Open for Business

I was stripping off my tank top in the Barry’s Bootcamp locker room when I heard my name. The voice was an ex coworker who had left to pursue her acting career. Emma! she shrieked and ran over to me. How are you? Did you ever work things out with your ex boyfriend? My head tilted. My eyes squinted. What? I asked. Your ex boyfriend? Did you guys ever get back together? I was always wondering about that. God no! I laughed – a maniacal, satanical laugh. I haven’t even thought about him in weeks.

She reached out and squeezed my hand. So you are open for business! she declared. My face twisted like I had eaten a sour patch kid. Amazing! I have a plethora of guys I’ve been wanting to set you up. She laughed. Do you have time for a juice? I looked at the time. Um, no sorry. I am going to shower because I have a date tonight actually. She squeezed my hand tighter. Ohhhhhh, with whom? Just a guy I met online. I don’t really remember who he is to be honest. It’s my last online date, so I’m just going to shower and head over to meet him. He blue eyes widened.

You are going to shower here?! she asked loudly. People in the shower line turned to look.

Uh, sure, I said uncertain where this was going. And it’s your first date? I nodded. Emma, do you want to have a successful date or not? Well, I don’t really care… I started before she chimed in. Do you believe that you reap what you sow? Huh? I tilted my head. If you shower at the gym with no hair products or sexy music or wine, then you are robbing your evening of a solid foundation. You aren’t setting yourself up for success. Showing up with a sweaty gym bag? She pointed dramatically to the black bag on the bench. If you never want a second date, then wear your wrinkly outfit with your hair still wet underneath. If you just really don’t care… But if you really don’t care, then why go on the date at all?! She released her grip to toss her hands up in the air. Ugh, actors.

The way you do anything is the way you do everything.

liptstickThe moment I uttered those two words magic words – You’re right. – she shoved my sweaty tank in the bag and passed me my pulllover. But I’ll be late, I insisted. Better late and give it your best than on time but mediocre. Mediocre, I repeated as I headed out the door and into a cab. Mediocre, I thought. Mediocre isn’t so bad if you have a mediocre subway ride or a mediocre wait at the dentist’s office, but to show up mediocre on your first time meeting someone? That’s just rude. What I had hated about the cardigan, New Yorker guy was that I thought he didn’t put his best foot forward. Then I was set to show up without putting my best foot forward? What a double standard hypocrite I was.

I threw my bag down and turned on my pump up music. I poured a glass of wine. Quickly but deliberately, I showered and got ready. I choose nicer underwear, a fresh outfit and put on legit heels. It took too long, but I added some waves to my hair. I chugged my wine and blew out the candle. Twenty minutes late and quite frantic from the last minute rush, I saw my incredibly handsome date stand to greet me and was happy I had sown something worth reaping. Our date was wonderful. The kind of date that happens in movies – with candlelight and cocktails and quintessential butterflies. Staring into one another’s eyes and showering one another with compliments. We kissed on the street. A taxi came towards us. That one’s too soon, one of us said. He leaned down and kissed me again.

The next day I popped out of bed and put on the tea kettle. I sat down to write in my journal so that I didn’t forget who caused this blissful feeling. I couldn’t remember every detail in the romantic whirlwind of our evening, but made sure to note that intentional choice had been a catalyst to success. And then I thought about my friend. I had eye rolled her melodramatic insisting yet taken her advice because she was right. It was true: you reap what you sow. Day by day. Moment by moment. Choice by choice. And if, with a little intentional effort, a casual date with a complete stranger can become a potentially significant life affair, what was possible for the rest of my life? I thought about the way I show up at work, how often I write on my blog, the time I spend with my friends. Am I squeezing my life in rushed hours or am I mindfully making choices each and every step of the way? I get out what I put in. If I put in mediocrity or hurriedness or haphazard decision making, then I get a bit of what? Sometimes boring chaos? If I made as much effort for my cooking skills, my book, my hardly existent volunteer efforts as I did last night’s date, my life would be fucking amazing. She inspired me. Or he inspired me. Either way, after that date, more than one part of my life became a lot more open for the beautiful business of being me.

Emma Dinzebach

Sex and the City Syndrome

I’ve sprained my thumb swiping through Tinder looking for you! Was a text message I received late one night from a flirty friend. I could have saved you the trouble, I wrote back. I’m not on Tinder. What? Emma, get with it. I clicked off my phone and stared at the ceiling. Was I majorly missing out on something by refusing online dating? I wondered. My one friend was starting a family with a guy she met on Tinder. My other friend had a beautiful wedding with a guy she met on Match. What was once an inglorious outlet for the socially inept had become commonplace. Popularity trumped taboo. And in a city as big as New York, you could go weeks online and never see someone you knew. Online, the options are endless, I thought. Why was I unwilling?

What ever happened to meeting a guy at Whole Foods or the gym or god forbid, a bar? I asked my best single friend the next night over wine. I like meeting guys at bars! Have a couple cocktails. Bat your eyelashes. I’ve been practicing that shit since I was sixteen and now my arguably best talent is obsolete because rather than scanning the crowd, which is what you are supposed to do at bars, everyone looking down at their phones swiping through Tinder. I took a long sip of Malbec and and sighed. But Emma, if you aren’t on your phone swiping through Tinder, then you are at a disadvantage. Seriously. It’s time to abandon your Sex and the City syndrome and join the masses. There are some good guys on there!

There are some good guys at Crossfit, but I’m not taking up dead lifts and double unders.

A few days later I called a friend who works for the ever-popular, and she offered me a complimentary subscription if I would open my mind. If you always visit the same places with the same types of people, you’ll only meet people in that teeny vicinity, she pleaded. And there are literally millions of men in this city. Millions of men, I repeated. Millions. Get in the game, Emma. So late one Sunday evening, I set up a profile composed of my most conservative photos but cleverest wit.

In the first 30 minutes, I had 220 emails.boredbefore

What the fuck? I called her yelling. How I am supposed to go through all of this? I don’t  have time to look at all these profiles. Not that I have to because they are all the same. Same pictures even – one with a kid or a puppy, one at the pyramids or riding an elephant, a skiing or snowboarding photo, and one professional shot of him in a tux. Loves coffee and conversation and the last thing he read was the Wall Street Journal. Who doesn’t love coffee and conversation? I insisted. You need to chill, she said sternly. Don’t worry about messaging them back. You search for and message someone you want to go out with. What? Is that English? I screamed. I’m not asking someone out! I reminded myself to relax my forehead so as not to get online dating-induced wrinkles. It’s easier to navigate that way, she said calmly. Fine. Fine. Fine. And Emma, it doesn’t work if you don’t actually go on a date.

Maybe it was a self-fulfilling prophecy, but I was horrible at online dating. Guys I messaged tried to arrange dates, but I wouldn’t check it for days or never write back or even worse, I would cancel. What seemed like a fun little game for the first week, quickly turned into a sea of messages lacking organization, insight or god forbid romance. Only out of sheer boredom did I manage to go on two unremarkable dates.

The first guy was a faaaaarrrrrrrr cry from 6’0. He wore a pilling cardigan in late August and carried a copy of The New Yorker. He spoke incessantly about a television pilot he made that was never picked up. That’s because it’s sounds horribly boring, I thought. Then he rambled about his midlife crisis while I searched for ways to wrap it up. An entire hour went by. I couldn’t figure out how to look at my phone without seeming rude. How long does one stay on these dates? At a loss, I ordered another martini. Too many martinis and trivial topics later, he grabbed my hand and asked that I not go on any more dates with anyone else. I recoiled. I didn’t care to go on anymore dates period.

Date dos was too unremarkable to write about.

Three seemed like a better number to end on, so I looked through my messages and found the one guy who actually complimented my writing rather than my legs. I skimmed his smart, intentional profile. He would do. Everyone, tonight is final date! I exclaimed to everyone in the backroom of my store. I can’t do it anymore. I happily accept defeat! Throw in the towel! Marcus out! Someone like me is better off sitting at a bar for two hours and batting my eyelashes. But then you actually have to go and sit at a bar for two hours, said my coworker flatly. I love bar sitting! In fact, I am excited about bar sitting…just as soon as I get through this date. So after this you aren’t going on any more online dates? Never, I replied. I’m a dating naturalist. Or just cuckoo, she laughed.

The next morning, I threw a change of clothes and pair of heels into my gym bag. At half past seven, I walked into a dimly lit bar in Tribeca. To my left a man stood up to greet me. He was tall. He was handsome. When he reassuringly smiled, I first felt sick to my stomach followed by an intense desire to make out with him – immediately. I’m not that European at all, but when he greeted me, I kissed his cheek. Not like an air kissy thing but my actual freshly glossed lips on a complete stranger’s face. Like I was finding my way in the dark, I touched his arm and his shoulder and any part of his body I could get away with without being terribly obvious. As he ushered me into my seat, I heard a choir of angels softly singing Alleluia.

Emma Dinzebach

Photo gratitude to via The Classy Issue.

Anchor of Misery

My coffee table had evolved from a kind thought to an emotional burden. A vintage, custom-restored, part badass, part beautiful complement to my nautical rug and velvet sofa that felt more like an anchor of misery than a creative focal point. An unnecessary heaviness weighing down the brilliance of my intentionally decorated living space. I set down my glass of wine, kicked off my Nike Frees and gently placed my anti-stink athletic socks onto said burden. I leaned back and contemplated the rather large, unopened Fed Ex box that had arrived in the mail for me four days prior. The day before my birthday.

It was a picture. In fact, I knew exactly what picture it was. Maybe that’s why I had let it sit unopened in my hallway for four days. Birthday girl! You have package here! my super said cheerfully several times until this evening when he pulled me aside and gave me a stern look. Emma, what’s wrong you not want to take that package? Ugh, alright. I’ll take it in, I conceded. Mia shied away from the package like she sensed some bad juju seeping through the cardboard. With the coffee table and the package, she had taken to sleeping under the kitchen table.  It’s okay Mia, I said robotically. She looked over at me and cocked her head like yeah right. I closed my eyes and wondered if I should just send the package back, but gifts are my love language. With extra care so as not to get stabbed from the bad juju, I cut open the tape and pulled the top of the box apart. Inside was a wrapped picture and a plastic bag from my very favorite store in Paris where my ex boyfriend had vacationed this summer with his then girlfriend. I picked up the package: Comme des Garçons. Unbelievable, I thought as I tossed the box onto my credenza and began opening the picture.

The photo was indeed the beautiful photo I asked for many times during and after and during and after our rollercoaster relationship. The last time I had asked him was sometime in late spring in a moment of weakness, claiming I needed proof of his love for me. But now? Now I have absolutely no use for another wretched reminder. It had to go. I drank the rest of my wine and decided to man up. This apartment is an authentic expression of a stunning evolution that exudes beauty and serenity. This is no place for anchors of misery. I have to get these out of here! I declared. This pathetic picture! This troubled table! They have got to go and have to go now! Immediately, I made arrangements to send the photo to someone who will love and appreciate it more than me. But the fucking table, I wondered.

Enter: Larry from Craigslist.

Through the door I saw a giant man standing waiting to be let in, and only then realized I shouldn’t have a guy from Craigslist over when I’m home alone. But then I saw Larry’s face. It was the face of jolly old Saint Nick – red and full and smiling. As we walked to my apartment Larry said he had been looking for one of these tables for a while and planned to buy it today. Today? I asked. Yes today. My truck is right outside. Like today, today? I asked. Um, yes. Larry was confused. Is today okay? Um, sure. Well, let me tell you a little about the table, I replied. As Larry circled the table, I recited the opening line to my table story just as I had rehearsed. May I get you something to drink Larry, water, tea, espresso? He declined. Well, I continued, I had this table custom made by a woman in Towson, Maryland. I can send you records of her restorations. That’s not necessary, he said softly. I had it made for my ex boyfriend but we broke up mid restoration. Three weeks before Christmas, Larry. Huh? It was three weeks before Christmas when we broke up. Oh. But I went to get the table anyway thinking that maybe it was meant to be my table! But then two days after Christmas…sink

Larry’s eyes were glazed over as he waited for me to take a breath. I paused. I am going to take the table, he said quickly. I don’t want to talk you down in price. I just want the table. Um, well the table moved quite a bit because after I ended up giving him the table… It’s okay, he interrupted. I can fix any broken pieces. I hadn’t even gotten to the part where we moved in together and then I moved out and took the table because Larry didn’t care about the table’s story. Larry wanted to get out of this Wisteria-smelling apartment with it’s barking dog and chatty owner. Larry wanted the table in his truck. Larry was on his lunch hour. He pushed a stack of crisp hundred dollar bills into my hands. My wife can help me take it out if you can just help me through the door he said. Oh, sure. Sure. I said. Here let me… I had warned prospective buyers of the tables intense weight, but helping Larry, the table felt lighter, like in the transition from me to Larry the table shed it’s emotional burden and was ready for the next chapter of its life.

When I walked back into my apartment, Mia was sniffing a stack of cash on the floor wagging her curly tail.  I picked up the money and placed it neatly in my new wallet (after all, evolution doesn’t negate the appreciate of designer French leather) while Mia bounced around in our newly created space.

Emma Dinzebach

With gratitude to Anne Catherine Justice to whom this title is credited. And, as always, my loves at The Classy Issue.

Star-Studded Days

I was so tired I almost thought I was pregnant. How on earth are we going to tell our parents we are having a baby? I yelled into the phone. We are not having a baby, said the always calm voice at the other end. I will have to quit my job and move back. Where will we live? We can’t stay in your apartment, or we can but we will really have to redecorate. Shhhhhhhhhh…he said back.

My feet hurt. At the end of each day all I wanted to do was crawl into bed. I had no energy to make or even order food. Every last ounce of energy went to walking Mia. I lost six pounds. My skin felt constantly dirty. I am like a day laborer, I thought. Every morning, I slept through my alarm and woke up anxious about missing the train. Is it going to be like this forever? I asked my coworker. No mama, she said in her lively Latina accent. You are adjusting. It takes me like two maybe three months of adjusting when I move here. You will be fine because you are spicy.

The first time I moved to New York it wasn’t like this. Well, I was twenty one. My internship was part-time. I lived with my boyfriend. For a whole year, he led me everywhere I needed to go. By the time we broke up, I was a confident and adjusted New Yorker. It was the only adult life I knew. Can being away for four short years really take the New Yorker away from you? Maybe because I was still edgier, quicker and more efficient than everyone else in Washington, I hadn’t noticed. Unbeknownst to me, something had happened: I slowed down.

Winding back up was harder than I expected. What’s your favorite yoga class? coworkers asked me. Have you been on any dates? friends wondered. Who has energy for yoga or dating? It’s an effort to fucking shower. All of my energy was left at work. At night, I was too tired to do anything else, so I talked with my ex boyfriend.  Some nights we would FaceTime. Some nights we were serious. Others were short and sweet. It wasn’t every night, but it was enough to keep me in a purgatorial transition. Why are you doing this? my friends asked. You partly moved back to New York to get away from him. Do you really want his dark cloud following you? His perpetual unhappiness?

The situation was not what I would call living one’s best life. goafterdreams

One night we were supposed to have a “talk.” He was out of town that day and would be home in the evening. A few hours after he should have landed, I hadn’t heard from him. I sent him a text asking him if he was home and ready to FaceTime. He responded that he was at happy hour and then going to dinner. Could we talk tomorrow? I don’t know why that was the straw. But that was the straw the broke me. The choices we had both made in the two months since we had run into each other at the bar were questionable. He had done a heap of stupid shit. I had accepted the stupid shit. Asking me to marry him while we were drinking martinis was just one of them. Showering me with the ways I elevated his life, how inspiring I am, and how much he loves and misses me were about ten more. I know better than to listen to words in absence of actions. His promise that he would never make me feel bad again was dead before it had legs. Still, I listened to his baseless words. In my tired transition, I needed something familiar to fulfill me. Unhappy people can’t fulfill other people. I know this! As long as he is unhappy, I will be disappointed. I looked down at the text – Can we talk tomorrow? No we cannot talk tomorrow, I thought. I deleted the communication. I never replied back.

The sky would have parted and the angels would have sung on high, but I am the boy who cried wolf with this guy. No alleluia celebration was had. I didn’t phone a friend. I just made the call.

I anticipated feeling anxiety and a need to talk to him in the upcoming days. After all, my entire transition had involved him. I prepared myself for the longing, sad feeling reminiscent of a break up. That first day was fine. Then day two was fine. On day three, I told a friend, I am fine! I put a star on my phone calendar for all of those days. There will likely be an hour or two in the morning or before bed that I feel bad. It’s never a full day, but it’s a few dark hours. Those dark hours make us do things we regret. Text something cuckoo. Call four times. Go back through pictures of our trip to Spain. In those hours, I am going to look at these stars, so I remember that the dopeness outweighs the darkness. Those bad hours are no match for these stars! I showed my friend. You loca, she replied. But today my calendar is filled with star-studded days.

And tomorrow night, I am going on a hot date.

Emma Dinzebach

Eternal gratitude for The Classy Issue.


“Love is merely a madness; and, I tell you, deserves as well a dark house and a whip as madmen do; and the reason why they are not so punish’d and cured is that the lunacy is so ordinary that the whippers are in love too.”
― William Shakespeare, As You Like

I hate going out on Saturday nights, I said to my friend as we stood in a plain outdoor beer garden. I can’t stand the crowd or their footwear, I obnoxiously complained. I stared at the faces around me realizing that maybe I shouldn’t be so harsh. Maybe I will miss the people out on Saturday nights in their kickball uniforms, Nationals jerseys and wrinkled, pleated khakis. Maybe there is something about this fashion disaster that I will long for once I’m gone. You won’t, said my friend.

Several hours later we sat at my regular spot having oysters and an unnecessary dirty martini. There’s no point in going out anywhere else! I screamed to a bushy-haired guy called Vacation Jason. I only have two weeks here, ya know? Vacation Jason’s hair moved forward and back. You mentioned that, he said back. Two weeks, I thought as directed my gaze to the floor to settle my martini. Behind the bar stool I spotted a large Nike sign across the backside of size 13 sneakers. My stomach turned as I transferred my stare to the cuffed jeans, worn chambray, wide shoulders. I closed my eyes so I couldn’t see the rest and took two very long, deep breaths. Now, I ordered myself. I want to smoke a cigarette, I announced to my friend and Vacation Jason. You don’t smoke cigarettes, said my friend. I do tonight, I replied hastily hopping out of my chair and rushing outside in the direction of the Nikes. Against the rail on the patio I could see him standing there. I stopped so as not to get too close and kept staring until our eyes met. He smiled. I smiled. I wished I weren’t wearing boyfriend jeans. Excuse me, could I trouble you for a cigarette? I asked a gingham-shirt- wearing man to my left. Confused as to why my kind was associating with his kind, he cocked his head to one side before happily obliging. Thank you, I said, keeping my eyes on to the rail. There was a group of average Joes gathered around him. I waited.

The cigarette guy politely asked me my name and what I did for a living. Then he was awkwardly silent for a few moments. The average Joes lingered around the rail. Bored and anxious, I started to excitedly explain a new rent-to-own condo concept in the building adjacent from us. The guy took a drag of his cigarette and shifted his lean. Cool, he said. Alas the average Joes left dispersed leaving my handsome ex boyfriend alone at the rail. I have to go, I said to the gingham guy. That is my ex boyfriend, and we haven’t seen one another for a while. Oh, he said caught off guard. Well, good luck with that. I don’t need luck, I said back.

wereallmadI smiled widely as I moved in his direction. I was genuinely happy to see him. Gone was the panic, anxiety and worry. Gone was the resentment and anger. We didn’t hug or shake hands or touch. We just stood looking at one another, transfixed. It’s really you, he said. It’s really me, I replied. Every time I go out, I hope to see you, he said frankly. After an awe-stricken few minutes, we settled into us. I inspected his fingernails to make sure he hadn’t grown them too long. He touched my hair and said it looked nice curled. Half of the time we caught up on our lives and the other half we commented on one another. You are so beautiful. No you are so handsome. Where have you been all this time? No where have you been all this time? Like I said, transfixed.

You’re what? he yelled, suddenly panicked. I’m moving back to New York! I repeated, smiling ear to ear. When? In two weeks! You’re moving back to New York in two weeks? His tone changed. His faced turned serious. Yes, I am moving back. I have to. I can’t take these gingham shirts and pleated khakis, I went on, changing my pitch to lighten the mood. I need art. I need spice. I need to be myself! You can be yourself here, he said softly. Not really. I thought…I thought you knew, I whispered. I didn’t know, he said quietly. We stared at each other for too long. I love you, I said. But I have to leave this place. I know, he said back. I know you do, and I’m really proud of you. You are so brave. You are so inspiring. You are… Stop it, I said.

We stood alone for a minute, and he smoked a cigarette. You shouldn’t smoke cigarettes, I said because honestly, one shouldn’t smoke cigarettes. But I didn’t know what else to say. He carefully absorbed the information, and after a few minutes he said, I would like to see you…take you to dinner or a drink or… His eyes locked to mine. I would like to see you before you leave, he said intentionally. My brain said NO so loudly that I took a clumsy step backward. He looked at me with softer, pleading blue eyes. I stepped forward. I’ll see what I can do, I replied.

From the corner of my eye I could see Vacation Jason’s hair moving about. My friend waved me over. I have to go, I said. I don’t want you to, he said back quickly. We have to go, I said again. I know. He pulled me very closely and smelled my hair as he hugged me goodbye. His face was so close to mine that his lips were touching my hair. My entire body wanted to have sex. Emma, come! On! said my friend. Have a good night, I whispered.

Jesus Christ Emma, said my friend as we rode in a taxi to our final destination. What? I said innocently. How long was I out there? More than an hour, Emma. I went upstairs, downstairs, and had two more cocktails. I even pity kissed stupid Vacation Jason while you two lovebirds were just laughing and staring into each other’s eyes. I must be mad! I declared. Oh, I watched, she said back sharply. It was complete and utter madness.

Emma Dinzebach

With special thanks to The Classy Issue.

Free at Spirit

My time in Washington has surprised me. Like most Washingtonians, the Type-A atmosphere inspired my own organized drive toward achievement and in this, I soared – as a writer, a manager, an entrepreneur. I finished a book. My blog tipped. I got a great writing job. I was promoted many times. My driven desire to be the best version of myself both at work and in relationships reached a whole new plane of motivation. Drowning in copycat khaki and running clothes turned brunch wear, I had no choice but to become less judgmental, soften up, bite my tongue. I turned a blind eye to the Longchamp bags, Tory Burch flats and excessively wrinkled cardigans. The comparison comments I was once known for waned. Instead, I asked questions, became a more generous listener, a more deliberate friend, patient and intentional. My decision-making skills sharpened. My tendency towards recklessness forever abandoned.

Part of my vast growth was a little something called growing up, but another part was an environmental shift. Living amongst a cohort of people making calculated decisions to propel themselves forward in the direction of their goals left me no choice but to follow suit. For this, I appreciate Washington, D.C. and stayed in the District longer than I ever intended. Plus my mom is here, and I love my mom. jamesfuckingfranco

While the obsessive-compulsive achiever in me soared to new heights, the more free-spirited side of me slowly subsided, so much so that I came to deny she even existed until a few weeks ago. I was standing amidst my closest friends from high school laughing and talking loudly when one friend casually referred to me as “free-spirited.” I am not free-spirited! I spat back, stomping my stiletto. I was offended. Um, yeah you are. You work out for a living and you’re a writer. That’s free-spirited. I run a multimillion dollar business, I retorted. I just finished a book and write a column. Juggling that requires strategy and organization. Those aren’t traits of the free at spirit. You know what I mean, she shrugged, rolling her eyes at my dramatic response. I huffed and threw back the rest of my martini.

Later that night I found myself twirling around on the dance floor with a random stranger, flipping my hair and throwing my arms around. You’re not being free-spirited at all, my friend said dryly. The next day we laughed at how offended I was being called free-spirited. Although I would never acquiesce to her satisfaction, I quietly wondered if maybe she was right. Maybe I have been in Washington too long an the free spirit has been sucked right out of me. That happens to people here you know. Look at President Obama’s hair.

On the plane home I pulled up a document called “The Ambitious Life of Emma Dinzebach” and started highlighting the monthly goals I had completed. I looked through the green, yellow and pink color coded goals and wondered, am I really this anal retentive? Has my free spirit become completely dormant? The next day, I asked a friend from Washington. How do people really view me here in the land of the achievement? Am I a free spirit? You’re… well, you are… she started. I mean, you don’t really go with the flow. That’s because I am creating and directing the flow! I shouted confidently. Well, that’s true… Her voice trailed off, and we sat in silence for a minute. Finally she looked at me and ever so sweetly said, Emma, don’t think it’s a difference between being Type-A or free at spirit. While you’ve achieved so much professionally in D.C. a part of you has been repressed. That part is your more artistic side – your free spirit. That part is why you cannot stay.

So my free-spirit has been repressed? She nodded. You don’t need me to tell you that. Deep down, I knew she and my high school friends were right. I am the one dancing long after everyone else stopped. I wore a fur trimmed and sparkly gown to my senior prom. I travel alone, eat whatever I want, and even when it hurts, I love quite freely. Somewhere inside of this tiny shell called human being is a liberated spirit who wants to be set free. I see it sometimes when I’m dancing or editing my book or practicing yoga at home. Part of me really wants to connect with that free spirit, to answer the call of the wild. But not just yet. Not here. Not in Washington, D.C.

Emma Dinzebach

This post is dedicated to my perfect friend Brooke. Embrace your free spirit.

The First One

For several months I kept dreaming about my first boyfriend. He was my first head-over-heels, swept-off-my-feet great love. We carved our initials in a boathouse. We painted a picture together. We tangoed down the streets and slept under the stars. We also broke up almost a decade ago. He should be a magical memory, yet week after week he resurfaced in the middle of the night. Once we snuck onto the Russian floor of government spy building, another time we were swimming in the ocean, and then we had a daughter. She was eleven. She looked just like me but she had his eyes. I was disappointed because my eyes are my signature feature. Why couldn’t she have gotten my eyes? I wondered. A couple times I thought maybe I should call him and tell him, but what would I say? I keep having dreams about you. Okay, weirdo.

Then one afternoon I was in my kitchen cooking dinner and received a text message from a friend asking me if I had heard about my ex boyfriend’s dad. His dad had been in a ski accident. His dad wasn’t going to be okay. My hand clawed the granite counter top. I swallowed hard. I inhaled. I exhaled. A very deep sense of panic and pain grew in the pit of my stomach and worries wildly rushed in. Where was my ex boyfriend? Should I call him? Should I text him? What would I even say? Should I get on a plane? He would be devastated. He would have shock then guilt then regret then more shock.

I paused. I closed my eyes and thought about the last time I saw him. I was several times heartbroken, and he was sleepy from a trip to Mexico. Too much had happened to talk so we sat side by side on his couch until he got up to go to bed. As I watched him climb the stairs, I remember thinking how much he looked like his dad from the back. That was the last image I had of him.

My unconscious has kept our connection alive week after week for nearly six months, yet he has been living his own life. I probably wasn’t even on his radar. And still, I wanted to help. If the roles were reversed, how much would it mean to you? You can just go pay your respects, suggested a friend. You can use my frequent flier miles, said my stepdad. I looked up flights. I rearranged my schedule. I declared my intention to support my first love, but cityrainwhen it came down to it, I couldn’t do it. Something about going to see him felt selfish and ego-motivated. Just because I have this strong desire to see him and make him feel better doesn’t mean that is what he needs. I haven’t known him for years. How was I to know what he needed? He probably had dozens of ex girlfriends rushing to his side. Or maybe he needed space. He probably just needed his family.

At night, I lay awake wondering what he was doing. How was he feeling? In the middle of the night, I pulled my computer out of from under my bed and searched again for flights then closed it and resumed worrying. I finally fell asleep, but in the morning it all started again. So eventually, I called and left a voicemail. Then a text. Another voicemail. I didn’t mean to bother him, but I wanted to be available. I sent supportive words which felt narrow and weightless compared to the heavy empathy in my heart. I thought of him all the time. Why is this affecting me so much? I asked my mom. Because he was the first one, she said.

A couple weeks passed and late one night my phone rang. I rolled over and saw his name on my phone. Hi, I said sleepily into the receiver. Hi, he said back. I was calling to say thank you. His voice was forced but familiar. I silently started to cry. I was calling to say I’m sorry, I said holding back my tears. He spoke about the past few weeks and I listened unsure of what to say or how long to talk or what really to do. The conversation paused and silence settled any awkward emotions. I wiped my eyes and sighed. Finally, I said I have been sending you positive thoughts. I know, he replied quietly. I could feel them.

Emma Dinzebach

Special love to The Classy Issue.

Oh Shit Tears

Let me put it this way, if I never see him again, I will die happy, I said dramatically flipping my hair to one side and lifting my Bloody Mary to my lipsticked mouth. My handsome visitor and I were having a late Sunday brunch and in a trivial effort to get to know one another better, the subject of my ex boyfriend had come up. I prefer not to talk about him. He doesn’t deserve the airtime. Still, who he is and more importantly, why I stayed together with who he is says something about me. Something my current beau wanted to know.

Em-ma…, he began. I am not exaggerating, I assured him. Why though? Was it not a mutual break-up? he asked too candidly. No, it was not a mutual breakup! I replied loudly. Have you ever lived with someone? I asked. I didn’t wait for him to answer. Well, I hadn’t, and I hadn’t planned on ever living with anyone else. Even when our needs went in different directions, I was determined. I knew the only person I had control over was myself, so I tried to change this and alter that and took responsibility both for my part in our relationship issues and stupidly, for his part as well. I was like a responsibility whore. Responsibility is an admirable trait, Emma, he responded kindly, placing his hand on my thigh. Not when it’s for someone else’s behavior. Touche, he said.

Realizing my short diatribe was likely more than he anticipated, I switched topics. How is the steak? I asked reaching my fork towards his plate. As I bit down, my eyes drifted up tooptimistwards the main restaurant and landed on a red and white striped stocking hat with a fuzzy red ball on the end perched atop the head of a tall man with glasses who was walking our way. My first thought was, Where’s Waldo? My second thought was that cat eye glasses are an odd choice for a man. My mom had cat eye glasses when I was in middle school. My eyes moved down to his face. Oh shit. Oh fucking shit. I purposefully swallowed my steak and without moving a muscle I quietly whispered, It’s him.

So as not to draw attention to myself, I slowly turned towards the handsome man sitting beside me. It’s who? he asked causally. My ex boyfriend. He is right there. He is… My voice trailed off as he headed in our direction. I turned my chair almost completely around so now my knees were no longer facing a hot, sweet guy but a glass wall. I put my head down and took a long drink as he walked past us to the other end of the bar. I didn’t think he saw me.

Your ex boyfriend? He’s here? Now? he questioned, nearly as shocked. Shhhhh, I insisted. Yes, he’s over there. I nodded toward three men about six feet away from us. It was a very small bar area, yet the way the stools were arranged, you could hide in a couple key nooks. We were situated in one such slice of privacy amidst the very crowded bar. My ex boyfriend’s back was to us now, so I quickly glanced in his direction. He was wearing the button up shirt from a menswear line in Spain that I had ordered him for Christmas last year. The shipping was almost as much as the shirt. A thick knit cardigan spread over the back of his broad shoulders, and I watched his giant hand reach for his beer. I turned back to the food. We were nearly finished.

Em, are you okay? What do you want to do? he asked seriously. My words were stuck in my throat. Em, love, do you you want me to get the bill? Or I can just make out with you right here. We don’t have to leave just because he is here. Unable to gather my thoughts enough to make a decision, I just stared at him. I wanted to look back over but my neck was stuck, my body was stuck, my words were still stuck. I inhaled. I exhaled. My eyes felt watery. Not with sad tears or mad tears but more like oh shit tears.

Do not fucking cry! I told myself. You are cried out of this nonsense. I instructed my mouth to move hoping words would come out, but before I could manage he made the decision. We should go. Yes, I said plainly. Okay, I’ll go pay the bill. When he got up I turned back to the glass wall so that I would not be tempted to look over again. I closed my eyes and settled into reality. This is unfortunate and unexpected. It generates feelings, mostly rage. And I have a choice. I choose to focus on the positive: I am with a hot guy. He didn’t see me. Even if he did, I am with a hot guy. I can leave with a hot guy and not deal with him, both of which are positive.

In front of me, that hot guy stood with my coat. I stepped up and he tucked me inside of it. And put your gloves on too, he instructed. Once I was ready for cold, he pulled me closely and whispered, Let’s get out of here. His lips brushing against mine. As we rounded the corner towards the door, the the bartender yelled out loudly for all to hear, Bye Emma!  Good to see you! As he did, a red pom turned towards me, but I was already out the door.

Emma Dinzebach

You too can be an optimist.

The Actual Journey

The first time I read Dr. Seuss’ Oh the Places You’ll Go, was the day I graduated from high school. I had my hair curled and my dress perfectly tailored and everyone had laughed when my graduated class uncrossed and recrossed their legs every time speaker said two thousand. We were the first class of the new millennium. We would do something special. At dinner, I carefully opened each present – a ring from my mom, money from my dad, and a Dr. Seuss book that I immediately read out loud to family pausing only once for dramatic commentary. The Waiting Place? I questioned. I will never get stuck there! I am not waiting around for anything! I saw fields of possibility, and I was ready for action. Waiting? Absolutely not. Who waits? Boring people. Slow people. Indecisive, cowardly and otherwise unsure folks lacking the gumption, drive and charm necessary to take their own life by the horns. Not me. I was brave, boisterous and beautifully oblivious to my naivety. I was ready to jump start the next chapter of my life like a Dixie Chicks song.

And so I ran. I ran everywhere, anywhere, and full steam ahead through the next ten years of my life leaving behind a blur of dance floors and broken champagne glasses. When I got my ten year high school reunion invitation, I paused. Ten years have passed. I couldn’t even remember what I did on my twenty fifth birthday. Where had I been? Who had I dated? What happened all those years? Frantically, I pulled down journal after journal flipping through all of the pages to figure out the mysterious quarter-of-a-century celebration. There were redundant worries, dramatic commitments, and more stories of men than someone could possibly have had in ten years. This is a book. More like a trilogy, I said to myself and before I ever found out what I did on my twenty fifth birthday, I decided to write a book about what I was then the most experienced in: dating.

That was four years ago.

Sure I was working a full time job, and yes, I was managing a fluctuating relationship. I also traveled, dined with friends, practiced yoga and otherwise worked toward being a balanced human being. But still, four years? Writing and editing and repeat until alas, two weeks ago, I received the final edited copy. The final, final edits. All I had to do was go through and accept the changes. You should just accept all and be done with it, said one friend. It won’t take you long at all! chimed in another. I set my deadline for last Wednesday. Assuming this would only take ten maybe fifteen hours max, I parked my butt in front of the computer and got to it. Seven captivating hours passed before I pulled up Facebook and typed in date number two. Five minutes, I told myself. If you don’t find anything, you move on. Five minutes later, I found nothing but a photo of him wearing one of those Polos with the giant logo. My mouth felt sticky and my hear raced. I was only to page 35. fanwaiting

That night I lay awake thinking about waiting. Waiting for the edits to return. Waiting for another Sunday so I could refocus on going through the edits. I was waiting in other areas as well. Waiting to move. Waiting for warm weather. Waiting to see the boy again. Waiting, waiting, waiting… So Dr. Seuss was right. The Waiting Place is an inevitable part of life that one will, at some point on the journey, stop through. And it doesn’t take a philosopher to conclude that the waiting is the actual journey.The journey is a process.

People inside and outside of my life are tired of perpetually waiting for me to figure out something grand. Like my high school Dean of Students was hopeful for the millennial class, my allied forces are hopeful I will get on with it already. Get on with what? I wonder. That our entire lives are a process is cliche that nonetheless renders true. While there are thousands of physical and metaphorical destinations, life is lived in this process. When I focus on the end result, I forget to stop and smell the roses. I can either sit around hitting a rubber ball on string with a wooden paddle like those creatures in The Waiting Room, or I can get excited that I don’t have it all figured out. Maybe I never will. I thought editing would take ten hours. It will take fifty. Who knows when I will move? And I may never commit to this relationship but rather drive myself cuckoo drawing out the damn process. Because it’s my process. Fast or futile, I will lean into it with the same fervor I do when I step onto the dance floor.

Emma Dinzebach

Sweetly thankful for The Classy Issue and my supportive, encouraging mother.

The Visit

It was the day after Christmas, so I went with the Christmas lights. Candles felt calculated. What was I going to do stand in my underwear lighting a candle? I always burn my gel manicure when I light candles. I could end up with a burned gel fingernail pressed against his sexy chest? I don’t think so. My brows attempted furrow. Maybe I’m over-thinking the lighting. What if we don’t even have sex? I yelled into the speaker phone. Get it together, Emma. If you don’t have sex with him, I will! my friend echoed into my boudoir. Fine, but no candles.

I hadn’t had a male visitor since the too-old, too-waspy leader a la vampire squid I dated when I first moved from the city. He tried winning over Mia Misdemeanor with home-baked doggie cookies. She backed into a corner and growled. In his high prep school voice he pleaded, here doggy, doggy. Here is a cookie for you. That’s enough, I said curtly placing the kobash. She can’t be bribed by food. She isn’t a fucking golden retriever.

Fast forward four years and find me rushing all over the apartment. My mom and brother were sweetly taking orders. Michael, please hang the picture in the bathroom. Mom, here is the vacuum. Merci beacoup. We trekked to Bed, Bath and Beyond after I insisted on a new French Press and linen spray. You probably won’t even make coffee or use spray linen, said Cricket. They tried to calm me, but my Type A neurosis soldiered on until every corner of my life was impeccably lickable and every print perfectly straight. My phone rang. Fuck, it’s him.

Hi, he said.

Hi, I said.

What are you doing? he asked.

Nothing, I replied.

Nothing? He was confused.

I’m staring at a wall, I said flatly.

Ohhhh… Kaayyyy. Well, I’ll be there in a couple hours.

Okay, I’ll see you soon, I said back.tumblr_mzt83yb0Pm1r5s8dro1_1280

Who was that , asked my mom. It was him. It was him? She looked mad confused. Yes, him. Emma, why did you say you were staring at a wall? You aren’t staring at a wall. Mom! I insisted. You’re so weird, she said. You. Are. So. Weird, I said back hastily as I arranged a bowl of pine cones. Emma, everything is going to be okay. I know! I huffed.

I know everything is always and forever going to be okay, but I wanted it to be great. The pressure I put on myself began to boil over and ten minutes later anxiety broke out. Thank you both, and now I have to get int the shower and exfoliate every inch of my body. Too much information! yelled my brother. I am serious. I have one hour. I thanked them both and hugged them adieu. When they left, I squatted to the floor and stared at the door.

Typically, I’m not a fearful person. Risk doesn’t avert me. I ski through the woods and dine solo. I travel alone. I’m not even scared of raw chicken juice. But in that moment, a feeling that I can only describe as fear grabbed hold of me. What if it is a total disaster? But worse, much worse, what if I completely love him and he leaves and never talks with me again. (Note the lack of middle ground here.) Sometimes, for some first world women in first world neighborhoods in luxg apartments with perfectly dyed hair and frequently walked dogs, these are real life concerns. Will he love me or will he leave me? Get it together Emma! I said outloud. Some things are okay being just fine.

Some things are okay being just fine. I repeated this to myself in the shower, while I slathered on Chanel Lumiere, while I poured wine. I situated my computer like I had been doing something besides breathing exercises whilst I awaited his arrival. Alas I got a text that he was here. Like here? As in at the front door? The walk to the door felt like forever and half way I thought I would turn around and say I was sick. I felt sick. Imagine, seven years later. Seven years later what do you say to a dude? I didn’t want to like him. I definitely would not let myself love him. I intended to start the new year fresh from men. Men cause me actual anxiety attacks. Well one man did, but still. My mind carried on this string of self-doubt until I opened the door.

He carried a worn leather bag. A tattered paperback book peeked from the front pocket of his olive green military jacket like he just stepped out of an American Express ad. My heart sped up, but my face relaxed. For the first time in days, weeks, maybe even months, my heart rate slowed down. I smiled. Hi, he said sweetly. He set down his bag and kissed me softly on the face. I kissed him back. He kissed me back. We stood there in the doorway kissing. Not like the end of an epic romance but like the beginning of something made for television.

Emma Dinzebach

Photo credit: The Classy Issue.