An Interview with Author Ginger Emas

Ginger EmasGinger has been a freelance writer since 1987 when she left her editor’s job at IBM in Charlotte, NC to move to the big city of Atlanta. She told everyone she wanted to open her own firm, but the truth was she had dated all of the eligible young men in the tri-city Mecklenburg area and needed a larger pool. She did indeed meet and marry her husband in Atlanta, but after thirteen years of marriage (and fourteen years of couple’s therapy) they divorced – and Ginger lost a husband but gained a life-long friendship. So began Ginger’s self-revealing, humorous and helpful dating survival guide: Back on Top: Fearless Dating After Divorce. Ginger spends her time in Atlanta, GA and says she is now part of the happy family of four she always wanted: her son, her boyfriend, her ex and herself. For more information, please visit www.backontopthebook.com

Hi Ginger. Thank you for taking the time to be interviewed for Women's Book Reviews. First, please tell our readers where you grew up.


The first 10 years of my life I grew up in St. Louis -- my grandparents landed there from Russia; my parents grew up there (on opposite sides of the track). I have two brothers and a sister, and together we thought this was the best place on earth. Of course, the only other place we'd ever been was Lesterville, Missouri. Then my family moved to Hollywood, Florida, and life was truly a summer vacation ALL THE TIME! I lived in Hollywood until I went away to college (at UF in Gainesville) and then I spent my 20s in Charlotte, NC, working for IBM, before I moved to Atlanta and opened my own firm (and had a larger pool of men to date!)

When did you become interested in writing?


I have been writing and telling stories for as long as I can remember -- scary stories in elementary school, "deep" and self-absorbed poetry in middle school, a column in the school newspaper called Ginger Snaps. (Are you cringing?) I had an inspirational 7th grade teacher who told me I was a good writer -- and you know, sometimes it only takes one teacher to believe in you and motivate you for the rest of your career...

I started entering and winning writing contests when I was about 11, and that drove me to do more, learn more, tell more stories. A highlight of my formative years was winning the spot of high school graduation speaker and being able to deliver the words I had written -- it was a joy to hear the audience laugh, sigh and be moved along with me. My college freshman English class sealed the deal -- I was in love with the written word, and finding new and creative ways to connect with people through my writing. Right after college I started my career as a writer for IBM -- who knew businesses had so many publications and materials that needed writing? It was a great business foundation for me. I opened my own freelance firm in the late 80s, and so enjoy the wide variety of organizations I get to write and learn about. (IBM is still one of my clients!)

What gave you the idea to write this book?


When I went on my first date after my divorce, it was painfully awkward for me. When I got home that night, I did what writers do -- I wrote about it (well, once I was no longer nauseous from embarrassment). Writing it out, finding both the humanity and humor in that first date, was a great release. I was able to laugh at myself, see the victory in having "my first first-date," cheer myself on for the next one (if I ever decided to do it again), and remind myself that "it's just dating." That article was published in Skirt! magazine, a magazine for women, written by women. Since I was just beginning my divorce "journey," I wrote about that, too, and that was published in Skirt! along with several online magazines. I got a lot of emails from women who loved laughing (at me) and had similar stories. Globe Pequot Press, which was publishing Skirt! books for women (now called GPP Live ) called me to see if I would be interested in expanding upon my articles, and writing a book with the topic of post-divorce dating! That's how Back on Top was born.

During the writing, I was interviewing dozens of men and women, and sharing my dating escapades with girlfriends, and I could see that there was a strong connection around this topic. We all love to talk about love -- the beginning of it, the pursuit of it, the end of it, the meaning of it. I also saw that there was a lot of uncertainty about dating "rules," online etiquette, dating with kids, dating safely, when to have sex, (if we'd ever have sex again) -- none of us who were dating again seemed to have a clue!

So I took it upon myself to learn and share. It is wonderful to connect with women all over the country about these topics. And apparently, a lot of married women are enjoying the writing and the humor (and are maybe a little thankful that they're not out there again!) Women write me every day to tell me that the book makes them laugh, that it gives them hope, and it offers them been-there-done-that advice. You know what? That was my goal, those three things. I am overjoyed! I tell these women -- and I mean it -- that I am rooting for them, for their happiness. And if I see them out, I want to buy them a martini and "wingman" them to the cute guy at the bar!

You’ve had 87 first dates in two years?? How many did it take before you knew what you were doing?


I’d have to say about … 86. My first date was agonizingly awkward. It was too long, the place we met was too loud, and I didn’t even know what I wanted from this date. But then it hit me – it’s just dating. It’s not dating-to-avoid-being-alone; it’s not dating-to-have-financial-security; and God forbid it’s not dating-to-get-married. Dating with those goals in mind only causes us to date people we wouldn’t even sit next to on the subway! It can drive us to stay in relationships that are completely wrong for us, and harmful to our health. Once I realized that dating can be fun and surprisingly entertaining -- it makes for some girlfriend great stories -- it got much easier. And I became a fun date myself.

You interviewed both men and women about what they were looking for in a partner, what makes a good first date? What are the deal breakers? What were the most surprising things you learned?


Well, interviewing people for a book was a great way to meet guys! But I really learned a lot. From men, the most surprising thing I learned – and I really wish I’d known this in my pre-marriage decades of dating – is that the main reason a guy breaks up with a girl is because of another woman. They will tell you a million other reasons, but it almost always comes down to another woman that they’re seeing, that they want to see, that they hope to see. Sometimes that woman is your best friend, and guys honestly think they can pull this off!

I was surprised to learn that just many women as men, especially in their 30s and early 40s, are looking for a casual, sexual relationship: A “friend with benefits.” And most women I interviewed were not interested in getting married again. I know for me, it took being married to cure me of the near desperate desire to BE married that consumed most of my 20s! In many ways, the line between typical male behavior and how women act today has blurred.

But some men said that women move way too fast. They said they’d go out with a woman who wants a commitment, exclusivity, promises too soon – sometimes within two weeks! Guys tend to want to take it slower. Not always, but typically.

Both men and women told me they’d met people who seemed ideal online, but turned out to be nothing like their profile in person. As tempting as it may be, it’s ridiculous to pretend to be someone else online, because eventually you’re going to meet and the other person will not be happy that they were deceived.

You mention the need to create a Manfile – what is that exactly?


I recommend that every woman – single or divorced – create a Manfile. A Manfile has two main parts: a list of non-negotiables and a list of must-haves. Non-negotiables are those things that you absolutely will not put up with in a man, such as violence, cheating, lying, abuse, financial irresponsibility. Must-haves are the things a guy’s gotta have in order to be in a relationship with you – top of most women’s list is sense of humor and intelligence, followed by kindness, a steady income, chemistry. A Manfile can also include “nice to haves” such as kids or no kids; a certain religion; large, um, hands.

A Manfile is more than who you’re looking for; it’s taking the time to think about who you are now: really considering the kind of partner YOU want -- not what your friends or parents or children think you should have. We change after we’re married and divorced; we should honor that.

And be careful what you wish for! It took me a long time to write down my Manfile because I knew it would come true, and I wasn’t ready. I was still pretty cynical, closed, scared. It sounds very new-agy, but I’ve seen proof of it time and time again. Carry your list with you; add to it, delete things. But listen, it’s not garlic – it won’t keep you from occasionally dating guys you really shouldn’t be with – one night stands with Cirque de Soleil performers or a relationship with a known bad-boy. But it does help you define what you want – and what you won’t put up with anymore.

So many divorced couples harbor a lot of anger and resentment toward each other, and continue to make each other miserable for years – what advice do you have for them?


My dad used to be a court mediator, and one day this couple comes to him, having exhausted the legal system – and their funds. The couple had been going through a divorce for FIVE years. My dad listened to the wife’s side, then he listened to the husband’s side. He heard them yell and argue; he saw her cry. Then he says, “So, how long have you two been in love?” And they look at him like he’s out of his mind and say, “Are you crazy? I hate her! I hate him!” And my dad says, “Well, hate is not the opposite of love. Apathy is. And clearly you two are still very involved with each other. Otherwise one of you would just sign the papers and walk away.” They didn’t know whether to slug my dad or hug him. The husband got up and left. The wife just sat there and said, “Wow.”

I agree with my dad – what good is hate? Resentment? Anger? It just keeps you where you are: stagnant. You can’t – or don’t have to – move on. My ex and I made a conscious decision to be friends – and we are really good friends. It wasn’t always easy, especially in the beginning. Of course, if your ex is truly a jerk, then it’s much harder. It takes time to move past someone who’s behaved really badly. I get that. Call me; we’ll go get martinis.

Cougars are getting a lot of attention lately – is this a new phenomenon, or are more women just open about it now?


Well, the first time I was called a cougar I did not think it was in any way complimentary. But I am, by definition, a cougar, because my boyfriend is 13 years younger than I am. And I have dated men even younger – and enjoyed it! What’s not to like?

A few years ago, when I told my best friend that I was dating a guy who was 30, she actually shrieked -- loudly. I wasn’t offended, although I couldn’t hear for an hour or so. She was just surprised. Perplexed. Jealous. I have always dated men younger than me; my ex is five years younger. My boyfriend says that I have a lot of energy, that I act and think young (maybe he said “immature.”) J I think you will find there are lots of women who tend to date certain kinds of men – older, younger, those who are wealthy or powerful or artists or athletes. “Younger men” is just another type.

And because many women look and feel younger and more empowered today – thanks to hair dye, Botox, lipo, personal trainers, financial planners, facials, whatever – I think cougars are everywhere! Thank you, Demi Moore! When I started dating my boyfriend, I got advice from one of the oldest and wisest women in my life: my mother. She’s been married to my dad for fifty-one years. She says he still makes her laugh, and that’s what’s important -- not age, not money, not even how good they are in bed. This is a little too much information for me—after all, she’s my mom—so I asked her what she thought of our age difference. She says she thinks it’s great, which is a little scary, since we rarely agree on the men I date. “Men usually get old and die before women,” my mom said matter-of-factly. “Maybe you won’t have to go through that. Maybe you’ll actually have someone who can keep up with you, to travel with and have fun with right up until you’re . . . well, dead, dear.” To tell you the truth, I think in a different era, my mom would have made one hell of a cougar herself.

Dating today is certainly different than it was, say, 10 years ago. What surprised you most when you first re-entered the dating world?


Well, the fact that 40 million people are dating online was a pretty big surprise! I’ve talked to men and women of all ages, and even though not all of them love online dating, they still say it’s the best way to meet the most people per minute. And it doesn’t carry that same sleazy or embarrassing stigma anymore. Of course, on most sites, you have to pay to play, and it definitely takes time to sift through profiles and pictures. And beware – it can get kind of addicting -- who emailed me? Who viewed me? Who winked at me?

I also learned that people spend a lot of time IMing and emailing before they ever meet in the real world. And because there are so many of us online, a lot of people have that “just looking” mentality – if one date doesn’t work out – or put out – there are plenty of others to search through online. Technology has really changed the dating scene from my first time around. I mean, I’ve been viewed 48,000 times on one site! Where else would I have a pool of 48,000 interested men?

So much for surprises -- what was the most shocking thing you discovered?


The whole underground of swingers and bi-sexual dating took me entirely by surprise. I had no idea how “mainstream” it was – people you see at the grocery store, at work, at the gym – More people than I ever dreamed of have at least tried alternative parties, websites or clubs. Also the new, uh, trimming fashion was a big shock to me. The last time I saw a nude woman was a 1985 Playboy – they definitely don’t look the same today. I was lucky to have found some women who were several steps ahead of me in the post-divorce dating world to give me some good advice!

What do women need to know about dating safely online?


Well, a little paranoia goes a long way here! The biggest safety rule is never, ever bring a man to your house whom you’ve just met online. He does not pick you up for a date -- you MEET him somewhere not too close to your home (but not too far away, either). You take your own car, you tell a friend where you are going and the name of the person you are meeting (hopefully it is his actual name), and you have an exit strategy – you tell your date ahead of time that you’ve got a meeting or have to pick up the kids or something. Set your phone alarm to ring in 45 minutes – if the date is going well, great – just turn it off and say you’ll take it in a few minutes. If you are dying to leave, that’s your exit strategy.

You never give your last name or your address to anyone you meet online; I know this sounds like common sense or OCD (or both) but you’d be surprised how much information people give you in a matter of minutes! If this sounds like paranoia, welcome to the world of online dating. A healthy dose of mistrust is a good thing. The longer you know someone, the more open you can become. I suggest waiting three months of really getting to know someone, no matter if you met online or off -- before you bring someone to your home – longer if you have kids.

Do women who are divorced feel like a failure?


Well, this certainly isn’t the happily ever after we originally dreamed about. Although a few women told me they knew as soon as they walked down the aisle that their marriage was doomed. I didn’t – I was thinking this is the best day of my life, this is the man of my dreams, I’m sure I can change him.

But we all feel different things – some of us are scared, some of us are lonely. For me, it was a lot lonelier to be in a marriage that wasn’t working than to end it, create something new, and get back out there again. That takes courage, and women who are dating again are definitely brave. I remember feeling that my reasons for getting a divorce weren’t big enough; they were, but they weren’t “I just found out my husband has a second family in California.” That’s big! On the outside, we looked normal and happy. On the inside, we weren’t either. It took me a really long time to realize I could not save this marriage. But in the end, I think we saved our family.

When did you know you’d made it Back on Top?


Well, at one time I was dating several men, all different backgrounds, ages, personalities. I was truly enjoying myself; I loved meeting different people and I felt vibrant, authentic, true to myself – not worrying about taking care of a man or finding someone to take care of me. I was taking care of me – as well as my son, and building a strong friendship with my ex.

The first time I loved and lost post-divorce was horrible, mostly because I had been very naïve. The second time a relationship didn’t work out, it affected me, but it didn’t knock me out. I was still happy. We became friends, and I realized what I learned from him was invaluable – it was about me, my heart, what I was willing to open up to. So when my current boyfriend came along – the one that earned me “cougar” status – I told him I wanted to take it very slowly. We became friends, he let me set the pace, and he waited for me, waited for my feelings. That’s when I felt Back On Top. Who wouldn’t?

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