The Art of Actualizing Me

I think I have to come home early. I miss you so much. I pressed send even though I knew I sounded pathetic. I was – I am the one who wanted to come on a solo vacation for nearly two weeks. I predicted periods of lonesomeness but not this soon. Only this morning I left my family in Milan and arrived in Tuscany. I haven’t even been alone for twenty-four hours. How could I already be in need of human interaction?

Maybe I am just lonely for him, I thought. The week I left he started a new job, we signed a lease on a new apartment, had out of town visitors, and I rushed to tie up loose ends at work. I poured a glass of wine and opened the window. I ran my fingers through my freshly blow-dried hair catching them on the knotted strands that had gotten stuck in the teeny travel-sized blow drier. Ouch. I sat down in the chair and stared at the vineyards. Sun graced the center of my view. Moody clouds hung in the back drop. I exhaled. I looked at my phone. I stood up. I sat back down. What the fuck am I supposed to do? I wondered.

My phone buzzed. Hahaha I would LOVE that but you just need some time to settle in. It always takes a few days at least to let the day to day worries filter out of your system so you can decompress and reflect.

Maybe it was the Chianti or my unabashed love for my boyfriend, who not only encouraged and supported me to take the time, but also gave me questions to think about, provided guidance for self-discovery, and gently pushed me towards clarity and actualization. Even if it’s for fifteen minutes, just write some things down. Anything. You’ll get there, he said smiling through the tiny screen on my iPhone. Thank god for wifi. But I started to cry. This is the process, he said. masterpiece

I didn’t open my journal or my computer. Instead, I went outside and walked through the vineyards. There were so many different colors of green. I remembered when we were little, my mom took us to Arizona. We hiked up a mountain to do a meditation. She sat us at the top and told us to choose a color of green. No focus on that color green. I looked around at all the different shades of green. I choose a shade. Now what do I do? I wondered. I walked through the baby chianti grapes just starting to grow and had a moment where I thought of new things growing, but it quickly passed. What am I doing with my life? A fleeting thought before I stepped in mud. My shoe was dirty. My brain couldn’t focus on anything substantial. Maybe I’m just not ready, I said to myself and walked back to my villa to pour another glass of wine.

That night I couldn’t sleep. I was plagued by fear that I wasn’t going to do what I came here to do. Fear that I would pass the time reading books, visiting medieval churches, drinking wine. I would run. I would relax, but I would not actually decompress enough to reflect and gain perspective. I worried that I lost my introspection. I wouldn’t examine my past few years and certainly wouldn’t find clarity on my next. The process alone seemed self-loathing: selfishly pouring over a myriad of self-analyzations in a country where more than a third of people my age are unemployed. Am I selfish? Am I some sort of product of a spoiled generation, overly privileged enough to fly to Italy to actualize myself because I was born with all of my other needs already fulfilled? A woman with unlimited access to skills and resources without intrinsic motivation or passion or discipline to accomplish any one thing. I rolled over and texted my boyfriend. I’m still awake.

I guess I thought it would come easy. Go to Tuscany. Drink Chianti. Reflect on your life. Become self-actualized. Decide on future. Visit Prada outlet store. Hell, I studied human behavior and feelings. I should be able to do this. Piece. Of. Cake. But like all things worth exploring, it’s a more complicated path than I anticipated. My only guiding light is a nagging feeling inside – an intuition – that this is indeed necessary. There is something in there. If that something is in there, then I have to forge on. I must try. My mind spiraled – what if the something isn’t actually that worthwhile? What if I’m just meant to be mediocre? Maybe I just have a kid and try to correct everything I didn’t do in my own life in the next generation? Or worse, what if nothing is there. I’m just an infinite black whole. I dozed off.

The next morning, over an espresso and a foggy countryside, I vowed to go inside. I got out my journal and sighed loudly. Okay, I screamed. A release. A sound off. A call to commence my commitment (re-commitment) to living my best life. To the ever-evolving art of actualizing me. I put my pen to the paper and got to work reassured that should it all fail, I have wine.

Emma Dinzebach

The Safe Side of Love

There was underwear coming out of the credenza. Like if you sat on the sofa and looked at the little slit in the drawer of my mid-century modern credenza, you could see a 2xist label. Should’ve been a lululemon label. I need to buy him new underwear, I thought as I walked over and shoved the underwear further in. I sat back down and stared at the drawers that aren’t meant for unmentionables but for extra candles and the Moroccan tajine where I keep loose change in. Something must be done. The man needed more space. What had been all mine could remain mine or I could lovingly accept that this is what we are doing and make some damn space. Stare at boxers in a credenza or give up a night of Scandal in leiu of desperately needed reorganization? Was I in or was I out?

I lit a candle and put on some music -cleaning music. I rearranged the closet shelves by shoving my boxes of stationary and basket of sunglasses next to Mia’s dog toys. I threw out a bin of never-used iPhone cords. I rid two drawers of excess, useless stuff and made a formal boxer area. Next, I tackled the closet. I took out my bike, box of unworn winter shoes and squeezed my dresses and coats to one half of the closet so my handsome boyfriend could hang his belongings. I admired my work. Not exactly enough, but enough for now, I thought. Exactly three months from our second date, I eagerly waited for him to get home to show him the fruits of my labor. I guess I live here now, he said. It seems that you do.


I never liked the kind of guy who played on the safe side of love. The kind of guys who never tell you what they feel or open up. The ones who always keep you guessing. I dated them because in my hyper-Type A social circle these kind of men abound. Had I stuck to the creative, venturer-of-the-spirit type maybe I’d have had more luck finding a risk-taking lover worth writing about, but the strife and emotional torment that accompany the arts never suited me much. I can’t stand the unpredictability – the schedule, the employment ebb and flow, they have to call you back later because they are “using their imagination.” On the other hand is a lot of repressed, uptight men weary to predict how they’ll feel next week. One Ferragamo toe holding the door open just a crack. And everyone in between was a total bore.

On our second date my boyfriend asked me if I wanted to go to Yellowstone with him and stay in a cabin and find wolves. Is there running water? I asked. Yeah, I’m pretty sure there is running water, he said. Okay, then I can go. Six weeks later he moved into my apartment. Sure, it was largely circumstantial, but he could have subletted or gotten an Air B&B or extended his lease. There are many things he could have done, but he actually wanted to spend all of his time with me. And I with him. Was it a sure thing? Of course not. Nothing is a sure thing. But if we didn’t take the risk, how could we reap the reward?

Calculated risk of course. We weren’t buying a beach home or opening a bank account. But after six weeks and one lovely Caribbean vacation, we decided it was stupid for him to get a new apartment when he would just be at my apartment all the time anyway. With several other unknowns, we decided to throw the safe side of love out the window and sieze the day. What started as a couple weeks turned into, “My boyfriend lives with me.” which morphed into “We live together.” Mi casa es su casa. Or as my mom says, Mi casa is your house.

Last week he sent me an article on taking risks in love. At the end, Arthur Brooks writes, “Courage means feeling the fear of rejection and loss but pursuing love anyway.” We had a few fears. Risky love is not for the faint of heart. But playing it safe doesn’t appeal to us. This by-the-book, cookie cutter kind of love is not a story I’m interested in telling. Never has been. Learning how to share and compromise and oh my god, how to properly fight in a studio apartment is like skipping a grade. Actually, it’s like skipping all of middle school. You have to grow up faster than you should, but you can forever reassure yourself that you are gifted. So there: we are gifted.

Either that or extraordinarily insane.

Emma Dinzebach


Just Write

Last week I received a message from a woman I used to write for asking if I would be interested in writing a relationship column. She said I immediately popped into her head when she thought about adding the column. I was her first choice. Honored and excited, I texted my boyfriend telling him the news.

After a full workday, I nearly forgot about the proposition until later that night when he brought it up. Isn’t it something we should discuss? he asked candidly. Why? I snapped defensively. Well because relationship advice comes from your relationship – at least some of the time – and I’m half of the relationship. I huffed. I don’t think this conversation is relevant until it’s actually relevant, I said purposefully emphasizing the actually like he was a paranoid hypotheticalist. I didn’t feel like having this conversation for the five hundredth time in my life.

But I had to. Because when you lace the internet with intimate vulnerability, it affects other people. And some of those other people I want to protect. I don’t want my boyfriend to be uneasy about or wary of my deepest passion. I want him to be confident in my ability to intricately censor that which needs censorship. Unfortunately, my ego wasn’t so quick to back down. I do what I want! I said back. Of course you do, he replied calmly. That isn’t the point.

acfjacketWhat is the point then? I asked. Irritated. Impatient. Irrational.

I love you, he said disarmingly. I love you because you are an impassioned creator, not despite it. And since your selected genre effects me, I want to be part of it. Not to stifle you. Not to weigh you down. But to ensure you are thoughtful as well as provocative. (Well, he didn’t say the word provocative, but you get the picture.) I support your writing goals, and first and foremost, I want you to write whatever you want. (He did say he wanted me write whatever  I want.) I will adapt, but we may need some discussions along the way.

Frankly, I didn’t buy it. I said I understood and agreed to pacify the conversation, but in my heart, I just didn’t buy it. Write whatever I wanted? Bullshit. He didn’t want me to write whatever I wanted. He wanted to me write whatever I wanted as long as it wasn’t something he didn’t want me to write. I’ve been down this road before. Patience and authentic understanding cannot fool this girl. I will write what I want, I thought to myself.

A few days later, I came home from work to find my handsome boyfriend reading the New York Times book review. (Literally, my dream man.) Beside him was a wrapped present on the coffee table. He looked over at me and smiled. His eyes drifted to the coffee table. What is this? I asked setting down my keys and hanging my coat. A late Christmas present I found in the closet, he replied. That wasn’t in the closet. I know everything in the closest. I passed the present and crawled across the bed crunching the Style section and denting the Week in Review. I brushed my lips against his. That wasn’t in the closet, I repeated softly. He kissed me. Should I open it? I whispered. You should do whatever you want beautiful. God I love him.

I purposefully opened the present extra slowly giving myself time to quietly reprimand my cynical mind for ever doubting this man. He always means what he says. So if he said he wants me to write whatever I want, he wants me to write whatever I want. You’ve been deeply affected by narcissists, I said to myself. Jaded by other’s insecurity. Stop assuming the worst. Believe in true love. I actually said to myself, believe in true love. You have to.

Inside was a tiny totable MacBook Air. One that I’d been claiming I was going to buy for about a month now. My shoulder hurts, I whined. I can’t write at cafes if I have to carry around this heavy MacBook Pro. I’m not inspired writing at home, so my only choice is to carry around this heavy computer. I need a permanent masseuse or a new computer. He just laughed at me. Nobody cares about your shoulder, he joked. You’re right. Nobody does care.

Except he cares. Not just about my shoulder and prissy need for inspiration, but he cares that I am happy and fulfilled. Tears came out of no where. He smiled and put his hand on my leg. Writing is what makes you tick, your passion, your unique contribution to the world. I don’t want your writing goals hindered because you don’t have the proper technology. That shouldn’t be a thing. Before he could say anything else, I pushed the computer to the side and scooted closer. I touched his face and his hair and his shoulders like I was realizing for the first time that this is a real person. A real person who loves me so much he never wants me to feel inhibited or artistically repressed or hindered in any way. He knows writing makes me happy. He just wants me to write.

So I can just write? I asked quietly. Yep. Just write.

Emma Dinzebach

Art Comes First.

I Told You So

I don’t want to be right. I just want us to understand one another, I said softly and sincerely, tilting my head to one side. But you are right, he said right back. It doesn’t matter who is right, I pleaded. Just that we listen and move forward from a place understanding. Something had come over me. Like a calm. Like a wave. Peacefulness.

What is this weird foreign feeling? I wondered.

The next day in yoga the same peaceful wave washed over me. In a zenned out epiphany, I concluded that disagreements needn’t become full-blown, relationship-halting arguments. Especially if you give up being right. I remembered one of many arguments I had with my ex-boyfriend. He said he would meet me after a Christmas party but never came. I called. He didn’t answer. I called again. Nada. More than an hour passed. I called a few more times. Nothing. Ten tequilas later, we talked. He said I was crazy, and I said he was an asshole. He said he wasn’t coming. You never were coming, I yelled. I can’t be by my phone all the time waiting for your every call, he said. But you can be when you are supposed to come meet me almost two hours ago, I shouted. I was busy! he said back. That’s what he always said back. He was never that busy.

Or maybe he was.

In that argument, I was right five times. He should have called me. He should have had his phone with him. He should have left the party earlier. He shouldn’t have cancelled our plans without telling me. He wasn’t that busy. Oh, and he was an asshole for all of the above. So six times. I was right six glorious five times. And because I was right and he was right (I had too high of expectations for him. He shouldn’t have to call if he is at a party. He never promised he was coming. I was crazy.) our ubiquitous arguments went in circles. My favorite four words became: I told you so. His: You are being insane. It would have been humorous if it weren’t blatantly damaging self-destruction. In hindsight, we made deliberate choices to make the other person wrong.

This went on for two years.

Walls went up. Rules bounded us. So many conversations could spark an argument because in every single aspect of our communication one person had to be right and the other person wrong. Restrictions multiplied. I couldn’t say this. He couldn’t mention that. Doors slammed. Painstaking silence. Even with things we agreed about! The tone or the inflection or the context made the other person just feel wrong. But then feel right. Self-righteousness clashed with defensiveness so often that eventually every conversation became argument. It was brutal. Exhausting. Nauseating.

I lost my fucking mind.

After a full year of reflection, I decided to do things differently the next time I fell in love. So late one Thursday night, I sat calmly on the couch looking at my handsome, thoughtful boyfriend. I listened to him deliberately and clearly state his feelings. No, he was not void of emotion (never!), but his explanation came from a different place. As it turned out, he also didn’t care to be right. He wanted me to understand. He wanted to understand me. We are two people who have only known one another for a few months; we still have some things to figure out. So when I said it the third time, I am serious. It isn’t about being right. I meant it. I actually meant it. And I didn’t just mean it in that moment; I meant it for always.

Something had shifted.

somethingiwantedtosayIt was about damn time. Sure disagreements can become arguments because he’s Italian and passionate and I’m Italian and passionate. But more because we lived entire lives before we met one another. We have different experiences and have learned different things. Neither path is right or wrong. For the first time in a relationship, I am mostly interested in learning how he came to his feeling or belief or conclusion. Rather than rehearsing my rebuttal, I listen. I listen because I trust that he will reciprocate, and we will reach an understanding. With this common goal, we are able to reach a middle ground.

Isn’t that how it’s supposed to be?

I spent more than two decades trying to be right. Then twenty minutes into an argument (our first real argument I might add) with this incredibly intuitive man, I gave it up. Maybe it was the love. Maybe it was the wine. Or maybe that wave of calm that washed over me that night – that was actually trust and respect. And the basis for creating the world’s most beautiful kind of love.

Emma Dinzebach

Photo via The Classy Issue.

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.