It's the state of being in flux -- the gray area between no longer married but not yet divorced. A divorce decree gives you back your life as a single person, but being separated keeps you in love limbo.
Many guys I've gone out with since I separated from my husband have asked about it. They want to know if the ex is really an "ex." And despite their interest, most of them never bothered to ask me out a second time.
Mutual friends fixed us up. Ted divorced nine years ago, has a kid and recently made partner at his firm. We talked on the phone several times and exchanged photos via e-mail. He had a dynamic voice and I enjoyed our conversations, so I agreed to a date.
We met for dinner at the Urth Cafe one chilly Friday evening. While seated on the patio, we explored our similarities (age, height, taste in music) and talked about our kids, including what it's like to have youngsters who were becoming teenagers.
When we moved inside to sit by the fireplace, we leaned in closer as we talked and held hands. The conversation grew more personal by the hour, and before long he asked me what was the biggest lesson I had taken from my marriage.
"I would have gotten a prenup," I said.
When I asked him the same question, he said he would have never stopped communicating.
With kids at home and a baby sitter on the clock, I told Ted I was nearing my midnight curfew. And like two nervous teenagers, our date ended with a hug goodbye and a short kiss.
In the run-up to our next date he sent me endearing text messages and we talked on the phone daily. During one conversation he casually but directly asked, "When will your divorce be final?"
I wasn't sure how to answer. The dissolution papers were being prepared, but hadn't been filed yet.
"Hopefully soon," I responded after a long pause on my end. I immediately filed for divorce, hoping to truly begin the next chapter of my life.
Ted and I began dating exclusively and we seemed to be at the beginning of a beautiful relationship. We hit the hot spots, he introduced me to his entire family and I attended his daughter's bat mitzvah. We were even there for each other in the off times -- I kept him company while he had oral surgery, and he gave advice on handling a problematic house leak.
One weekend, Ted and I went to Catalina as a special treat. As we strolled hand-in-hand along Crescent Avenue, newlyweds in a golf cart honked as they passed us. Ted caught sight of the words "just married" on the cart, stopped in his tracks, dropped my hand and said, "You're still married."
My heart skipped a beat. I had no idea it bothered him so deeply.
"Only on paper," I said, a knot forming in my stomach.
Ted implied that he was looking to get married -- and fast.
As we continued to date, he would bring up my pending divorce and separation at odd times. He'd ask about the court hearings and then declare that delays were bound to crop up. He insisted my divorce would take longer than six months.
I agonized over how long the divorce was taking.
Ted eventually told me about his time frame for relationships. He said he generally gave women a six-month window, but because I was "separated" he was willing to "extend" it for me.
A time frame? Six months?
I asked Ted if he could just enjoy our time together and let our relationship blossom. While he got my hopes up when he said yes, his actions told a different story. I discovered he was actively pursuing other women behind my back.
Ted's intense marriage pressure might have been honest or it might have been a cover. My pending divorce could have been a convenient excuse, a way to keep a good thing going for a while. Whatever the reason, he wasn't discussing his true feelings with me. It all seemed to boil down to his relationship Achilles' heel -- communication.
While I cursed it in the beginning, I thank the California court system for my "separated" status. The cooling-off period that follows a divorce filing kept me levelheaded enough to eventually recognize what was happening. What if I had been single and available? I cringe at the thought of what would have happened had Ted and I actually married.
I should have known better.
I should have seen the red flags, which rarely ever change color. My heart didn't hear what my head was trying to tell me.
Next time I'm taking my own advice: I need a relationship prenup.
I plan to lay out all the issues and clearly define boundaries before dating reaches the relationship stage, let alone before there's any talk of marriage.
Unromantic? Maybe. But there is nothing quite as ugly as love turned to acrimony. The more candid each person is, the fewer surprises there will be down the road. Be honest and tell me what you want. After that, time, circumstance and intuition will guide the rest.
Now please initial here, here and here, and sign on the dotted line.
Heather Moss is a corporate communications professional and the mother of three children. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.