For Emily Gindlesparger, the idea of opening up her eight-year relationship was terrifying. But by saying yes to an open relationship, Emily realized that she could say yes to a new adventure. One in which she could explore desires and versions of herself she previously kept hidden. In her new book, Please Make Me Love Me, Emily documents her journey in discovering an assertive, impulsive side of herself that wanted to take risks. Another side of herself that’s still timid and shamed that shrank from uncomfortable conversations. Also an insatiable side, one that hungered for others to love her more than she knew how to love herself.
As she also came to realize she was queer, she formed deep, yet troubled relationships with two women. Her profound need to feel loved, kept her newfound truths locked away. She hid her relationship with one woman from the other and she hid all the new details of her life from her parents. But from these life changes, Emily began to live her truth. She began to let those small, quiet parts of her have a voice. She learned to expose her deepest secrets, no matter how terrifying. Ultimately, she learned to know and love every last part of herself, no matter what that might cost.
Hey, listeners. My name is Drew Appelbaum. I’m super excited to be here today with Emily Gindlesparger. Author of Please Make Me Love Me: A Memoir. Emily, thank you so much for joining. Welcome to the Author Hour podcast.
Emily Gindlesparger: Thanks. It’s such a pleasure to be here and share all the things. Share as much as I can.
Drew Appelbaum: For everybody listening. I do know Emily, personally. We work together a lot. So you might hear me a little giddy and excited today, because I’m so excited she’s here. Emily, for those who do not know you help us kick off the podcast. Give us a little brief rundown of your professional background.
Emily Gindlesparger: Yeah. I’ve been in media and books for over a decade first as a magazine writer. Then I started at Scribe about five plus years ago. I’m the head book coach there. So I help hundreds of authors write their own books. That’s been a really interesting foil for my own journey as an author. Before you hit record, we were joking around about how I have taken longer than any of the authors that I work with to get to the point that I’m at now. Something that I talked to them about all the time that I really had to go through this journey to understand is, the knowledge of what’s about to happen to you, when you start to write a memoir, knowing what that path is going to look like. Having all the knowledge about how to do it and write it well, still does not save you from the emotional experience and time required. It really is a trial by fire, I think from beginning to end. It’s been quite a journey to get here.
Drew Appelbaum: Not only walking through new authors, through their knowledge, share books and memoirs, but you’ve also ghost-written many of the books including a Wall Street Journal bestseller, so you know the editing, publishing, writing process better than anybody. But what was it for you that turn that you said, “You know what, it’s my time now. I’m going to start writing my own story.”
Emily Gindlesparger: I credit a lot of this to working with Tucker Max. Tucker developed such a beautiful memoir program that we ran for a short time. One of the things that he constantly taught that really resonated with me, was that when we go to write memoirs, specifically, the first version of it that we write is really just for us. Then we turn around and we start to look at that story and decide what to share and then the edited version that becomes for a reader. So for me, that totally happened in two stages. It was like there was a first stage where I was in the thick of chaos in my life. In the book, this is when I was in three different relationships at the same time. They were each in their own states of disarray, and I was the one driving all of that.
I was really struggling to stay afloat in knowing myself in all of these relationships that I had created in my life. I started writing, at first just to navigate that part of my life better for myself. I started writing to basically tell myself my own story so that I could start to understand like, “What the hell am I doing here? How did I get here? What do I want? Where am I trying to go?” I didn’t know the answers to those questions. I started writing my story as a way to understand that. Then the interesting phenomenon of writing and I think anybody who journals on the regular experiences this is, when you get used to writing your thoughts out, then it becomes a lot easier to speak out your thoughts. I found myself opening up to friends and family members in ways that I had been really hiding from them before.
I had all of this chaos in my life. I had recently realized I was queer and had these multiple relationships. All of this was outside of the norm of how people knew me before that point. It felt really vulnerable to open up and describe all of these very different ways that I was starting to lead my life. But writing helped me get more comfortable in those conversations. So I started allowing myself to be more seen and heard with close loved ones and friends and family. Then that extended out to like, oh, I saw that my circumstances might be really unique in terms of the relationships I have going on, but the stuff that I’m grappling with, my own sense of self-worth, and self-love, and self-care all of that is normal stuff that everybody grapples with in all kinds of relationships.
I started to understand that my story may feel really like, no one in the world could relate to it. But the more that I talked about it, the more I realized that it does, indeed scale. That there are parts that other people resonate with, and parts that other people can learn from and things that I can learn from other people when I’m willing to be vulnerable and share, so that’s the journey that I’m on now is basically making that effect bigger and bigger.
Learning From All Versions of Yourself
Drew Appelbaum: You mentioned that the memoir was only supposed to take a year to write, and it took you three to get to this point. You almost gave up an incredible amount of time. What was happening, as you were trying to put your story down and eventually put it out in the world that you were saying, “Oh, man, I might have to hit the brakes.” Then following up on that, what made you start again?
Emily Gindlesparger: Yeah. I mean, at the heart of all of that is, how vulnerable am I really willing to be in this world? That answer for me has vacillated a lot over the course of this process. I think, at the start when the book was not fully in existence yet, right? It’s just an experiment on a page and it gets to live in dreamland, while I’m drafting. That’s when it felt easy to be vulnerable because I’m just telling this to myself. I can dream up all I want about how other people might be helped when I decided to share it.
Then it was the closer that I walked to the moment of sharing it with someone new, sharing it with somebody where I wasn’t sure what their reaction was going to be. Those were the moments where I started to shut down again. That happened in big and little cycles for the course of these three years. The most major one was actually I think, when I finished editing the book and was looking at the story as a whole. There’s this phenomenon that happens, as you’re writing a book, you naturally become a better writer, right? It’s a very long-term project. You have a lot of time practicing your craft. So the book that’s in front of me now, is not at the skill level that I could now create if I started a new book.
There’s a point at which I had to decide am I going to keep tinkering with this to continue showing the elevated skill set that I have or is it more important to me to get the story out? Or do I not care about getting the story out at all? I had to really grapple with those questions and decide, okay, this may not be the best story that I can possibly tell because that’s an illusion anyway. Our stories always get better, our craft always gets better. The meaning we make of our stories always changes. Am I willing to let this be a time capsule of my story? Was the idea that I landed on. Do I think that there’s something that other people can learn from this particular time capsule?
Even though she’s real weird, I made so many decisions at that point in my life that are out of integrity for me today. They’re not the kinds of decisions I would make now. They were the decisions I had to make at the time because I just had to blunder into a lot of different kinds of mistakes to understand who I was and what I felt. So letting all of that continue to live on the page is a really scary idea. Letting that to go out in the world and potentially represent me to people that don’t know me. When by this point, I’m very different now.
The way that I write is different now. In order to put this book in the world, I really had to grapple with all these different versions, and really understand that yes, this past version of myself, still has things to teach other people and still has things to teach me, right? There’s so many times when I’ve thought that I would love to just bury this story, and not continue recognizing it as part of my history because it’s painful to look at and certainly doesn’t paint me in a favorable light, right? It’d be great to just pretend that this didn’t happen. But if I do that, I would be completely neglecting a part of myself that clearly needs to be seen because that’s why she acted so forcefully at this point in my life, if that makes sense.
Drew Appelbaum: Let’s dig into the book because it does make sense. It is someone who has read through the book. I don’t think the character that you think is in the book is what readers are seeing, or at least for myself. I really associated with a character there. All of the thoughts you had that were never actually spoken out loud that you put on a paper. I think we’re extremely relatable. Let’s dig into the book a bit because it does cover as you mentioned, many phases of Emily, if you will. I think one of the more interesting parts is you really cover inner Emily a lot. I just want to start there. Where do you think these inner voices really come from, in general, and in yourself? What do you do and how do you deal with those inner voices that are constantly holding you back?
Emily Gindlesparger: That’s certainly one of the journeys in that book is looking at the transformation of me going from listening to one voice, which I nicknamed Radio K, after Ann Patchett is the one who actually came up with that beautiful nickname. That’s the voice of anxiety. It’s the voice of doubt. It’s the voice of self-deprecation. That’s the voice that I would typically give most of my time over to, at the start of this story and at that phase in my life. I was really driven a lot of the time by that voice and certainly not all the time, right? All the voices cut through at various times, but that was the one that I listened to the most.
I think it so often happens that we inevitably run into a moment of chaos with that voice. For me, it was, I made a mistake in one of my relationships, which was, I write that I was seeing Christine and then started dating Eve in the book without telling Christine for a while. I was so — by the time I was finally willing to be honest with that, and take responsibility for that, and deal with the aftermath of that choice. The voice in my head telling me what an idiot and what an asshole and what an inconsiderate person I was, was so loud that I couldn’t keep going, listening only to that. That voice just literally put me on the floor. There were days where I did not have obligations to anyone, I would literally just lay on the floor and push it with my fists or cry.
I mean, I was essentially in a state of melodrama, I guess with it. It just finally hit me that like, this voice is quite literally getting me nowhere. I’ve been listening to this voice because I’ve been so afraid that it’s the one that is most right in me. The one that’s shaping my behavior but clearly it led me astray already. It’s leading me astray now and that, the only thing this voice is capable of doing is keeping me on the floor. Even if I am not sure that those other voices are telling me the truth like the voices that told me like, “Be gentle with yourself, honey. Be nicer to yourself.
Take yourself to yoga, breathe, please. Please breathe and drink water and go pee when you need to.” Those voices, I wasn’t yet fully ready to trust that they were telling me the truth, but I knew that when I listened to them, I at least did different things than just lay on the floor. If nothing else, it was worth the experiment, right? That’s where I started and then when I realized that those other voices really did help me make better decisions and helped me take better care of myself and helped me take better care of other people than I was more and more willing to listen to them. Yeah.
The Evolution of My Voice
Drew Appelbaum: It’s really, really interesting, as you see the evolution throughout the book in terms of that voice. Besides the inner voice, I think there’s a lot of evolution with you learning how to live your truth. A lot of his growth came through various relationships you were having with other people. Looking back now, what was it about those early relationships that just left you feeling like you weren’t living your truth? That you have this inner desire that you kept holding back that you needed to let out? What were you seeing in those?
Emily Gindlesparger: Yeah. I don’t know that this is a direct answer to your question, but it’s the place that I know where to start, at least for now. Which is that, I think I assumed before these events that my duty was to always make, “the right decision” in any particular scenario, in any relationship in any whatever. The right decision was usually like, what is the thing that will make the other person feel okay about what’s happening? So for me, I had to — I’m not advocating this as a good path. I’m not advocating this as the right thing to do, but for me, it was I had to flip the switch the other way for a while and be more selfish, and unfortunately, be more inconsiderate, in order to understand like, oh, I have desires. A lot of these are just as important as what’s going on with the other person. If I don’t respect them, they are playing themselves out, whether I’m aware of it or not.
There was some degree of recognizing that when friction is happening in a relationship, it’s often because I’m not clear. For me, I think sometimes friction happens between people, because two people want different things, right? But for me at that time, it was usually, I don’t know what I want. So I’m like, accidentally exploiting a bunch of parts of my life to try to discover it. For me, I don’t know that there was a way to do that better, I don’t know that there was a way to discover what I wanted without blowing some shit up. I wish there was, it would have been a lot nicer to others, it would have been a lot cleaner, but I don’t think I could have really come to understand what I needed without being able to see that play out.
Drew Appelbaum: You and your partner decided to have an open relationship, which is becoming more and more common, but it’s still risqué to most. You had an open discussion about it, but no one really took the first step. Then your partner did. He decided to change things from talking about it to asking, “Hey, I think this is something I actually want to do.” Put yourself back in your shoes during that conversation. You describe it so well in the book, what was it like to really hear that coming out of his mouth and understand that, oh, this might be reality now?
Emily Gindlesparger: Yeah. In the books, the opening scene of the book, so in the book, it comes out of the blue. The reality is that that moment was after years of very casual conversations about open relationships and cheating and just what extra relational stuff what we thought that might feel like if it happened in our relationship. We would go on road trips and listen to Savage Love and listen to advice. People call in asking for advice on how to deal with their open relationships and we who would listen to Esther Perel, talking about how to deal with affairs in relationships. We would have all these theoretical conversations about, what do we think we would do if one of us cheated on the other? Or what do we think we would do if one of us had an attraction for somebody else?
I felt really good about those conversations. I really thought, I accept that these are normal human emotions that come for all of us. Of course, it’s likely that we’re going to have to deal with us having desires for other people at some point in our relationship. The thing is, I’m planning on being with you, right? I’m committed to you, I’m in this. My feeling was, I’m okay to navigate whatever it is that we need to navigate. I also thought in those theoretical conversations that I wouldn’t want to know, much detail. You can just tell me the truth and then let me deal with it. I don’t think I want to spend a lot of time processing and talking about that thing.
When the rubber really hit the road, and he said that he wanted to experiment with that. Part of what was going on was my shock at like I don’t remotely feel the way I thought I was going to feel. I actually felt really shocked and angry for no good reason. I say no good reason in that like obviously, he wasn’t saying you wanted to break up with me. He wasn’t saying that I wasn’t enough. There were all sorts of things that he wasn’t saying that then my internal voice was saying to me, right? Like he’s doing this, because you’re not enough, he’s doing this, because he needs more than what you can give. That’s partly true, but it’s also not fully the whole story. None of us can be enough for each other. The whole deal of relationships is navigating what is it that I need? How do I get that from you and from other people in my life? Regardless of whether that’s a romantic relationship or not. All these emotions that I was feeling just really took me by surprise. My number one priority was like, “Be cool, be cool. You said you were going to be cool.”
Drew Appelbaum: It’s so hard to be cool.
Emily Gindlesparger: Yeah. I was trying to put on this composed font. Meanwhile, I’m freaking out inside having all of these emotions that I deem inappropriate, because I already said to both of us that I wasn’t going to have them. I write in the book that I then went on to basically have a week of silence, a week where I was not willing to talk about any of that at all. Well, meanwhile, I went into my own private spaces, and just obsessed and obsessed and obsessed about it. At the end of the week, I talked to my best friend who was in open relationships herself, and she’s far more progressive and open than I am. I just realized in that conversation like, “Oh, right, yep.” I remember at least the core of how I wanted to feel about this, which is that I want to keep going and keep trying, even if this experiment is new and scary.
That was ultimately what gave me the courage to continue on and go ahead and say yes to that experiment, was because I knew that we were in it for the long haul. I wanted to understand what that meant to both of us. Understand by actually going through stuff as opposed to just negating things, because we’re scared if that makes sense.
Drew Appelbaum: Yeah, absolutely. What’s interesting is that this is all about evolution. You see that you can’t even speak for a weekend. Then you say, “Okay, I’m going embrace this.” You actually start to embrace it quickly. You move on. You start to say, “Okay, I can flirt with other people, I can go talk to other people.” You were actually the first one in the relationship that slept with someone else. You made the decision to, and a quick decision to lie to your partner, the first time when they asked how your date went. Were you still not ready at that point? How did it go over with your partner, when they eventually found out?
Emily Gindlesparger: That scene was so heartbreaking to revisit and write. I mean, I did lie. The space between the lie and the truth was 30 seconds to a minute. It’s the lie burst out of my mouth and as soon as it did, I was like, “Oh, my God, what am I doing? This is not right at all.” I think both of us well, I won’t speak to how he felt, but I know that I basically just instantly melted into a quivering mess of not only what have I done in this moment, in terms of lying to you and breaching trust in that way, but what have I done in really not preparing either of us for what this means and what this feels like. Yeah, there was just so much unknown. I’m even shaking, shaking right here now, thinking about it again.
I think, I wanted to be the person who could move forward in a conscientious way. Move forward, really thinking about what I wanted in advance, and then acting on it. Unfortunately, I just wasn’t in a state of development to be clear about that. I wasn’t willing to be that honest with myself first and acknowledge. What desires do I really have going into this? Instead, I was still in that state, just like the state I described, when I was trying to consider whether we would open our relationship or not, was like, I’m feeling all of these emotions that I didn’t think I was going to feel. Now I have to do something about it. In my experience, I often do the wrong thing before I do the right thing.
Drew Appelbaum: You get there eventually, just –
Emily Gindlesparger: Yeah. I think the thrust of it is over the course of these events in my life, and over the course especially of writing and editing and going over this story, again, is like, I’ve been able to see so much more clearly how the hiding did not serve me. To start to really be proactive about making time to listen to myself. Making time to get honest with what I think and feel and want. That’s not something that I ever made time for before. I was just letting life and opportunity come at me and responding to it. When I take the time, I can be a lot more honest with myself and with other people. I prefer living that way more. So that’s what I practice now. Yeah.
Pay Attention To All Parts of Yourself
Drew Appelbaum: When you eventually go on these dates, when you enter these relationships, you actually decide to get a bit graphic with the descriptions on some of the sexual events that take place. For me, it personally, it only made me connect with you and the story more. I think I understood you more. I can’t imagine writing it. It was really tough. Again another layer of vulnerable to put that out there, so how did it feel making the decision with that material and really just not holding back with it and keeping it in the book?
Emily Gindlesparger: Yeah. That one I really needed to rely on other models like, what was I seeing in the world that I appreciated in order to inform what I wanted to create. I know that for me watching other writers, and especially sex educators, who can be so direct and overt and unapologetic with their language, that was so, so helpful to me. It’s fully just part of being honest, right? The thrust of this story is that I went from being a person that tends to hide to a person that’s trying to be more honest, being overt about the sexual piece of that was really important for my own development.
I hope that it’s important to readers too, as it was for me reading other books that do this. Lea said today, it was three women, comes to mind. There’s something really powerful about being able to speak directly the kinds of things that we typically hide, that allowed me to stop shying away from what the truth is. Yeah, and part of it too, was I remember I was drafting part of the book, one of those sex scenes, actually, while I was on a plane and thinking about like, “Oh, my God. What is my seat? Are they snooping on my computer?” I literally I dimmed this screen all the way down. I can type without looking. I dimmed the screen all the way down, and then folded the top of the laptop over my fingers.
Drew Appelbaum: That passenger has the best story. It was the best plane ride.
Emily Gindlesparger: This woman was writing erotica next to me.
Drew Appelbaum: I love that. It’s so great. It’s so great that you kept it in there. Again, it makes it relatable. It really rounds out your character as you’re doing these things, but you’re not doing them as a – as someone if you skipped over you, be like, oh, everything probably went fine and you’re talking about –
Emily Gindlesparger: Things did not –
Drew Appelbaum: The realness of it. Right, yeah. An incredible decision to be doing it, but it doesn’t always end well.
Emily Gindlesparger: Yeah. But you’re getting exactly to the heart of it, which is like, both with the sex scenes. I tried to be at least as close to my memory which granted, memories are incredibly flawed. I can’t say that the conversations that I remember having with other people are the conversations that really happened, right? They’re subject to the flaws in my own memory, but it was important to me to be open with the sex scenes and with the conversations and the fights, because those are the parts that in so many books go missing. Those are the parts that in so many books get skipped over and for very good reason, right? There’s a lot of privacy involved in that. There’s a lot of really protective measures that are important to take.
I decided to be more overt, because those were the parts that I was desperate to learn from when I was grasping for making meaning out of my own life in this time. It was like, I was also reading tons and tons of books, memoirs about breakups and divorces and relationships. I wanted to see everybody’s messy stuff, because I wanted to get a sense of where does my mess fit in the scope of being human and can I find a way out of it? So from the very beginning that was my commitment was like, I need to write the mess. That’s actually the most important piece and I can’t shy away from that or I’m not going to get what is needed out of this, but it’s been scary for sure.
Drew Appelbaum: Yeah. I can imagine. Let’s fast forward and you and your partner have been through the ups and downs of dating others, you still remain together today. If you had to sum it up, how are you different now than when you started? Not just in your relationship, but really, within yourself? What did you learn along the way about yourself?
Emily Gindlesparger: Oh, so much. I mean, I think, for me, one thing that happens when I’m in a relationship with others, especially with close romantic relationships is that I get to see parts of myself that in other relationships don’t get as much spotlight. Obviously, different personalities bring different parts of ourselves out. So the relationships that I had in that time, even though they have ended, were really important in helping me connect to parts of myself that I was really leaving behind. That looks like I’m much more willing to be witchy in ways that I wasn’t before. I’ve really adopted a lot more of my woo-woo side. That’s a direct result of being in relationships with the women that I was with that really respected that part of themselves.
I had previously written it off as that’s way too weird for everybody else. I can’t let that part of myself come out, right? I’m in touch with parts like that. Parts that I previously was rejecting, because I didn’t think that they were as acceptable, or they would be as easy for other people to deal with. Then I met people that helped draw that out of me. So now I not only pay more attention to those parts, but I also seek out relationships that will help me cultivate that and for me, now, they don’t need to be romantic relationships anymore.
They did at that particular time in my life. I really needed that. That in-depth connection to go there. Now I’m looking for what are the friendships that helped me support this part of myself? What are the kinds of, how do I spend my own alone silent for me like meditation time to explore these parts of myself and make sure that I’m really paying attention to more than just the parts that I’m bringing forward to react to the other people in my daily life.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, you do have a website. I was looking at it. I believe you offer a chapter of the book that people can check out there. Can you tell us what the website is, and then what else readers and listeners can find there?
Emily Gindlesparger: Yeah. The website is emilygindlesparger.com, just my name.com. I won’t bother spelling it. I assume people can look at the title of this episode. I’ve got the first chapter of the book there. You can also sign up for updates on the books release, although this is going to be airing once the book is out. I’ll have a link to actually get the book there. I also have a blog going, so you can read other pieces that I’ve written. Other media interviews, that thing that I’ve been on. Then I also post over on Medium and occasionally on LinkedIn. That’s where you can find content from me.
Drew Appelbaum: Well, Emily. It’s been an honor to talk with you today. We just touched on the surface of the book here. So much more inside, this is one of the few where I had to go to a corner, all the books and all the interviews I’ve done, I’ve just been reading it page by page going through it. It’s really great. Just putting the book out there, I know it’s been a struggle and being vulnerable is super tough in putting this on paper and seeing the truth about your life. Again, looking back through that lens is no small feat, so congratulations on having your book published.
Emily Gindlesparger: Thank you. Yeah. I think it’s the hope of every author who publishes a book that it becomes a signal flare we send up to help draw other people that are interested in talking about the things that we wrote about and even before the book has been published, that’s certainly been the case with me. It’s been really beautiful to see how much more open all of my conversations have gotten because I’m willing to be more vulnerable. People read things that I’ve written, and they want to come talk to me about what’s going on in their lives. I’m really looking forward to seeing people have more conversations about what’s going on inside of them.
Drew Appelbaum: Emily, this has been a pleasure. I’m excited for people to check out the book. Everyone the book is called, Please Make Me Love Me. You could find it on Amazon. Emily, besides checking out the book, besides the website, you mentioned, is there anywhere else where people can connect with you?
Emily Gindlesparger: LinkedIn, as I mentioned. I’m also on Instagram, @emilygindle.
Drew Appelbaum: Emily, thank you so much again for coming on the show today, and best of luck with your new book.
Emily Gindlesparger: Thank you, Drew.