After his 10-year marriage ended in 2004, New Yorker Phil Lee, 42, found himself tagged with the modern-day scarlet letter: "D" -- divorced. He wondered how that (not to mention his three children, ages 19, 11 and 9) would affect his future dating life.
The fitness-business owner says it hasn't been much of a hindrance. In fact, his children are usually an icebreaker.
"At my age, a lot of the women I meet have children themselves, so it's generally a back-and-forth over each other's children," says Lee. He jokes, "Women that don't have children and don't want to have children don't really talk to me."
Although the divorce rate is the lowest it's been since 1970 (3.6 per 1,000 people), about 40 to 45 percent of all marriages will end in divorce, according to an Associated Press estimate.
A Dutch study this year showed that divorce reduces one's chances of having a new, successful relationship -- slightly more for women than for men. Children reduced the chances further. It's no wonder newly dating divorcees may be hesitant to mention the details.
"Many people hide these truths because they don't want to scare off a potential date, but hiding such information will make your date feel tricked," says Christie Hartman, a Denver psychologist and author of "Dating the Divorced Man: Sort Through the Baggage to Decide If He's Right for You."
Here's how to reveal your previous marriage to your potential future spouse.
Broaching the subject
When is it time to delve into the facts of your past? Right away, Hartman says. She advises:
• If you are going through a divorce, tell the person you are dating pronto. Don't beat around the bush, and don't say you are already divorced if you are still in the process of it, as did one man Hartman dated. "I suspected that this man wasn't over his marriage, which made sense -- after all, he wasn't even divorced yet," she says.
• More personal information, such as why the marriage failed and the nature of your relationship with your ex, should be saved for a later date when the two of you are more comfortable with each other. As Hartman puts it, "Your date wants to know about you, not your former marriage."
• Don't go into too much detail. Focus on what you learned and how it made you a better person. "This decreases the chances of overwhelming your partner," she says.
• Be neutral when speaking about your past partner. If you criticize your ex, you risk sounding petty and emotionally involved. If you heap on praise, you sound as though you still have romantic feelings for your ex.
• Know what you want out of the relationship and what you're capable of. "Be honest with yourself first, then with potential partners," Hartman says.
After you've come clean
Congratulations. You've revealed your relationship status to your date, and he's not choking on his shrimp scampi. However, it's important to understand your date's perspective.
"The overarching fear is that your 'baggage' will bring unhappiness into his or her life," says Hartman.
So, make sure you really are ready to look to the future. Get your ex, kids and finances under control. Show that you've learned lessons from your previous marriage and moved on. Assure your new partner that she or he is a priority and provides what you want and need now.
In general, anger is an uncommon reaction, unless you haven't been forthright to begin with. If your partner is angry, apologize and work to win back that trust.
If you have kids
Always reveal up front that you have kids. Not only does your love life have to factor in your kids' schedules and lives, but some people prefer to date those without kids. It's in both of your interests to know right away if this is a deal-breaker.
Lee agrees. "If I meet somebody, the first things that I talk about are my children and my previous wife. If you don't do that, you come across as being dishonest."
But take it more slowly when it comes to telling the kids. Before making introductions, tell your kids about the person you're dating, and why they'll like him or her. If your divorce was finalized within the past six months, wait longer and go slower with introductions, as the children are still grieving, Hartman says.
"Listen to their opinion about your partner, but don't give them the power to influence your decision," she says. "Kids need to know that you're in charge."
However, if your new lover doesn't warm up to your kids after a while, you may have to end the relationship. "Ultimately, your partner needs to like your kids," says Hartman. "It's better for everyone involved."