Went Out For A Walk And Came Home To An Open Marriage

My husband wanted me to see other people, as long as I told him all about it.

by Molly Roden Winter
Originally Published: 
Are You Open?

The day I meet Matt is like any other. That morning, my husband Stewart tells me he’ll be home “early” — that is, early enough to find me awake but not early enough to help put the kids to bed. Now it’s 8:47 p.m. On what planet is this considered early? When I hear Stew’s key in the door, my body tenses. I won’t give him a hello. My mouth won’t do it.

“I need to get out,” I say. I barely look at him for fear I’ll scream, strike him, or worse.

“Where are you going?” he asks, perplexed. To him, “early” nights mean ordering dinner, watching TV together, hopefully sex.

“For a walk.” I grab my jacket and keys and I’m through the door before he closes it. Outside, a fine mist hovers in the lilac-scented air. I gulp at it as I walk, eyes on my feet, trying to slow my breath and release the constriction in my throat.


I look up and recognize a teaching colleague from what feels like another lifetime. “Kayla!” I say. She reaches out to hug me.

“It’s been forever! What are you up to tonight?”

“Just walking. I had to get out. The kids drove me crazy today.”

Kayla is single. Childless. Beyond scenes of harried stay-at-home moms from sitcoms, I wonder if she has any idea what I’m talking about. But she looks at me sympathetically. “You should come out with me! I’m going to meet some friends at the Gate.”

I take in Kayla’s smile, her high-heeled boots, her fresh lipstick and light perfume. I become conscious of my own appearance. I brushed my hair and slapped on deodorant this morning — some 15 hours ago but I certainly didn’t shower. I’m wearing a hoodie, jeans, sneakers, and no makeup. I feel unbearably tired.

I look down at myself and realize something else. “I forgot my wallet,” I tell her.

“Don’t worry about it. I’ll buy you a drink,” she says, hooking her arm through mine. “Come on. You look like you need one.”

I’ve walked past the Gate many times, pushing Daniel and then Nate in a stroller on my way to the playground across the street, but as we enter through the big wooden doors, I realize I’ve never set foot inside. Daniel was born just a week after we moved to Brooklyn, and I certainly haven’t gotten a chance to explore the bar scene in the six years that have passed since.

As my eyes adjust to the dim light, I absorb the sounds of conversation, laughter, and Pearl Jam. I inhale the smells of beer and old wood and let my weight sink into the sticky floor. I’ve forgotten how relaxing it is to be in a place where children aren’t allowed to enter.

“I have two kids,” I say, regretting my words immediately. It was nice not to be seen as a mother for all of five minutes.

Next to me, Kayla scans the room. When she spots her friends at a table in the back, she grabs my elbow and steers me toward them.

“Hi, guys! This is my friend Molly. I found her wandering the streets.” Two women at the end of the table smile and wave. I pull out the chair next to Kayla and sit, hanging my hoodie on the back.

“Molly, huh?” I hear a deep voice say. “I used to have a dog named Molly.”

“I get that a lot.” I look up to find the owner of the voice. Green, laughing eyes are staring into mine.

“I’m Matt,” the voice continues. “What are you drinking?”

“Do they have an IPA?” I pause. “But I don’t have any money. Kayla was going to loan me some.”

“Don’t worry about it.” Matt waves a dismissive hand, standing up. He is lanky and tall, well over six feet. “One IPA coming up. I’ll be right back.” He heads to the bar.

To my left, Kayla is engaged in conversation with the rest of the group. I pretend to listen as my eyes dart to the right, to Matt. His back is to me, and I note the slim hips, the easy way he wears his jeans, his thick, curly hair, which stands up a little on top. My body reacts to what I see before my mind has time to catch up. A pleasant flutter has developed deep within my stomach, spreading up to my pounding heart and rushing down to my groin.

Matt turns around, holding two beers, and catches me staring. He grins as I look down at my hands on the table. My fingernails are short and stubby — I haven’t had a manicure in months — and my wedding band glints in the bar light. I slip my hands onto my lap and, without touching the glass, slurp from the beer Matt has placed in front of me.

“Mmm,” I say. “I haven’t had a beer on tap in a while. Thanks.”

“No problem,” he says, an amused look still in his eyes. “I’m just curious. How did you end up getting dragged here? Where did Kayla find you?”

“I escaped from the asylum.”

Matt laughs. “No offense, but that’s pretty close to what I was going to guess. You have the air of an escapee.” He takes a sip of beer and looks at me expectantly.

“I have two kids,” I say, regretting my words immediately. It was nice not to be seen as a mother for all of five minutes. And this guy is too young to be a parent. “They’re great, but they make me nuts sometimes. I had to get out, so I bolted without thinking about where I was going.”

He nods. “I get that. I mean, not from personal experience, but my sister has two kids. She lives back in Iowa, but I spent a lot of time with her and my nieces last Christmas. That’s probably how I recognized the look on your face.”

“It’s that obvious, huh?” I feel my shoulders relax. I feared my confession of having a family would open a gulf between us. But Matt’s words have reassured me.

“Not in a bad way at all,” he says. “You just look like someone who needs to decompress.”

I hold up my glass. “Cheers to that.”

“Cheers,” says Matt as we clink our glasses.

I probably won’t hear from him again. But even so, I had a great time. One of the best nights I’ve had since my children were born, in fact.

The hours and beers pass like a montage from an ’80s movie. In one clip, Matt celebrates with me as my dart hits the target. In another, I stand out front with the cool kids, taking a drag on a cigarette and petting someone’s dog. Finally, there I am back at the table, saying to Matt as the group gathers their things to go, “I owe you a few rounds.” And then, like a director trying to help an ingénue get into character, I urge myself on. “You live around here, right? Give me your number and we’ll do this again sometime.” Bravo!

“I’ll give you mine if you give me yours,” he answers. “I’m gonna hold you to your offer.”

“Hey, Kayla, do you have a pen?” I ask. “Teachers always have pens,” I explain to Matt.

Kayla reaches into her purse and pulls out a pen, surveying me with raised eyebrows.

“See? It’s even red.”

I scrawl my number on a napkin, then hand the pen to Matt and he does the same. Kayla looks from him to me and then whispers in my ear, “I guess I didn’t have to pay for your drinks after all.”

I look at her sideways and whisper back, “I’m married, Kayla. It’s nothing.”

“If you say so.” She doesn’t sound convinced.

As I walk home, touching the bar napkin in my pocket, the cool air has a sobering effect. I stop to consider what I’ve done. I exchanged numbers with a man. A younger man. An unmarried man. I review what I know about him. He’s from Iowa. He went to college with Kayla, so he must be about her age, 8 years younger than I am. He has a sister and nieces with whom he is close. He works in Manhattan, doing what I’m still not sure. He is funny, sweet, a good listener — and gorgeous. He knows I’m married, and he still wants to go out for drinks with me again. At least he says he does. The balloon in my chest deflates a bit. I probably won’t hear from him again. But even so, I had a great time. One of the best nights I’ve had since my children were born, in fact.

My children.

I have a sudden urge to see them, to hug Daniel, to hold Nate. In part, this is driven by a pang of guilt for the hours I’ve spent without them on my mind. But it’s more, too.

I would miss the bubble baths and the belly laughs and the thousands of ways that motherhood nearly breaks my heart with love every day, even as I fantasize about running as fast as I can away from it all.

I love being a mother. I know this is true. Even on the worst days, when they were both still in diapers and neither of them napped, when Stewart was at work and the idea of a shower was a distant dream, I’d call my mother from a prostrate position on the living room floor. I’d watch the chaos of flying Cheerios and listen to epic dramas unfold between Diesel the Villain and Thomas the Hero, and my mom would ask me: But even if you could, would you trade places with Stewart? And I’d have to acknowledge that I wouldn’t. For then I would miss the sticky kisses and the victorious poops in potties, the joy of watching Daniel patiently teach Nate the arbitrary rules of his Thomas the Tank Engine games. I would miss the bubble baths and the belly laughs and the thousands of ways that motherhood nearly breaks my heart with love every day, even as I fantasize about running as fast as I can away from it all.

I quicken my pace toward home, pulling my keys from my pocket as I walk. When I step through the front door, I notice the toys, shoes, and jackets strewn across the living room floor, exactly where they’d been discarded earlier in the evening. I sigh, sidestepping the mess. It will still be there tomorrow.

I creep into the boys’ room first. I listen to their breathing and inhale their scent. I kiss each of them on the forehead and study their faces, expressive even in sleep. Daniel’s brow is furrowed, serious as always. Nate, meanwhile, has a smile at the edges of his lips, as though he’s cooking up a dream full of mischief.

I’m not surprised to see the light on in our bedroom. I think about a conversation Stewart and I had before we were even engaged. The topic was our respective number of sexual partners, and the huge gulf between my number and his. I’d had four; he’d had dozens. Then Stew made a prediction. How unlikely and dangerous it had seemed to me at the time: “Just wait,” he’d said. He looked so much like my celebrity crush — the tennis player Andre Agassi, with that round bald head and brown eyes, doelike but naughty. “Ten years from now, you’re gonna see some guy and you’ll wonder what it’d be like to fuck him. And it’s okay with me. You just have to tell me about it.”

And here we are. Ten years later.

From MORE: A Memoir of Open Marriage by Molly Roden Winter. Reprinted by permission of Doubleday, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2024 by Molly Roden Winter.

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