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The Baggage Handlers: From Cougars to Capybaras

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Recently, the Baggage Handlers received the following query (and you can submit yours by emailing us here) and came up with this humble, but hopefully useful, guide for navigating the different creatures you might encounter in the post-divorce dating jungle.

I'm a 39-year-old woman who's back on the dating scene after being married for nine years. Nine years! I haven't really dated at all (unless you count my ex-husband) in this millennium. Now that it's 2011, I don't even know what I don't know when it comes to being a savvy dater.

Currently, there's a young man (okay, much younger man) who seems to be interested in me. He's 26. My friends (most of them still married, of course) are merciless about calling me a cougar, which annoys me a bit. They're implying I'm both old and on the hunt for meat! I bet my ex-husband wouldn't get catty comments, but only congratulations if he were to catch the eye of someone 10 years younger. Why aren't men given labels like "cougar"?

Well that one's easy: It's because the idea that men will prey on much younger women is assumed. You don't need to call them cougars when they are already called "men."

But since we're on the topic, why should cougars and bears (a term often used for hirsute men) be the only animals to get press in the dating scene? When you reenter the love hunt post-divorce, you want to make it out of the jungle happy, healthy and relatively intact.

We know what it means to be rusty and suddenly sent out into the woods to fend for yourself again, with virtually no skills. It's horrible. So here to help, as help, we humbly present The Wild World of Animals Post-Divorce Dating Guide.

Recognizing these creatures in their native habitats is crucial to your dating survival. You may think it's just dinner and a movie, but be warned: as soon as you recognize one of these beings, evaluate quickly if they're really what you're looking for. The process of getting divorced wastes enough time as is. When you're ready to get going again on the relationship front, not wasting time is critical.

In that spirit, here are some critters the Baggage Handlers advise you to be alert to as you head back into the wild world of dating.

Tick: Don't let the fact that these folks are round and shiny in the right places fool you; they will burrow under your skin and suck your blood. Ticks don't like it when you aren't close by, so if you are dating one expect visits at unlikely times--at work, at your parents' house, on another date, etc. The only way to break up with a truly persistent tick is to fake your death. Alternatively, you can apply fire to its head.

Salmon: It's getting towards the end of the spawning cycle for these folks so they are swimming upstream looking to mate with the first not-too-hideous and hopefully well-endowed fish that will have them. Mating is the mission, so if you reel one in, and spawning isn't in the cards, do the decent thing and throw it back into the dating pool.

Penguin: Penguins mate for life, which makes sense since they're always dressed for a wedding. And although ever eager and ready for commitment, they can be indistinguishable in a crowd and hence, perhaps a bit oppressive to wake up with every day. They are similar to salmon, but see marriage as the end goal (a rookie mistake if there ever was one). Penguins make great partners; just don't choose the wrong one. A clear sign you are with the wrong penguin: cold feet.

Panda: These adorable creatures are very nice to look at, but getting them to mate will cost you a fortune, financially and/or psychologically. Unlike the real thing, these pandas are not rare at all. You're better off watching these creatures from a distance.

Capybara: The world's largest rodent, capybara's are cute, docile and simple. They enjoy snuggling on the couch and watching Food Network. They will remind you of the safe, homey, boring days of the marriage you left, before you broke up. Accordingly, a capybara will either be your idea heaven or hell. The major drawback: if you spend too much time with a Capybara, you turn into one yourself.

Alligator: These clever beasts spot you flailing in the water from yards away and sneak up on you offering safe passage, if only you crawl into their jaws. Often, they lure you in proffering gifts of flowers, flattery and fish (okay, that last one is mainly during meals at fancy restaurants). The compliments can be hard to resist, especially with the battered self-worth you may be suffering from post-divorce, but be warned! Once you're cozy and lured in, the jaws snap shut and you're dragged eight feet under water. It's one thing to be wanted, another to be controlled.

Possum: Possums do not appeal to everyone. While ostensibly cuddly from a great distance, they play dead the minute you want to talk to about something important--and they will dig through your garbage first chance they get.

Remora: This is a relatively obscure sucker fish that attaches itself to sharks and whales. They are high-end parasites. You have to be important enough to warrant their attention, but woe unto the ambitious post-divorce guppy who attracts a remora--they will suck you dry.

Unicorn: This is the super-model rock-scientist who likes your mom, pays off your credit card debt, and rubs your feet. You can spend your life pursuing a unicorn, but rest assured: it does not exist.

These are just a few of the types of dating animals we've encountered. Please let us know if there are other creatures you've identified out in the wild that might help others as they navigate back into treacherous waters. We've got to watch each other's backs--it's a jungle out there!