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The Baggage Handlers: A Little Help Navigating Life Post-Divorce

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This is not an advice column. Advice comes from people who can give you answers, and that's not really our objective -- besides, if divorce teaches you anything, it's that simple answers, the black-and-white kind that provide absolute solutions, don't really exist.

Rather, we're two people who've gone through divorces (2008 for Ruthie, 2005 for Joe) and came out the other end relatively intact, and maybe even a little bit better. Getting out of emotional prison is never a bad thing, even if it is a little intimidating reemerging into life on the outside.

That's where we come in. What we hope we can offer you here is a bit of humor, hope and whatever hard-won wisdom we've managed to gain from our own experiences. Maybe if we tell you about our mistakes, you won't have to make them too.

There's a light at the end of the tunnel, and you'll get there. Whatever the outcome, we accept neither credit nor blame, but will cheer you on from the sidelines as you get back into the game.

My divorce just became final and I'm back on the dating scene. Can I talk about my divorce on a first date?

Ruthie:
Getting back to dating is simultaneously one of the most thrilling and terrifying prospects of a divorce. When I first began dating again, I couldn't help but think that dating was the opposite of marriage.

Dating consisted of the chance, fortuitous meeting (not watching the person brush their teeth in the morning as they blocked you from using the sink), the teenage thrill of waiting for someone to call (as opposed to ten phone calls back and forth in the course of a few hours to coordinate a visit to the in-laws) and then showing up on a Saturday night and being on your best behavior for fancy dinners, compliments and making out (the direct opposite of married Saturday nights that focused more on navigating Target, renting a movie and contemplating the recycling, even if there was sometimes making out too).

The good news is that when you do begin dating again, you've got a lot more insight. You know what it means to enlist in a serious relationship and if you're going to sign up for another tour of duty, you better believe in the cause. It gives you a really healthy perspective: the guy who doesn't call you back after a fun dinner is probably not going to be the one who goes to the drugstore at midnight to get you cold medicine. You can enjoy dating for what it is: the process of getting to know someone and seeing if the connection between you has enough of a spark to mean something bigger.

So, with that in mind, whether you talk about your divorce is far less important than how you talk about your divorce.

Honesty, thoughtfulness and humor are always appealing qualities to display when getting to know someone; anger, bitterness and unprocessed crap are not. So before you bring up your divorce on your date, make sure you're in an okay place with it -- cause if you're not you're probably not ready to be on the market anyway.

Also, railing against how you've been wronged by your ex might be satisfying to you, but unless the person you're talking to is your actual mother or Mother Theresa, it's usually pretty boring to the person listening. You' re not in therapy on a date -- you're trying to charm someone, so if you find yourself going down the rabbit hole of regret try to throw yourself a life line and ask your date a question about themselves.

All of this is assuming that you' re dating to look for another relationship, and well frankly, that might not be the case. In that situation, go out, have fun and enjoy the flattery and seduction. The end of marriage is brutal, and as long as you' re up front about what you' re able to give and get, the replenishing of a damaged ego is not a bad thing -- and you will totally be the envy of all your married friends (see the description of a married Saturday night above.)

Joe:
If you' re a guy who's looking to start a new serious relationship, the answer is yes. If you're a guy who is looking to go out and get laid, the answer is yes. Either way, the truth is women like divorced guys. Divorce means you aren't afraid to commit and know how to take care of and live with a woman, even if it didn't work out. You can totally parlay that earned sensitivity and maturity into some hot lovin' action.

The common wisdom, of course, is to never mention the divorce on a first date. Or, to put it more succinctly: lie.

Yes, the common wisdom says to keep that internal censor alive and vigilant -- your own little goblin of the super-ego making sure you don't tell your date what's really going on inside your noggin.

I'm against that. If the divorce comes up in your conversation, talk about it. It's a significant part of your life and without it, you wouldn't be here in this Applebee's, waiting for riblets, wondering why your date is taking so long in the bathroom giving you time to write this blog on your BlackBerry.

In my case, I got into dating way before I should have, as everyone does after a divorce. I thought I was ready. I went on a date with a girl and told her on the first date that I had only been divorced a few months. She was cool with the whole thing, but said to me, "You know this isn't going to last, right? You aren't ready."

I disagreed. I was going through one of those weird oases of self-confidence that pop up in the midst of the early divorce typhoon and I had convinced myself I was ok. She, however, was also divorced and had been so for a few years so she knew what was going to happen. We had a great time (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) for a few months.

Then I got the engagement ring back in the mail and had a meltdown. Great time over.

Cut to a few years later. I'm on a first date with a girl who tells me that she's been divorced for a few months but feels she's ready to put herself out there. Great, I thought, now I know where this is going: Some therapeutic boning and then one day I'll get an e-mail or text message saying she can't handle it anymore. And that's exactly what happened. Knowing she was divorced on the first date let me contextualize the relationship right away, set the right
expectations, and have sex. All are good.

But at the end of the day, it's best to talk about the divorce in terms of what you learned rather than what you lost. If you start sobbing into your decadent chocolate blackout cake, it's pretty clear that you shouldn't be dating and your plans of going dutch are shot. So don't be rude to your date, but also don't be fearful of talking about your past. The other person is likely to know you have some baggage, so they might appreciate knowing how much it weighs.