Dating someone separated.
August 7, 2013 5:33 PM   Subscribe

I found out that my boyfriend is technically not divorced. This (as you might imagine) has been a major source of stress for me - what it comes down to is that he and his ex are staying married for insurance reasons, but will file by the new year.

We have talked extensively about this, and he feels like a jerk for having waited this long to bring it up (a few months of intense dating).

The good? He and his ex are both doing the following:
All finances/living arrangements/everything separated.
Are legally separated.
Have changed names back.
Refer to themselves as divorced.
All friends think their divorce is final.
Are happily dating new people.

So it is one of those situations where all that's left is the signature. However, I still find myself bothered by the (what I sincerely believe to be accidental) deceptiveness. For me, this is need to know information. From his point of view, he thinks of himself as divorced in every way except the filing, though he understands if it's a deal-breaker, etc.

My questions:
Can this possibly end well?
How can I protect myself?
What should I be prepared for?
How do I forgive him for keeping this from me?
What questions should I be asking him?

At this point, breaking up is not on the table. Thank you for your help!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (66 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I don't buy accidental deceit. People know whether or not they're divorced and good people make that information very clear very early on when dating.

Your boyfriend chose to lie to you. Whether or not this is indicative of a general deceitful nature or not, time will tell, but I wouldn't stick around to find out.

And why on earth is breaking up off the table?
posted by kinetic at 5:38 PM on August 7, 2013 [34 favorites]

This happened to me. Twice. Yikes. The first time I allowed it to eat me up, I was constantly plagued with the feeling that he was going to leave me and go back to her, etc - it ultimately lead to our breakup. The second time, as soon as I found out, I asked a few point-blank questions, got the answers I needed (insurance reasons only), and then when the year came and went without a divorce, I told him to get the divorce or get a new girlfriend. He got the divorce.
posted by banannafish at 5:40 PM on August 7, 2013 [13 favorites]

No no no. Trust your gut on this one. He conveniently neglected to tell you that he is still married. That's a big deal, and that should have been the first thing he told you when you two started dating.

Ask yourself why you'd settle for somebody who wouldn't tell you such crucial information right off the bat, and then ask yourself why you're treating him like he hasn't done anything wrong.

Breaking up is and definitely should be on the table.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 5:40 PM on August 7, 2013 [8 favorites]

I had a relationship at one point with someone who was still married for basically the entire several-year period, because of the expense associated with divorce, but their social and financial lives were totally separate. It didn't work out, but the not-working-out had absolutely zero to do with the divorce delay. The divorce itself may be a bit expensive and messy, or it might not, but this is probably not something you have to worry a lot about, personally.

It was a big thing not to say, but it sounds like a matter of omitting the technicality because in a new relationship, it's not unreasonable to think the other person will assume 'not yet divorced' means 'still romantically entangled', as opposed to 'financially unable to wrangle it just yet', which I assume is the point of the insurance thing. Growing up in a poor neighborhood, I knew someone whose parents were still technically married a decade after their 'divorce'. If he doesn't follow through with what he's told you, you have a problem, but it doesn't seem on its face like it's bound to lead to long-term issues.
posted by Sequence at 5:41 PM on August 7, 2013 [10 favorites]

I would be pretty steamed if I found out something like this, and I think it is a pretty big deal, but if there are no other red flags I wouldn't worry about things not ending well or how to protect yourself. It may be an isolated thing. The only thing I think you should be prepared for is that it will take longer than he says for the divorce to be finalized.

I don't think the deceptiveness was accidental, however. If nothing else, he purposefully set out to deceive everyone, and maybe accidentally forgot to tell you the truth.
posted by grouse at 5:42 PM on August 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

I don't think it was accidental, but you said he feels like a jerk. So he made a mistake in judgement and he has acknowledged that mistake and apologized for it. It's up to you to decide whether you want to forgive him or not. Nobody here can make that decision for you.
posted by Dansaman at 5:44 PM on August 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think it matters if this is, in your estimation, a one-time thing or if it's a longer term issue of him being in some level of denial about his own situation. I'd give him one chance to basically make this right by being completely straightforward and hitting all of his targets for things proceeding the way he says he's going to. If you say breaking up is not an option then that's your best other option. Make a list, indicate that if he wants to reestablish/rebuild trust he needs to make it clear that he's in strict do-what-he-says mode and then give him a chance to do that.

I am in a long term relationship with someone who was in a bit of a tricky relationship with his son's mom [not together but in a complicated co-parenting thing with someone who was not mentally stable] and that worked out fairly well for me. I would only take no steps to conjoin anything with him (pets, money, living arrangements) until he is a legally independent person.
posted by jessamyn at 5:45 PM on August 7, 2013 [7 favorites]

I am currently dating someone while waiting for the divorce with my ex-husband to be finalized. Similar to your situation, my ex and I are living separately, finances mostly disentangled (although we own a house together which adds complexity), etc.

The difference is my now-boyfriend knew from DAY ONE that I was still legally married but separated. Our very first conversation included details about what was going on. I can't even imagine not telling someone this. Even dudes I was just seeing casually (before I met the one who became my boyfriend) knew about it.

I guess I could understand not bringing it up to every person you meet considering you say his friends think the divorce is final but I would think and talk long and hard about this. Why the deception with his friends too? It's just... weird.
posted by misskaz at 5:47 PM on August 7, 2013 [11 favorites]

He chose to not tell you. It is up to you to decipher that. Were you his first relationship after seperation? Make sure you are not a rebound.
posted by ladoo at 5:48 PM on August 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Let me throw something in here. I have a daughter in a similar situation. For insurance reasons-and for the reason that divorces particularly with kids involved aren't cheap-she is in a similar boat.

I can't tell you if he is being deceptive or disingenuous or in fact divorced all but legally, that is up to you to discover-but from what I see around me, this is becoming more and more common. One more thing because, economy.

(Not saying I approve in my daughter's case, but she is a grown woman and is responsible for her own choices.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:48 PM on August 7, 2013

This is how my fiancée and I started. She came clean the day after we first slept together. Not months later. She was reluctant to tell me. We live in a very small, very rural, VERY conservative town. She almost lost her job over the separation, and was intending to find a new one in a different town by the time they actually filed for divorce.

Only time will tell if he's actually trustworthy. On the spectrum of "deal killing things in a romance," I would rate this as 'late payment' but definitely not 'final notice' or 'sent to collections.'

The only thing that you will be able to depend on in life is that you will have faults and make mistakes, and that your significant other will need to forgive you for them. That doesn't mean that there are not consequences. In this case, I wouldn't hesitate to admit that this will make you less likely to trust him and that he will have to earn that trust through time and his deeds -- to use financial terms again, you just upped his interest rate.
posted by SpecialK at 5:49 PM on August 7, 2013 [5 favorites]

You have to know that this can't possibly be accidental deceptiveness. There is no way a reasonable person could overlook this or think it wouldn't be relevant to his new partner in the context of a "few months of intense dating". The only reasons he could possibly have for not telling you is that he thought it was not your business or he thought you would freak out about it. Possibly also that he waited too long to tell you in the first place and then it just got awkward. It could potentially be well-meaning deceptiveness. But it's not accidental.

What was his reaction when you found out? Was he defensive, angry, avoidant, blaming you for snooping? Or was he regretful, apologetic, relieved? That is the single biggest indicator of how your future with this guy will be. If he was angry, to me that's a pointer that you are dealing with a controlling man who will dole out information when he believes it's necessary and no sooner, regardless of the impact that it might have on you or the relationship. If he was mostly apologetic, then maybe he did just get himself into an awkward situation and it won't happen again. Either way, he needs to know that this was a BIG FREAKING DEAL.

So yes, it can end well. But it's a red flag. Protect yourself by watching out for defensive, controlling reactions about other things to see if this is a pattern. Be prepared to feel edgy and uncertain about things for a little while, and don't rush into any major life decisions. You'll forgive him or not with time; that's not really in your control. And the most important questions that come to mind are: "is there anything else major that I don't know about you? Any children, previous marriages, jail time, major medical diagnoses that as your girlfriend of a few months I should expect to be at least aware of by now?"

Real life example - I had a friend who "forgot" to tell his fiance that he was still technically married to his ex. She found out three weeks before their wedding! His plan was to go through with the party and delay the legal registration of the marriage till the divorce was final. She went ahead with the fake "wedding" and the divorce is STILL not final. She can't get a marriage visa, she's stuck in her home country and she can't explain to anyone why she hasn't moved to join her "husband" yet. She's also five months pregnant because he "forgot" to tell her he was having his vasectomy reversed. YMMV.
posted by yogalemon at 5:50 PM on August 7, 2013 [12 favorites]

I started dating when my ex husband & I were no longer living together. The divorce was in progress but still we were just legally separated. And I was still paying his insurance premiums and keeping him on my plan until the day the divorce was final.

Only you know how much you hate it that he didn't mention it before now, but for me, it ended just fine. The divorce came through, and it was a non-event in my then-current relationship. In my experience, if he's over it, he's over it.

In that relationship, though, the one that took place during my separation and after my divorce, my bf showed his own little accidental deceptiveness when he gleefully told me (after a few months of intense dating that included unprotected sex, after I told him I was HIV- and he said he was too) that he had received the results of an HIV test and they were negative. I was PISSED OFF that he would endanger me like that. It turned out that he had never before had a test and assumed he was negative based on the low incidence of high risk behavior. However, there was "low" incidence, not "no" incidence, and I was infuriated that he would dissemble like that. I let it go but it really bugged me at the time.

The relationship ended because he was a moron. And the "accidental deceptiveness" was my first clue that he was a moron.

To me, that's the thing you need to consider. Does this seem to you, as the person having the extensive talks with him, like something that goes to his ability to gauge what is and isn't important to you? Not that you have to be perfect at that in the first few months of a relationship, but you do have to kind of get there along the way. In other words, is he a moron? If so, well, good luck to you.
posted by janey47 at 5:52 PM on August 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

The only thing I have to add is:

what it comes down to is that he and his ex are staying married for insurance reasons, but will file by the new year

By the new year? If this is some insurance technicality thing he should have a date figured out. Were I in your shoes I wouldn't think it would be too much to ask that he provide one in the form of mm/dd/yyyy with no "around", "possibly", or "circa" attached. I don't want to be too cynical here but I worry that if he can't do this [and even maybe if he can] then you are about to enter a never-ending parade of excuses and delays.
posted by ftm at 5:56 PM on August 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

I started dating my beloved wife when I was still technically married to my ex (though the papers were filed), and I had a relationship before that before the papers were filed. There was never any question that I would never, ever, in a million years get back with my ex, or that I cared for or about my ex, in either relationship. Divorce and the legal hassles that go with it are not as simple as flipping a switch. I wish they were (at least in my case).

I don't remember when this came up with my wife. There was no deception or anything, but once you move on, it's really not something you think about every day (at least not in my case). It's like having a deposit still outstanding on an apartment you have vacated, or an old bike chained up somewhere that you haven't retrieved. It's not a constant state of being; it's an item on a to do list.

Good luck.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:00 PM on August 7, 2013 [8 favorites]

Things to consider:
*He lied. He knows darn well he is not legally divorced, and he chose to lie to you. He sounds like he knows he did wrong and is sorry, but only you can say if this big of a lie is a dealbreaker.
*Holding off the actual divorce for insurance reasons sounds reasonable, but there are a couple other things to think about: as long as she is still his legal wife, if he is hospitalized or heaven forbid dies, she will be the one to make all legal decisions about medical care, funeral arrangements, etc., NOT you. And in many states, the legal spouse automatically inherits a certain percentage of their spouse's estate, no matter if there's a will stating otherwise or not.
posted by easily confused at 6:00 PM on August 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

I am in this situation. My ex and I have been separated for 6 years and live 4 states apart but are legally married for insurance purposes. It's a legitimate and fiscally sound reason to stay legally married given the insane health insurance-industrial complex we live with in this country. However, it's not secret, it will be on my okcupid profile should I ever put one up, and I wouldn't expect anyone to make a decision to get to know me without informing them of that fact first. This guy has nothing to be ashamed of for his situation, but it's absolutely not OK for him to have kept it secret from you. That's lying, no two ways about it.
posted by headnsouth at 6:02 PM on August 7, 2013

For my personal life, the rule is very simple: All divorces must be final.

I tell my friends that the rule is also similarly simple: No lies about crap like whether or not you're legally married to another person because WHAT ON EARTH.

Admittedly, I'm a bit of a stickler for these things. But come on, who manages to leave this kind of thing out, when they're trying to build an actual relationship with another adult? To me this is so far into Red Flag City, you ought to be changing your records with the DMV already.
posted by SMPA at 6:03 PM on August 7, 2013 [6 favorites]

No. No no no no no no. This is not good.

Look, I'm in a similar situation. My SO is separated. Same basic details as you - they live separately (in different states even!), both dating new people, no financial ties, just waiting for the waiting period to be over.

THE DIFFERENCE IS: He TOLD me his situation before we had even met for freakin' coffee.

I understand that this is difficult to have to tell someone. If it had been me I would have struggled to do so. But I would have done it. As I get older (heh) I find that more than anything else I value honesty and transparency in my personal dealings.

Do you want to be with someone who struggles for months to do the right thing? Who, every time you were together put off doing the difficult thing because it was uncomfortable? What happens when other difficult, uncomfortable situations in life arise? Will he be straightforward with you? I have to imagine no.
posted by chainsofreedom at 6:04 PM on August 7, 2013 [5 favorites]

Oh I forgot one other thing that I think is important. You need to figure out who is driving the divorce train that he is on and what the determining elements are. Because if he's saying they're getting a divorce at X point but he's only parroting what she said and then she changes her mind, will his change along with it? Like what if this is just so she can stay on his insurance and the time rolls around and she has no insurance and is in some sort of trouble? Will he still be like "Well I do not care I want this divorce and I'm filing whether you want it to not?" Or will he come to you with some sort of "Hey baby I know I told you this one thing but now my wife's circumstances have changed and bla bla bla" So as far as things to be careful/watchful of, whether he's actually the one who is in control of this situation (and the delaying of the divorce) or if she is.

My parents were separated for 15 years before they got divorced and I always thought that one of the reasons (besides my freelance writer mom's being able to stay on my dad's insurance) was because my dad actually wanted a good excuse to not marry his long term girlfriend. Like he was in no way in a relationship with my mother any more and considered himself single as did everyone else, but he wasn't legally free to be married which I think at some level is what he wanted. So, just another thing to consider. I, again, don't think this has to be the death knell of the relationship but I think it's less likely to go well from this point than to go poorly in predictable ways.
posted by jessamyn at 6:05 PM on August 7, 2013 [7 favorites]

You know what you learn when someone lies to you? That they're a liar.

Personally I'd break up with him.
posted by spunweb at 6:08 PM on August 7, 2013 [6 favorites]

Wow. I could have written this question, except that I'm not freaking out about it at all. I was prepared to wait. His divorce papers showed up here last month, and we celebrated.

He told me a few months into our relationship and then two things happened: 1) I decided I was prepared to wait, and 2) when I was done waiting I opened a dialogue about the situation and wouldn't you know it, divorce happened pretty much immediately. I didn't have to nag him about it, but it's ridiculous to be talking about the future with someone who is still married, and after awhile that became pretty clear.

Both parties wanted to be divorced and and she was dragging her feet and he didn't want to have a confrontation. It happens.

This is between you and your boyfriend, seriously - and everyone who has been lied to before is telling you to run for your life, but... that seems rash to me. Questions I would be asking are is he a serial monogamist? What if you don't live happily ever after -- is he going to be living with some woman while you are trying to find a part-time job and take care of your kid? When a divorced/separated man immediately jumps into a serious relationship, that may be a red flag. Are there kids involved here?
posted by polly_dactyl at 6:20 PM on August 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

"Technically married" is as technical as "technically pregnant". You can't be a little bit.

Marriage is supposed to be a big deal. I think that's what all the court cases and marches of recent years were supposed to be all about. So, it is such a big deal that it is impossible that he forgot to mention it to you, and it is rather deceitful of him to have kept such a big factor hidden. I suspect he did so because he feared you might split when you found out the truth. (and maybe you will, even though you say, remarkably, that it is off the table) You say you found out, so that indicates that he did not come clean on his own. That's a problem, in my view.

Frankly, I have an issue with a married person dating (no judgments on anyone here) but that is not an issue you raise so I will go no further except to say that it reflects worse on him if he was on the prowl before divorce proceedings were initiated i.e. "well, I got a girlfriend now so now I can get divorced thanks to my parachute". There are degrees of deceit possible here, and you can know for certain when the divorce was filed by checking the county court's online docket. Better yet, just ask to see a file-stamped copy of the divorce petition. If he hedges on showing you that, I think that is the end.

To answer your specific questions:

1. Probably not.
2. Don't trust the untrustworthy.
3. For the divorce not to go as swimmingly has he says it will.
4. We must forgive everyone everything. But, you can still forgive him and still break off the relationship.
5. Why?

Let's be real. Everyone lies. The issue here is the nature and subject matter of the lie. I cannot tell you what to do, but I think that breaking up should at least be an option.
posted by Tanizaki at 6:23 PM on August 7, 2013 [5 favorites]

The fact that most people would care a lot about knowing whether the person they're dating is married is so extremely, ridiculously well-known and obvious, that it's just not plausible that his failure to tell you was an accident.

Your first question is: "Can this possibly end well?" But then you say that breaking up is not an option "at this point." If you're concerned about whether this can possibly "end well," why isn't breaking up an option? If I were dating someone and I found out after a few months that she was marrried and didn't tell me about this (and especially if she actively told me the opposite), I would consider this an absolute dealbreaker: I'd automatically end the relationship, regardless of any other factors.
posted by John Cohen at 6:28 PM on August 7, 2013 [7 favorites]

Yep. What spunweb just said.

And it's not about his marital status. It's about him lying.

As 'proof' (kinda), here are my two, real-life examples: Ex-BF 1: separated but not legally divorced when I met him. Told me on the first date. Admitted that it was plain laziness, plus figuring that she'd initiate the paperwork eventually, and save him the trouble & expense. I told him I wasn't prepared to keep dating him until the divorce was final. Dude was down the courts within a fortnight: done and done. He turned out to have many faults, but lack of honesty and loyalty were not among them.

Ex-BF 2: told me before we even met that all the divorce paperwork was final, just waiting to be filed once the (legally-mandated) separation period was up. Three months later, after we were involved, it came out that the paperwork was very much not finalized and his wife had just retained a fresh set of lawyers. Turned out he was also cheating on me the entire time, and having unprotected sex with at least one other person. He had also lied to me constantly, about important stuff and about things as random as what his dad died of when he was a child. (?!).

Extreme example, but the point stands: people who have a core of honesty and integrity, and who care about you,do not lie to you about things that are important to you. It doesn't matter how he feels about his ex-wife, or how important the paperwork is to him. He took away some of your agency when he fudged on full disclosure. That is disrespectful and fundamentally dishonest, however you spin it.

I'd walk. Since you're not going to: be very, very careful.
posted by Salamander at 6:39 PM on August 7, 2013 [13 favorites]

I dated while I was getting a divorce but I was up front about it. I was in that state for almost three years because I was going to school on my ex's tuition benefits. I definitely lost a lot of opportunities by that because a lot of women would absolutely never date someone who wasn't divorced but I would have felt pretty crappy lying about it. I'm not really buying that he could have forgotten for months.
posted by octothorpe at 6:40 PM on August 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm separated and not legally divorced as yet. I think I'd tell a potential partner this information when the relationship looked like it was getting serious [ie many dates, sleeping together], but I know it will be a bit of a nerve-wracking conversation to have, giving a lot of detail about my personal situation far beyond what I'd usually want to discuss - eg financial situation.

I think I'd give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that all will be resolved in the New Year. Maybe realise that 'deceit' is what it may look like to many, to me it looks like he's on track to take care of this situation legally, and in all other respects he and his ex are living separate lives. Can you wait a few months and then see what happens with the paperwork?
posted by honey-barbara at 6:43 PM on August 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

you have seen the handwriting on the wall--he is not honest and forthcoming about very important things. there are other fish in the sea. i'd throw this one back.
posted by wildflower at 6:50 PM on August 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Anecdotal (not me - a friend): My friend was dating someone she worked with. This guy had given her the impression he was divorced for years. They dated at least 2 years. They moved in together. She wanted marriage. They were happy. Everything was dreamy. Then, he pulled the rug out from under her - the lazy bastard never got the divorce. He was only separated from his wife (who, it turns out, wanted him back and was pursuing him on the sly). My friend was absolutely devastated and felt like a jerk. She ended things abruptly.

This is an extreme example, and not saying things for you are like this. But you have to consider he has been lying to you (by omission). And he can't use the old, " I've been cooking up the courage..." I say that's too late. This isn't high school any more.

Nthing what others have said about breaking up, that it should be on the table. You have to ultimately live with him, though. Just consider this: If he can hide this whopper, what else could he hide from you? Think about it...
posted by MeatheadBrokeMyChair at 6:55 PM on August 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Do you live in one of the eight states listed on the Wikipedia page for Alienation of Affections?
posted by Hatashran at 6:57 PM on August 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

a few months of intense dating

I think he waited too long for it to be no big deal, but I am not entirely unsympathetic. Sometimes, in retrospect, it's easy to see when you should have done something, but now you haven't and you're stuck and it's weird.

Would I auto-bin somebody for doing it? Maybe not, if he otherwise was demonstrating integrity in his general dealings with me. But there would be some very serious curbing of commitment escalation until the papers were filed. Don't let intensity guide your decisions and put you in an unpleasant position (or deposition).
posted by Lyn Never at 6:57 PM on August 7, 2013 [5 favorites]

I'm pretty skeptical about this. If he wanted a divorce, he would be acting like it. By, you know, filing for divorce. Even if that meant paying extra for COBRA to resolve the insurance situation. The fact that there is no sense of urgency here, not just about telling you but more importantly about getting the divorce itself, is a red flag. Actions speak louder than words, and here there is no action and he sure took his sweet time giving you the courtesy of the words.
posted by payoto at 6:59 PM on August 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Can this possibly end well?

How can I protect myself?
By walking the hell away, right now. Sorry.

What should I be prepared for?

Drama. You should be prepared for lots and lots of drama and an "ex" wife who doesn't know she's separated or divorcing, or that she's changed her name or that she's dating other people, etc., etc.

How do I forgive him for keeping this from me?

You really shouldn't bother.

What questions should I be asking him?
What else are you lying about?

Look, I don't mean to sound harsh but this is bullshit and surely you must know it. I've been married and divorced. I dated people "during" the divorce, after the separation but before the papers were filed. Believe me, I knew damn well I was still married. People got hurt. Everyone got hurt. It sucked. Even if you're not living with someone or even seeing them that often, it doesn't just "slip" your mind that you're actually married to them and oh gee, filing for a divorce is still on my to-do list.

The depth of a marriage and the emotional and logistical fallout that comes with a divorce makes it impossible to "accidentally" neglect to mention.

I'm also a divorce attorney (though IANYL TINLA blah). People know. It's a hassle. It's a big emotional process, no matter how short the marriage or how little crap they own. And from a technical stand point, he is in no way divorced without a filing. It's like being a little bit pregnant.

Also, what's magic about the end of the year? Insurance open enrollment at work? Believe it or not, a divorce automatically gets you a freebie to re-do all your insurance stuff (in most states, ymmv). So this is about the stupidest reason he could give.

And finally: All friends think their divorce is final. He's willfully deceiving all his friends. Think about that.
posted by mibo at 7:10 PM on August 7, 2013 [13 favorites]

It's not clear from the description that you were lied to, only that he didn't mention the legal status of his previous relationship with another person.
How you take this would depend a lot on how the two of you view the sanctity of marriage--this can vary from a sacred union approved by the God and community of your chosing, to a legal formality little different from a lease or employment contract.

Also, it's not clear how far your relationship had progressed when he told you the whole story: until you start talking about settling down together, what relevance is it if he's divorced or only separated? At what point would you want him to tell you that he had cosigned a loan for someone?

A few months sounds a bit late, and possibly revealing of some character flaws, but not a heinous and unforgivable sin if there was no active deception.
posted by cardboard at 7:12 PM on August 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

In my jurisdiction (California), you can file a divorce settlement and specify a future date for the actual dissolution of the marriage. If this is the case in your jurisdiction, you might encourage him to do that and, as other commenters have suggested, see what his next steps are and decide from there.
posted by xueexueg at 7:13 PM on August 7, 2013

I've been separated for many years. So have many of my friends. None of us plans on getting divorced, because of all the medical benefits involved. If you have kids with a mental illness or other health problem, the psychiatrist or psychologist can bill under all of your names, providing more coverage. And if one of you cannot qualify for extended health care in an affordable way, it makes more sense to be separated. My ex and I probably save $8000 a year this way. I have friends who save much more. With cancer and other long-term illnesses posing a risk in terms of medications and so on, it makes sense to keep the extra insurance.

However, I don't tell people I'm divorced. I say I'm separated. So do my friends. I'm pretty clear about the reasons and the nature of the relationship. I do not see separated as the same as married, especially after four or five years. It's pretty clear everyone has moved on. I don't know anyone in my extended social circle who thinks there's anything wrong with dating after a long term separation, especially where chronic illnesses or self employment are involved.

I'm wondering why your boyfriend waited so long to tell you, though. Most people are pretty understanding of my situation and of my friends' situations. I would take this as a big red flag, because I can't understand why he withheld it - from you *or* his friends. But he has apologized and recognizes his mistake, so perhaps this is something you can review.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 7:14 PM on August 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Sorry if anyone's mentioned this already. But you also said all his friends think he's divorced.

So he's lying to everyone he knows. That's not accidental and that's not because of some tricky timing with respect to you.

That's a lot of lying.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 7:15 PM on August 7, 2013 [12 favorites]

It is well known that "separated" status is a dealbreaker for a lot of people. This wasn't just an absent minded oversight - it was a conscious decision to withhold relevant information from you and other dating prospects, lest it limit his options from the outset. Whether you want to continue with him would probably be based on how you feel about that, and not about a parallel universe in which he assumed that it wouldn't be important to you.
posted by Selena777 at 7:40 PM on August 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'm going to share a slightly different anecdote. My Dad was married when he met my Mom. His marriage had been rocky and he realized that it wasn't going to get better, and that he wanted to divorce his then wife. She didn't want to get divorced. He moved out. He filed for divorce. She wouldn't sign the paperwork. He started dating my Mom (who knew he was separated but not divorced). His first wife wouldn't sign the paperwork. My Dad estimated, with his lawyer's help, an alimony payment and paid alimony monthly, because he thought it was the right thing to do. This went on for 3 years until my Dad's ex decided she wanted more in alimony, and the judge said she couldn't officially petition the court about alimony until she signed the divorce paperwork. My parents were married 2 months after the official decree.

This is a long way of saying, things don't always go as planned, and until he has the signed paperwork in hand, he's not truly divorced. If you're ok with where you are at now, and ok with waiting for however long it takes for the paperwork to get signed, that's one thing, but if you're looking for things to become more entangled (moving in together, for instance), I thought it would be good to point out that just because everything is good between him and his ex now, it doesn't mean she'll be willing to sign the paperwork when the time comes.
posted by RogueTech at 7:54 PM on August 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

I could forgive someone for this, but if and only if he shared with me the actual financial breakdown of their insurance situation, including some solid numbers that show the (significant) net benefit of the current scenario compared to the multiple other options that they researched before selecting this plan........ and the same for why that calculus changes at some point before the end of this year.

If he has an excuse for why he cannot show you this, or if the math does not in fact add up, then I think you will know all you need to know.

(Also, how many months/years has this been the arrangement? Are they both contributing to the monthly premiums? How? How do they communicate re: deductibles, out-of-pocket maximums, HSAs, claims paperwork, etc.? Do they still share home/car/life insurance policies? Has he named a new life insurance beneficiary? Did they file taxes separately in April? I guess my point is, is it credible that all the rest of their finances are actually completely separated, given that insurance itself has so many financial implications, and, is it credible that health insurance and ONLY health insurance cleared the bar of "smart financial reason not to divorce?")

I hope you find a good resolution soon.
posted by argonauta at 8:28 PM on August 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

He's not with her, he's with you, I think that should count for something. Is it health insurance that they are getting the benefit of by not signing the papers yet? If you are in the states, that's a pretty major thing, and to arrange that they stay covered is actually a pretty decent thing to do for each other - I wouldn't look down on the guy for being a decent person.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 8:55 PM on August 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

"Technically married" is as technical as "technically pregnant". You can't be a little bit.

I was technically married for two years after my separation. There is a vast difference between being married and separated, and unless one subscribes to a Christian religious belief system, only a mere piece of paper between being separated and divorced once the relationship has completely ended for both parties.
posted by Nibiru at 9:02 PM on August 7, 2013 [11 favorites]

I dunno. I can see this happening. It's his first time getting divorced right? First time dating someone after getting separated? It's not like people give you a manual about how to handle this kind of thing. He meets you, wants to date you, doesn't want to freak you out by telling you he's not technically divorced yet. Then things get serious, and now he's like oh shit, I can't tell her I'm still married married now, she'll be so mad at me, I'll just wait for a better time.. and then a better time never really comes, and the longer it goes the more stressed out he is about telling you, etc...

As long as he wasn't telling you he's still married because his wife doesn't know he's seeing other people or they're trying to reconcile or something like that, I would look out for further evidence of deceit, but I wouldn't call this a deal breaker...

And the health insurance thing makes total sense, too.
posted by empath at 9:05 PM on August 7, 2013 [9 favorites]

I could forgive someone for this, but if and only if he shared with me the actual financial breakdown of their insurance situation, including some solid numbers that show the (significant) net benefit of the current scenario compared to the multiple other options that they researched before selecting this plan........ and the same for why that calculus changes at some point before the end of this year.

Don't you think that shows a lot of disrespect to the privacy of his soon-to-be-ex-wife? They probably made those plans before either one of them was seeing someone else, and it would be really messed up, imo, to change them just because one of them is dating. I'd say as long as there is a firm date set, and they stick to it, it's reasonable to wait it out.
posted by empath at 9:09 PM on August 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

If they are still married for insurance purposes, they are NOT financially separated. Do they have children together? Because to me, still being financial intertwined with your ex is as much a problem as still being romantically involved.
Lying about it is a definite problem - why do you then believe everything else he claims about the separation?
posted by florencetnoa at 9:51 PM on August 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Plenty of divorced people are financially intertwined with their exes through spousal and child support. The insurance can reduce the out of pocket expense for both types of support payments. Where I live, it's not unusual for divorced and separated couples to share cars for years, with the car going with the kid. (However, this is in an urban area with lots of transit and car sharing options.) Most people I know make these decisions as a way to free up money for things that matter for their kids.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 9:58 PM on August 7, 2013

I dated a girl who waited a month to tell me she was finalizing a divorce. I was surprised, but it also explained why she had moved back in with her parents. We kept dating, and the relationship ended for reasons completely unrelated.
posted by jander03 at 10:23 PM on August 7, 2013

Why don't you grab coffee with the wife sometime?
posted by oceanjesse at 11:45 PM on August 7, 2013 [8 favorites]

If it's no big deal, he'd have told you. And everyone.

You thought you were dating a divorced man, now you find that it's more complicated than that but as long as nothing goes wrong, you could continue indefinitely like this so why not comply with the terms of the arrangement as they are and not as you were led to believe they were...

I dunno, I wouldn't assume this guy is Satan. People make mistakes. However as mistakes go this is something of a biggie and the consequences are of a kind that will reveal themselves when you are in deep.

As for me? I personally wouldn't date someone who wasn't divorced de facto and de jure. Other people might, and I can see the reasoning as to why.

What I wouldn't do is date someone who lied about their status, no matter what that status was. Heck if someone only wanted to date married guys in the side (work with me here) and the guy turned out to be single never married in any way shape or form and had been lying about that, then the guy should expect some backlash. How much is a matter of taste

As to your actual question, is this likely to end badly in some other way than a breakup initiated by you? Yes, I think so, if something goes wrong and/or if he hides or is hiding anything else, both of which are not unlikely in the given circumstances.
posted by tel3path at 12:30 AM on August 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

It always seems that there are a lot of folk on Mefi whose stock answer to any relationship issue is to breakup. Don't do that - at least not off the back of this. I know at least two people in exactly this situation - married in name only, but utterly separated and awaiting the right point to make the legal change for good. I can see it being entirely possible that the technical issue of his legal status seems so very much less important than the actual fact of not living with or caring about the person in question. Please ignore all the punditry above about whether or not his not telling you was accidental, or deliberate. None of the people in question have any idea - you, however, can ask him and make up your own mind based on his response. To me, this doesn't sound like a big deal, if everything else is good, then just ignore it and move on.
posted by prentiz at 3:15 AM on August 8, 2013 [5 favorites]

I started dating before I was legally divorced, but, yeah, I told my boyfriend on our second date. During my separation and divorce, I did a lot of thinking about the nature of marriage vs the relationship it represents. Most specifically, I wondered if the breakup with my ex would've been different if we hadn't been legally married. And my answer was... probably not. I probably would've made the same decisions in the relationship and in leaving the relationship. (And I got insurance for two years after we separated. yay!) In the scope of my experience, the piece of paper was a very very small aspect.

When a relationship has dissolved in all emotional and most practical terms, its legal status is nobody's business but the two people whose names are on the paper.

I would not give half a shit if one of my friends told me his divorce was finalized and I found out later it wasn't. And unless I had impending financial/legal entanglement with a new boyfriend, I wouldn't care if he hid his marital status from me. I guess I'm in the extreme minority there.

He feels like a jerk. That's a good sign. But, really, it's none of your business. It doesn't impact you. Really. It doesn't. If you had known a couple months ago, would your life be any different? Short of asking him point blank about whether his divorce was final, or otherwise questioning him about the breakup, how would this topic come up? And if he's operating independently from his ex on a day to day basis, what's a good/natural opportunity to bring up ancient history? To me, "technically married" is worlds different from "technically pregnant". One is a legal construct, one is a biological fact.

Maybe there are details about how you found out or how directly he's lied to you about it that are worrisome, but from what you've told us, you don't have to freak out and dump him. Or even interrogate him.

to answer your questions...
- Yes, you can have a long and happy life with him.
- Protect yourself from what?
- Life as usual.
- By thinking hard about what, specifically, you're upset about, and why, and grokking that his relationship with his ex means very little to him these days.
- How he wants to celebrate when the last papers are signed.

You have my permission to not make a big deal out of this.
posted by itesser at 3:45 AM on August 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

As someone who took way long to get divorced for a variety of reasons, and as someone who has many friends (and a boyfriend too) who also took a long time to get divorced, I don't see why this is a deal breaker/cause to break-up to everyone. As someone who has also online dated where people lie all the time to get dates (about their height or weight or age or marital status)(and as an aside you can see from pp that many people won't date someone who isn't divorced, so I am sure this is a common thing people lie about) I can see how someone might make this mistake and then have a hard time choosing the best time to clear things up. To me I would examine if this is one of many signs of deceitfulness (does he lie about other things- even dumb things as "jokes"?) Do you know about other aspects of his life that make you go "huh?" I think it is possible to get through this as long as all other signs point to positive.
posted by momochan at 5:12 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's a giant red flag and the reality is, if he is so freshly "divorced", he's probably not ready to date anyway.

Write this off to bad timing and poor decisions on the part of this BF and move along.
posted by PsuDab93 at 6:09 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've been on both sides of this issue. When I met my ex-husband, he was separated-but-not-yet-divorced from his first wife. They were divorcing on the grounds of separation and at that time, there was an 18-month waiting period in our state (NJ). He was very upfront about it but it caused many problems in our relationship, mainly because they had a young son and she did NOT want the divorce, and decided to drag the whole thing out just because she could. None of it was his fault but it was very stressful and I would never go through something like that again. Five years later, he and I separated (for totally unrelated reasons) and I started dating someone else. I was honest about my situation but the guy I was dating was very insecure about it and worried that I would reconcile with my ex. And to be completely honest, there were times I thought about it. In retrospect, I realize I hadn't yet properly mourned the end of my marriage and jumped into another relationship too quickly. I was never again physically involved with my ex-husband, never talked about him, rarely talked to him, and don't think I did anything to make my boyfriend feel uneasy....but he did anyway. Eventually our relationship collapsed under the stress.

I think the fact that your boyfriend lied to you about something so big is a huge red flag. Maybe, in his mind, he is divorced already and didn't want to freak you out. Maybe he's not ready to admit his marriage failed. Maybe he is still emotionally entangled with his ex. I don't believe DTMFA is necessarily in order at the moment, but I would make it very clear to him how much his dishonety (intentional or not) bothers you, and pay close attention to his response, as others have suggested. If you choose to stay with him, I would be very, very careful, not only about the lying but also the potential that you're in a rebound relationship.
posted by kribensa at 6:30 AM on August 8, 2013

Why isn't breaking up on the table?

Why do you believe names have been changed, et cetera?

He's already lied to you before. His narrative isn't a reliable one.

This is not accidental deceptiveness. It might have started that way, but a few months in, it isn't any longer.
posted by RainyJay at 6:50 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I started dating a man who was separated from his wife, not divorced. The difference between you and me is that my guy was 100% upfront about it and he and his ex-wife were in the process of drawing up divorce agreement. Both he and his wife ALREADY BEGAN and were WHOLLY COMMITTED to dissolving the marriage. They both (I think correctly) believed that one could never realy move on from a past marriage until that marriage was well and truly over. They both wanted to move on, and they got it done. (FWIW, his ex-wife has since remarried, and he and I are getting married in 5 weeks)

I'm of the belief that if a marriage is really really over, people make the divorce happen, or at least get the ball rolling. Name changing and referring to yourself as divorced isn't enough. A vague "we'll probably file before the end of the year" isn't enough. They have a reason to stay married (insurance), and not much of one to divorce. The fact that he is still legally married to someone else is something he should have told you on date one. He HAD to have known that it is a big deal for a lot of people, that dating someone still married to another is something not everyone is comfortable doing, so he hid it. He denied you the ability to make your own decision on that, he showed you pretty significant disrespect. I'd be very angry if I were you. I would feel lied to, and I would be wondering what else he wasn't telling me to make things easier for himself. Like you say, this is deceptiveness, and major deceptiveness as far as I am concerned. You could you ever trust him in the future? He withheld a MAJOR piece of information, all so that you would keep dating him. He knew full well it could be a deal breaker. if he thought it was no big deal then he would have told you from the get go. He didn't, so he clearly knows this is something that a lot of people would be really uncomfortable with. What other uncomfortable situations would he be willing to put you in without telling you in the future? I could just never fully trust that guy ever again.

Speaking as a woman who is about to marry a man she started dating while he wasn't yet legally divorced from his first wife... I think you need to break up with him. And I would make it clear to him that it is less about the fact he is legally divorced, and more about the fact that he willfully lied and withheld a crucially important detail that he had to have known was something that a lot of people wouldn't be comfortable with, and that you just don't think you could trust him not to keep important things from you again in the future.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 7:52 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

No. He waited this long to tell you because he felt the intensity in the relationship and needed to put the brakes on the progress because he isn't going towards marriage any time soon.

For insurance reasons? Eff that S. What if you needed insurance? Too bad for you, cause his wife gets it. Or if he's the one benefitting from the insurance reasons, he's really not independant of his wife is he?

If you're cool just coasting along and have no plans of marriage, children, pet ownership, property ownership, etc with your boyfriend, then you're fine, but if you want any of those things in your life, breaking up should be the option at teh top of your list.
posted by WeekendJen at 8:24 AM on August 8, 2013

As someone who has been legally separated for 4 years now, it honestly and truly never occurred to me that it could be a deal breaker for someone interested in dating me. I just don't think it's that big of a deal and I rarely think about it.
That being said, because it didn't occur to me as being something that would upset another, its something that gets mentioned very early on in the dating stage as a matter-of-fact thing.
As for why people don't get immediately divorced, its a poor assumption that there is emotional involvement present.
For me personally, there were a lot of crappy circumstances that made divorce impossible until now. But again, these things were discussed with, not hidden from those I dated at the time.
There are a lot of messes and letting dust settle, especially where kids are involved that often need to be dealt with before the paperwork goes through.
There is also a whole lot of jumping to conclusions going on in this thread.
Only the OP can judge whether he hid this intentionally or whether it was an honest mistake, but personally, the lying about it to his friends raises a flag for me and makes me wonder if he also intentionally lied to you.
posted by tenaciousmoon at 8:42 AM on August 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'd be all about having a discussion with his wife before deciding how to proceed.

I have a friend who's been married to her husband for a decade but living an independent life. They even live together in the same house, but for reasons, they aren't interested in divorcing, even though the marriage is in name only.

This is fine, as long as everyone is up front and okay with the arrangement.

Does his not being available change the relationship you're building with him? If you want to be married to him one day, as it stands now, you can't. Is that a problem for you? What if it drags on and on? Would you be happy continuing as you are, or is this not the relationship for you.

Seriously though, insist on meeting his wife. That should clear things up in a hurry. One way or the other.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:30 AM on August 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

He's committed a rather large breach of trust. So I agree with Ruthless Bunny: he's in trust but verify land here.

One thing that was difficult in my divorce/dating situation was that, as completely enmeshed as the guy was with his wife then ex-wife, he was in denial about it. And thus when he told me that things were kaput with her I believed him -- and while it's true he wasn't sleeping with her, unless things were weirder than I knew -- he was entangled with her like plant roots that are too close together, and things got crazy. Your situation sounds like 50% less crazy, if not more, than mine, but you are right on to want to protect yourself.

So verify it in some way, with, I agree, the ex-wife: He's doing it for the insurance? That's it? Okay, cool, peace out.

As an aside, that he's put you in the position where you might do things you would rather not do, for purposes of re-establishing trust (like engage with the ex-wife) he owes you an apology for that alone.
posted by angrycat at 9:50 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

My ex and I were still technically married when I moved in with my boyfriend (now husband) and he moved in with his girlfriend (now wife) a few months later. We didn't get divorced for a year and a half. (As a matter of fact, the ex's girlfriend-now-wife was still married to her ex at the time as well... I'm pretty sure she didn't get divorced until they were ready to get married.)

We were really, truly done with one another and we knew it. Sounds like your BF and his wife are quite done as well.

The fact that he did not tell you right up front, however, is a pretty glaring red flag. My ex and I were honest with our new partners from the very beginning. Like, before the first date in both cases.

If you can get past the deception (it sounds like it is not a dealbreaker for you) then I don't think there is anything particularly fucked-up about the situation as you describe it. It's not as if they are sharing a home. I would estimate your risk of being burned by him leaving you for his ex to be about the same as him leaving you for anyone else at this point.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 11:21 AM on August 8, 2013

First, he took away your freedom to choose whether or not to enter a relationship with a married man. He deceived you and waited until he felt like you you had a strong enough attachment to him, so that he could break the news and not have you reject him for it. It's sneaky and makes me wonder how else he will be sneaky in the future.

I would not date a man who was still married. I want to make this choice free of emotions. He stole that from you by letting you get attached to him before telling you.

Secondly, for me it wouldn't matter why he's still married. It sounds like a lot of people choose to stay married for financial reasons. This would bother me too, since he's still relying on her. It would make me think he wouldn't be able to make it on his own. As a single person, I have to deal with insurance/finances on my own and would want to date/marry someone who was also able to deal with those issues on his own. If there are financial reasons he's still married, then he is NOT financially independent from his wife.
posted by parakeetdog at 12:00 PM on August 8, 2013 [6 favorites]

I would have zero problem dating someone who was single-but-married. People can enter this status for economic reasons. That's fine. It's when it's for emotional rather than economic reasons (are they really separated? Hoping for reconciliation?) that I'd steer clear of.

I would be peeved if they didn't mention that they were married before the first or second date, but would cut them some slack if they were new to dating and brought it up before a third date.

I would have a tremendous problem if they didn't mention it at all until months later. The resolution would be either a long and frank talk, or the relationship ending, depending largely on whether I thought this was anomalous, and they owned up to their mistake, or part of a pattern of uncomfy dodginess.
posted by zippy at 1:11 PM on August 8, 2013

Are legally separated...Refer to themselves as divorced...All friends think their divorce is final.

You are dating someone with an enormous capability for deception.

Think about how this would have worked -- tell friends you are moving out and maybe getting a divorce, maybe mention being separated... how would all these friends think the divorce is final unless he choose to start saying the divorce was final at some point? Surely some people would have had questions about how the court process went, etc. -- and he would have needed to come up with some story to keep secret that he wasn't divorced.

he thinks of himself as divorced in every way except the filing

Divorced in every way other than the one way "divorced" actually means.

An accident? If that is true, he treats marriage so casually he can't remember if he's married or not. If you hope to marry him, would you want to be married to someone who accidentally forgets they are married?

I found out that my boyfriend is technically not divorced.

It's interesting that you leave out how this happened, the circumstances of how you found out might lead people to give you different answers.

Did you avoid mentioning how you found out because you were afraid of the answers you would get? Think about why.
posted by yohko at 3:00 PM on August 8, 2013 [7 favorites]

Also, it's not clear if you have heard all of this from just him.

I'd confirm everything he's told you with his wife.
posted by yohko at 3:02 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm in a similar situation, dating a still-married but separated man. He told me the day we met. I appreciated his honesty and we dated for a few months.

Yes, it may end well.
Protect yourself by not getting too close. This means, do not move in with him or mingle finances.
Be prepared for him to change after his divorce is finalized for real. It'll really depend on the guy, but be prepared for it. He might be into getting remarried now, but when he's really and truly single again, he might want to stay that way. The process of divorce can get hairy.
You either forgive him, or you don't. If you feel like you can't forgive him, then that's a sign that it probably isn't a good situation for you to be in.

Set your boundaries. Set ultimatums. He's violated your trust once already so you can be on the defensive. Personally, I wouldn't want to be in a relationship with someone who withheld this kind of information.
posted by p1nkdaisy at 1:17 AM on September 4, 2013

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