Monogamy Over? Inside Love’s Sharing Economy

It had been 15 years since Megan Bhatia had sex with anyone but her husband, Marty.

In 2018, the Bhatias, 38-year-old college sweethearts, were following the prescribed path that sex researchers call the “relationship escalator.” They met at the University of Illinois at Chicago, married in 2004, and bought a house they could scarcely afford in the West Loop. Megan underwent three rounds of IVF in three years to welcome their twins, Kira and Sebastian. After the Bhatias’ jointly-owned real estate business collapsed in the 2008 financial crash, Marty hatched a digital training consultancy but eventually grew disillusioned with the work; Megan was traversing the country as a full-time executive-leadership coach while a nanny logged 50 hours per week watching the twins. Getting married, having children, and striving in corporate careers, the Bhatias “bought into that American dream,” says Megan, now a fresh-faced 42 with long, beachy waves. But the traditional roles of worker, wife, and mother subsumed her: “We shut a lot of ourselves off as we live,” she tells me. “The life that started as a wide-open slate can become this little pinhole.”

Throughout the course of their marriage, Megan and Marty buried the rebel-heartedness that initially bonded them. Marty remembers a traumatic early childhood and his late mother’s alcoholism, and grew up wild and hard-partying. Megan was driven by wanderlust, living in Belgium for a year at 17, then in Spain during a year of college, where she dated men during breaks in her on-and-off premarital relationship with Marty. “I felt so free. I was exploring. I was learning new languages, meeting people,” she recalls. “I felt like everything was possible.” In the years that followed, that unbridled part of her faded into a rarely seen alter ego that she and Marty referred to as “Barcelona Megan.” Both children of divorce, Megan and Marty committed to monogamy, vowing—especially after their children were born—that their marriage would last forever.

However ironically, it was that pledge that began cracking the long-closed door of their union. By 2018, Marty started to notice, as he told Megan, “your heart is off.” Determined to reawaken his wife’s deadened spirit, Marty suggested splashes of novelty. They went on dinner dates in which they pretended, for hours, not to know each other: “I got to see him in that ‘new person’ light,” Megan says. The couple had always shared their crushes with each other—“we realized, just because we were married, it didn’t mean that we didn’t find anyone else attractive,” Megan says—but they started fantasizing about inviting anonymous people, or even people they knew, into their bed for shared sexual experiences, a practice long known as “swinging.” “Part of what’s sexy about it is how open you feel,” Megan says of their conversations. Things escalated when Marty found a private party organized through a local swingers group: The Bhatias’ behavior there was “vanilla,” Megan says, with Marty seeking her permission to kiss another woman. Megan nodded him on, and soon after, was kissing the woman herself.

Swinging offered a jolt of newness, but the Bhatias craved something more than hookups. Megan divulged to Marty her simmering attraction to a new, single friend, Kyle Henry, a man-bunned, contemplative complement to Marty’s magnanimous presence. The couple had recently met Henry at a mutual friend’s party in Chicago and talked to him for hours, with Megan walking beside him under the twinkly lights of a holiday festival at Lincoln Park Zoo. “One person can’t be everything for someone else. It was clear that my all was not good enough,” Marty would later explain on Megan’s podcast, Amory. “There was something missing, and I couldn’t provide it.”

One night, the Bhatias invited Henry over, and Marty unsubtly encouraged his wife and Henry to kiss, which led to a threesome in which both men focused on Megan. The experience felt transformative: “It was like reigniting the curiosity of a teenager,” Megan remembers. Questioning the confines of her marriage “was like coming into Technicolor,” she marvels, referencing the movie Pleasantville, in which rainbow hues begin to populate a puritanical, black-and-white town. Megan was alive with excitement and energy; she describes the feeling of returning to her body, as if she’d been previously numb. “I remember looking back at them at one point, and both of them looking at me,” she says of that first encounter. “It was like, Oh my God, this whole other world is out here.”

Opening their relationship sparked a stream of existential questions for the Bhatias, according to Megan: “Whose life are we living? What do we want?” Entrenched systems were equally open to debate. “We are in a time of questioning institutional structures like health care, education, and, yes, monogamy,” she says, referencing the rise of a vocal, progressive political movement demanding sweeping structural change. The swelling impulse to challenge the status quo, from systemic racism and criminal justice to #MeToo’s reckoning on sexist abuse, had crept into her sex life and relationship style: “I think people are disillusioned with life right now and really starting to write their own rules,” Megan says.