The Trigger

Close your eyes. Okay they are closed. No, no close your eyes for real. They are closed! I insisted squeezing my lids together harder but not so hard I’d form wrinkles. A familiar, melodic voice walked me through a meditation. Possibility, he said as he described the ocean in front of me. Possibility is everything in the ocean moving towards you. You don’t have to do anything, Emma. Just let it wash in. I swallowed my argument and continued listening as he repeated. Do nothing. Let good things come to you.

Had it been a yoga instructor or a friend or my mother, I would have counted down the moments until I could voice my already formed argument, opened my eyes and promptly rolled them. But this voice came from my very first love. The kind of love where you learn everything about love. The love that teaches you what love is and how to do it and how to fuck it up and put it back together and hold on tight…and then let go. The love that makes you certain with all of your heart that he’s “the one” then adamantly convinced “the one” doesn’t exist. And all before you are twenty two.

A decade of life later, when that love talks, I still listen. Like a naive, too-trusting twenty-year-old, I take in what he tells me. I don’t second guess it. I don’t call his bullshit even when I know he is making something up. Like the time he told me that Christmas was actually on the day the Roman Empire had its largest orgy. Or the time we were laying in a grassy quad under the summer night sky, and he manufactured constellations based on the single star he could actually identify. I just listened and let him think he was teaching me something insurmountable. Because he was. Not about stars or Christmas, but about enigmatic love in the felicity of life. Sitting on that beach with the possibility water washing over me, I was transported back to when I was eighteen: wide-eyed, unprepared, slightly gullible, falling in love with the idea that the world was a magical combination of mystery and determination.

Along the way, determination superseded mystery. Maybe I was brain-washed by various institutions or maybe I am just too pragmatic. I disregarded the mystery of the universe in place of intentional perseverance. And like most humans, I’m egocentric. I have to stamp every good thing in my life as mine. I made it. I nurtured it. I went for it and boom – mine. For most of my life, I have been an achiever. Headstrong and determined, industrious by nature, I learn, adapt, and try really fucking hard for my dreams. My goals. My endgame. It works because I make it work. I have a job I love. I have a beautifully decorated apartment, healthy lifestyle, can run quite far and bend in a few impressive postures. I cross travel places off of a list and make one new recipe per week. I have an entire wall of sticky notes with giant check marks on them. When faced with a decision, I choose and confidently pull the trigger.

That’s all great. But at one point, laying in that quad, I truly believed – or pretended to believe – that there exists a master plan greater than thou that will unfold with minimal effort. Along the way, I replaced that beautiful if credulous belief with the time-tested methodology of hard work. In one fell swoop I’m ready to just kick back and let everything I have ever wanted in life come to me? Well no. But his real point was that I have laid enough foundation to reap some of the reward. Like I don’t have to keep grinding away and grinding away and grinding away. I can relax. I can have fun. I can let some good things happen to me without having to claim stake in their materialization. I can believe that all that is possible in life will likely come to me in due time. And best of all, I don’t always have to pull the trigger.

FullSizeRender (12)Emma Dinzebach

Song and Dance, Pt II

On my boyfriend’s birthday, we sat down to breakfast overlooking beautiful Caribbean ocean. Palm trees, green and blue waves, birds everywhere. A relaxing setting for a relaxing breakfast. The couple next to us was discussing whether to jet ski or snorkel. Another table was gently gigging about last night’s black jack game. Me? I was intensely recalling the first time I met our community vice president. After meeting me, she concluded that I wasn’t “really a community leader.” That she didn’t feel like she had “really met Emma.” When in fact, I actually was the community lead. Nonetheless, she didn’t get that when she met me. She got someone different…someone less authentic.

I sighed remembering the day: we closed the store because of a hurricane, but I had call with my regional manager and area community manager. They told me that I didn’t come off as a community leader during a dinner we had attended with the vice president earlier that week. “Community” meaning strongly rooted in our company’s brand philosophies of authenticity, giving without expectation, and operating from a place of love that is void of ego. Instead, I came off as flighty, dedicated but ungrounded. When I hung up the phone, I burst into tears, then quickly changed into my workout clothes and went downstairs to run out my emotions.

Just your average birthday breakfast conversation.

My boyfriend paused and looked over at me. I can see that, he said. I caught my breath, surprised. Have you seen me act that way before? I asked. He nodded, cautiously. My heart started racing. I stared into the water. But I’ve been working on this for years, I replied. Years! My whole region helped me work on it. They even had a name for her – the woman who didn’t sound like the authentic me – Aurora. By the time I moved regions, I thought I’d squashed this problem, but it’s a difficult problem to work on because it doesn’t come up so much with my coworkers or friends. It happens when I feel like I have prove something. To impress someone. When I feel like I’m being evaluated… I over-explained my greatest personality hurdle. He stared at me intensely. I know, he said.moneytree

I wanted to leave the table, angrily slam my chair in, grab my bag and march away. He didn’t know anything! What do you mean you know? I asked trying to be calm. So you’ve seen me act that way? I have. When? I asked sharply. He gently reminded me of a time when I had met one of his brother’s friends and hadn’t acted like myself. He remembered being surprised and wondering why. It didn’t happen again soon enough to seem like a real pattern, however, he hadn’t forgot about it. Sometimes he thought about it when he saw traces of that women in other situations.

Someone kill me, I said out loud. Emma, he protested. That’s dramatic.

But how incredibly frustrating and disheartening and monotonous and deplorable and harrowing to be working on something for years, and still not able to completely overcome it. Is something wrong with me? I wondered. Am I destined for a life of intermittent pain caused by hapless self-sabotage? I felt hot tears filling the corners of my eyes. Sweetie, am I upsetting you? he said softly. I really didn’t mean to… I sighed. No, I am upsetting myself because even after years of working on it, I can’t stop doing something potentially detrimental to my professional and even personal relationships. I took a drink of water.

My boyfriend put his hand on my arm. We all have those things, baby, but most people aren’t ardent enough to continue working on it. I tend to agree that many people are neither hyper-aware nor motivated by self improvement enough to a) receive candid feedback b) examine the part they played to elicit such feedback c) enlist a team of friends, coworkers and family members to help them overcome the source of the feedback and d) persist, persist, persist. On the flip side, some people just change more quickly than other people. I am the queen of learning the lesson the hard way. For me, it takes a few times of the same feedback and then many failures in implementation before I change. And when I change, I relapse and relapse and relapse.

My saving grace is a wonderful support system. People who aren’t afraid to say, Yes, my love, I have seen you do that Aurora thing. Friends who can honestly articulate feedback and generously share their examples of failures so I don’t feel alone. I may be a self-sabotage repeat offender with a song and dance default mode, but I am surrounded by genuine, successful people. People who love me. With that in my back pocket, I soldier one. It’s a little trickier than overcoming fear of public speaking or stating your opinion in a more diplomatic way. The offenses can be quite nebulous; the feedback esoteric. But my truth is a fully expressed and authentic version of myself, so soldiering on is part of the journey. But should you see Aurora song and dance through a post, feel free to leave a comment.

It takes a village.

Emma Dinzebach

Photo: A girl and her money tree. 

Song and Dance, Pt I

About a week into my first store manager role, my bosses boss flew in town for store visits, and I was her first stop. We were seated in the red adirondack chairs outside my store. The sun was shining on her angelic blonde hair while I had my knees childishly tucked into my chest. I thought for a moment that maybe I should act more professional, but I was drained. My new store was a wreck. My old store was closed. My friend had just died. My then boyfriend didn’t think I was “handling it very well.” In past conversations, I had attempted to put my best foot forward. Today, I spoke with succinct candor. The life wasn’t sucked out of my tone, but the effort was. I couldn’t impress her even if I wanted to. I didn’t have that left in me. Emma, she said to me, This feels like the first time I’ve had a conversation with you – not the song and dance version of Emma, but the real Emma.

Song and dance? Hmf. glittertoungue

Later I darkly joked that of course my friend has to die and my new gig hit rock bottom leaving me near desperation for my authenticity to reveal herself. Calm down, Emma, my friend said. That’s not what she meant. She did mean that in two years of sporadic interactions with me, she hadn’t met the real me. Yes, my friend replied. So maybe that’s something to think about…or maybe not.

When I was about six years old, we built a big house in the suburbs. I didn’t know anyone in these suburbs. No one knew me. When I met my backyard neighbor Erin Ackerman, I told her we had just moved from the city (true), and I had a twin sister in L.A.  who was an actress (not true). My new house was just past her backyard (true.) My sister was coming to town any minute (not true). You have a twin sister in L.A. whose an actress? Asked Erin, wide-eyed. Yeah, I said casually. I’ll have her come over when she gets here. Actually, she is probably here now! I exclaimed, turned around and sprinted across the yard, into my house, up the stairs and threw open my closet.

I rummaged through every article of clothing I had looking for something “L.A.” When I found the perfect neon shirt and cut off shorts, I quickly changed. I snuck into my mom’s bathroom and lined my eyes with her blue eye liner. I put on lipstick. I tied my hair into a hight and tight side ponytail. Looking in the mirror, I smacked my lips and put one hand on my hip. Then I ran back down the stairs and threw open the sliding doors to the back yard. But instead of sprinting, I sauntered across the lawn to Erin Ackerman’s. She was still standing where I’d left her on her rusty scooter beside her playhouse. She tilted her head to one side and squinted her eyes as I approached. I’m Kelly! I said in my best valley girl voice. Emma’s sister from L.A.

Song and dance.

The days following my conversation on the adirondack chairs, I woke up early. I quietly crept out onto my then boyfriend’s balcony with my journal hoping to find some answers to the actual reason I do a bit of song and dance. Is it because I want to impress people? Do I think the regular ‘ol me isn’t good enough? But doesn’t everyone do a little of facade-ing? I rationalized. Across the courtyard, a neighbor was just back from his run. He was wearing a sweat stained t-shirt and stretching on his balcony. For a moment he stopped and stared off into space. I sipped my coffee, closed my eyes, and turned inward. When I opened them and looked over, the guy had his shirt off and his hands raised, saluting the sun. His face looked certain, satisfied. He didn’t think anyone was watching. I didn’t think anyone was watching. In these early moments before the day closed in on us, we were ourselves. No frills. No song and dance.

Maybe it is one of the great ironies of life that we are our most real selves when no one else is watching, and thus, few people see our real selves. When we find ourselves engaged not because of the song and dance we do for other’s approval, but because we are intrinsically compelled. When we help others not for a charity to add to our LinkedIn profile, but from our heart. When we pick up garbage because we want our neighborhood to be clean. When we choose the quiet dinner at home over the glitzy social hour.

For me, that person is still lively and energetic. (I once dislocated my shoulder dancing with my dog in the living room.) I’m still a perfectionist, but I’m also more forgiving. I exhibit style, but might let a day with chipped nail polish slide. (But probably not.) But I’m also softer and more purposeful. My boyfriend will tell you that sometimes I’m pensive, and he thinks something is wrong. Actually, I’m just tired of talking. Alone, I need more time to rest, more time to recharge the battery it takes to maintain this omnipresent song and dance.

Emma Dinzebach


The Nitty Gritty

I slammed my hand down on the counter so hard my palms were bright red and stinging. He took a step back indicating I’d frightened him. Little me. I had tried to take the dog out, to go for a walk and cool my Italiano temper, but of course the fucking elevator wouldn’t work. Stairs? he asked when I came back in the door, defeated. In truth, I didn’t even think to take the stairs. My legs were sore, and we live on the 12th floor. Instead, I came back home, started screaming, and slammed my tiny paws on the table. Eventually, we agreed to go to bed mad, and Mia never peed.

This is not how I thought the greatest love of my life would go, I thought as rolled over and fell asleep.

All I really ever wanted was an amazing story. A run into his arms, lifts me up and kisses me, sunsets and shit like that kind of story. A movie. I really wanted a movie. I realized early on that movies don’t just happen on their own. If I wanted a romantic drama, I was going to have to create a romantic drama. Easy enough. In creating the type of romance I would want to watch, I had to create a few dramatic situations. I had to take things a little too far. Give into things that from the outside looking in seemed borderline insane. Extend myself. Hence why I flew my senior prom date in town for the occasion – the excitement, the anticipation. The airport pickup outfit was almost as important as the actual prom dress. And I was just seventeen.

What followed was an entire decade of trying to create the perfect story. Sure I had a few creative lulls when I was in a committed four year relationship and during my graduate school finals, but most of the time I was a dramatic dater. I remember running through the rain into my French boyfriend’s arms. There was that racecar driver in Monaco. And the time I threw my boyfriend’s pants out the window. Was it really shocking then that I ended up breaking up with and getting back together with my ex boyfriend five and almost six times? Isn’t that called the Law of Attraction? I was sure that if I endured so much heartache, there must be an amazing lift-you-in-the-sky kind of moment followed by immediate fairytale bliss. There must be. There has to be…

Well, there’s not. handhold

My boyfriend does come home from work and on an occasion lift me up. But I’m much heavier than a Disney princess, so the effect isn’t really the same. And while I love those moments, those are just a few amongst a myriad of lots of other moments. Real moments that make up what my therapist calls “the nitty gritty.” Love, real love, is not always rainbows and sunshine. When you strip away the romantic vacation and Michelin-worthy meals, you get the real relationship. And the real relationship is literally terrifying.

Most days are normal days. Not exciting. Not fighting. He goes to his hockey game. I go to yoga. We talk about work and talk about work and talk about work. Those days are okay. Then there are selfish screaming days where I slam my hands on the table. Days when one of has to take a walk. Walks that don’t work and nights we go to sleep angry because it feels unsettlable. Not a lot of nights, but it happens. (Whoever said never go to bed angry was never in a relationship with another Italian pitta.) In the morning he pulls back the shower curtain and says it’s me. And I say no it’s me. And for the ten seconds of silence that I stare at water dripping off his perfect chest and abs it doesn’t really matter who it is. Then those ten seconds pass. Fine it’s you, I say back and walk out of the bathroom.

The nitty gritty doesn’t happen in movies because in the nitty gritty there is no clear climax or resolution. The nitty gritty is a journey to an unknown destination. Embarking on a path not knowing where it will lead or if you will ever even reach a destination. Going on said journey involves exposing yourself completely to someone, raw vulnerability, reflection and patience. Like a ton of patience with absolutely no guarantee that you will ever ride romantically off into the sunset. But in the nitty gritty commitment helps you solider on. Commitment fuels your hope. So here’s hoping.

Emma Dinzebach

Phase Two

We were in bed. The lights were out. It wasn’t work time. It was naked time. What are you doing? I asked impatiently as my boyfriend scrolled through his work email. I have to see about a woman I am trying to hire. You have to see about a woman laying next to you, I retorted. I’ve spent the last three hours with you, he said curtly. My heart did that weird kind of jump when you didn’t think you were being pathetic or nagging but his response indicates otherwise. But it’s bedtime. No working from bed! Pay attention to me! I thought but said alright and slowly laid down.

I turned to the window. City lights shown in. When are our blinds coming? I wondered. I turned back to him. He had put his phone on the charger and was making deep breathing noises indicative of sleep. We used to make out before bed. He would tell me how much he loved me and hoped I had the sweetest dreams. He would kiss me and try to snuggle me at least for a few minutes before I would squirm out. I have to sleep on my back, or I’ll get wrinkles! I’d protest. But now we just go to sleep? Lights out. Fucking Phase Two, I thought and closed my eyes.

I predicted this. You only act this way because we are in Phase One, I remember saying a few months ago. Me of many relationships. Me purveyor of romantic phases. Me whose adroit dating knowledge cannot be questioned. I don’t think so, he said brushing my hair back and kissing my face. That happens to some couples but not to us. I’m never going to go to stop wishing you sweet dreams. I knew better, but he had sounded so certain that I was almost, almost, convinced.

My boyfriend, like many a man, is a “thinking” type while I am a “feeling” type, so when I address a particular pattern of behavior that I “feel” has formed, he wants to know exact data points to support said feeling. To prove we had moved to Phase Two, I had no such data. I needed to collect proof that would indicate we were knee deep in the self-evident second stage he claimed wouldn’t exist. I needed specific dates and times that he fell asleep without saying goodnight. Times we weren’t romantic but should have been like before bed or when I wore a short dress. While he lay sleeping, I scrolled to the last page of my apps, where I keep Fandango and DuoLingo, opened my previously dormant Evernote app, and created a Notebook with an esoteric name: “Specifics of PT.” Before I say anything to him, I am going to gather data. By the time I sit down and talk with him, I’ll be armed with valid research that would show his “thinking” mind! Evidence indicating the existence of Phase Two.

The main problem with this sort of behavioral data collection is that it requires patience. In order to collect the data, I couldn’t address my unhappy “feeling” or I would invalidate the study. I had to wait days, maybe weeks and record each interaction. I had to store up information in order to identify the pattern and create the case for my conversation. I’m not known for this kind of calculated groundwork, but I can do anything I put my mind to, right?

The next day I got a text message from him saying that he cannot wait to see me later. He suggested we go to dinner. He was smiling when he got home from work and kissing me and kissing the dog who was wagging her tail and looking up at him adoringly. Do you see how much she loves me now? he said proudly patting her head. Just took a little time didn’t it? We walked to our favorite French place. It was reggae night. We shared mussels and talked about vacations. We went home and rearranged our apartment. When I crawled into bed, he closed his computer and slid his hands down my legs. I turned off the light.

I don’t remember if he said goodnight or not. I didn’t say goodnight, and I definitely didn’t tell him to have sweet dreams. I fell asleep. Not because we are in Phase One or Phase Two, but because I was blissfully sleepy. What makes a quicker goodnight so bad anyway? In Phase One Mia peed on his side of the bed. In Phase Two she cannot wait for him to come home and runs to the door every time she hears a man’s shoes.

This morning we got up early to go to the gym. (Note: Something we never did in the first phase as we wanted to spend every last minute in bed together.) While he was eating peanut butter, I grabbed my phone, opened my Evernote app and deleted the two-day old entry called “Specifics of PT.”


Emma Dinzebach

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