I met an executive chef in November 2022 at a posh Las Vegas restaurant where he worked. Sitting alone at the bar, I ordered the omakase, which meant he curated more than a dozen courses for me. (To this day, it’s the best meal I’ve ever had.) During Course No. 7 — and drink No. 3 — I did a shimmy because the food was that good.

The chef caught my happy dance from behind the bar. We smiled at each other. My smile was shy and embarrassed; his reassured me that I needn’t be. He was my type: slender, oozing an awkward-yet-adorable charisma (even as he shouted out orders), his hair slicked back in a ponytail like Antonio Banderas in “Desperado.”

When my server returned with my eighth course, I asked her if she’d kindly deliver my compliments to the chef. He came over as I was downing the foam from my espresso martini.

“That good, huh?” he asked.

“You couldn’t have waited for me to not have a foam mustache?” I said.

“Maybe, but then how would I know you’re enjoying it?”

We smiled at each other. I told him how much I’d enjoyed every dish. Then, being the straightforward gal I am, I asked if he wanted to come back to my hotel room. He said he could meet me in an hour.

When he got to my room, we chatted over a few glasses of white wine, covering our career trajectories and what it was like to be Latine in our respective fields. Then we got into the bath and “talked” some more. We dried off and kissed more, had sex and cuddled until I fell asleep.

I woke up to a text from the chef. It was a photo of him kissing my cheek as I slept. “Night night. I’ll text you mañana,” he said. Mañana came, and I asked him if he’d be back for Round 2. “I wish. I have dinner plans with a buddy tonight. I had soooo much fun,” he replied.

The next day, I returned to L.A. and my apartment in the Valley. The chef and I texted intermittently, once in January 2023 and another time in March of that same year. Our conversations were always short, and we never made plans to visit each other.

The last week of April, I was back at his restaurant, where he covered the bill for my sister and me. After we had finished eating, the chef asked me if we’d be hanging out post-dinner again. “Of course,” I said.

We walked back to my room to repeat our escapades from six months prior: the wine, the talking, the bath, the making out and the sex. We did it all over again, and it was somehow better than the first time.

I asked him if we could go back to his place since my sister was due back to the room in half an hour. He said we couldn’t.

“What? Do you have roommates who don’t let you have guests?” I asked, wryly.

“Yeah, actually. My wife and kids …”

“Good one. Let me get dressed, and then we’ll go,” I said. I was sure he was joking.

“I’m serious,” he said. “I’m so sorry I didn’t tell you before. I couldn’t figure out how.”

I couldn’t speak through my sobbing. The term “homewrecker” makes my skin crawl — probably because my dad was serially unfaithful to my mom, which I knew about for two reasons.

First, my mom wasn’t shy about telling me. At the parties of family friends, she’d often say things like, “There goes that skank your father cheated on me with.” The other reason is that when I was about 13, my dad sat me and my siblings down to tell us he was moving out because he cheated on my mom. So you can imagine my disgust when I found out that the guy I had slept with on two occasions was married and had three kids.

All I could think was: “I’m a homewrecker now. I’m that skank.” I pictured my mom’s heartbreak of being cheated on. When I finally caught my breath, all I could say to the chef was, “This isn’t so much about you as it is about my own trauma with my mom and dad.”

He stared at me blankly before apologizing and saying he never meant to hurt me. I told him he needed to resolve his issues. “Either get divorced or make it right,” I said, crying. “But please stop doing this to your wife and kids.”

“I will,” he said, but I didn’t believe him — not even a little bit.

I cried myself to sleep that night because I was so embarrassed. The guilt and shame I felt ate away at me for months. As masochistic as it seems, I’d still choose to do everything all over again, not because of him but because the fiasco taught me a powerful lesson.

I could keep lugging around a cross that wasn’t mine to bear. Or I could find a way to lick my wounds and get back out there. At first, I thought I needed to ask people about their relationship statuses.

After a couple of sessions with my therapist, I realized that that wasn’t the lesson. Instead, the way for me to move on was to place blame with whom it actually lay: the chef who omitted crucial information. I assumed blame only because I thought I’d hurt someone the way I‘d been hurt.

The harsh reality is that it wasn’t my responsibility to avoid hurting a family or partner I didn’t know existed. Even if I had asked, he could have lied.

I also realized that I’d been holding the women my father was with at fault for something that they might have unknowingly participated in — much like I had with the chef. Thinking about that, I realized where the blame should be placed.

During that April visit with the chef, he left my hotel room around 1:30 a.m. I haven’t seen or talked to him since, and I’ll likely never find out whether he came clean. But I also don’t care.

After almost a year of badgering myself, I understand that the chef’s mistakes aren’t on me. And I don’t have anything I need to apologize for.

The author is a freelance writer and lifestyle journalist. She lives in the San Fernando Valley. She’s on Instagram: @personatalieeee

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 [email protected]. You can find submission guidelines here. You can find past columns here.

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