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 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.