Emitter/detector pair distance sensor

I am looking for a distance sensor that operates with a separate emitter and detector with a range of about one foot. Reflective sensors such as the Sharp rangers will not work. I need something whereby I can mount the emitter and detector completely separately, and have the detector determine the distance to the emitter (it seems to me it would operate off of received signal intensity, with some sort of signal that attenuates relatively quickly as it travels). Does anyone know of such a device? Thanks.