She left me with the dog

Dog days of summer.

This will be the first time I've ever written to an advice column, but there's a first for everything or so I've been told. I find the act both slightly embarrassing and therapeutic. I am currently undergoing the pain of a 4+ year relationship ending. For a period, I was deeply in love and could only see the good. We lived together and even adopted a wonderful little screwed-up dog that we shared the care of. Now I am living by myself with sole custody of the pooch. My companion moved out over two months ago but things started going south slowly long before then. She became sad and I became withdrawn, perhaps not in that order.

For each of us it was the longest romantic relationship we have ever been in, and neither of us has ever been married or anything like that. When it was good, it was great. She's several years younger, and I think she changed more over the years than I did. That may be a large contributing factor to how things have ended up. At the time I had no plans of dating someone so much younger than me, but we both made each other happy so ignored that part and went for it.

After she moved out, we agreed that we wouldn't look elsewhere but would take time to try to sort things out, as whatever happened, taking a little time to think would be healthiest for us. We agreed we both needed to think about ourselves and not cloud anything up with having another person enter the picture. I, for one, had zero interest in looking for anyone else, especially before we achieved some sort of final resolution. I was the one who brought up the "let's not see anyone else" to make sure we were on the same page, as experience seems to have taught me that being explicit about certain things can prevent issues from arising.

The day I planned on asking her to move back in, and the first time I was seeing her after she moved out, I found out she began a relationship almost immediately (as in within days) after moving out. I am not sure of the details, nor do I think knowing them would actually help, but I know it involved kissing on at least "a few" occasions, and I have reason to believe more. While largely irrelevant, the real twist is the relationship she began was with a woman. I know my ex is not a lesbian, and I think her fling is over, but the hurt I felt when I found out was tremendous.

Of course, there are two sides to every story, and you're obviously only getting my side. I think from her side, I withdrew and became uncommunicative and failed to "step up to the plate" so to speak by not being sure about which direction we should go. I try to be honest, and I said things that were probably quite hurtful, including that some days I could see us making a life together, while other days I was not entirely sure. I have interacted with her twice since she left, once when I found out about the affair, and once when we spent hours together talking, which was both sad and a relief, and was instigated by me. She doesn't want to see me or the dog, as she says it hurts her too much. I spoke with her last night again, and it was clear that in her mind it is totally over, which I'm not sure I am/was ready to accept, but I kind of think I don't have much of a choice in the matter at this point.
We both have separately started going to therapy on the theory that if we both are hurting as much as we are, therapy certainly couldn't hurt. It's a first for me, and I believe it is for her as well. It certainly hasn't solved anything (I'm only five weeks into it), but being as unhappy about how things have turned out I am pretty much willing to try anything.

I guess my preamble is my way explaining the questions I am struggling with:

1) what happened?

2) how do I deal with not seeing my best friend/lover/companion/co-dog adopter from the last four years of my life?

3) how do I not miss her profoundly?

– Confused But At Least I Have A Nice Dog, Boston

CBALIHAND, what happened is that you had a four-plus year relationship with a younger woman who went out looking for new experiences. What happened is that you contributed to her want to leave by being a moody guy who didn't communicate. What happened is that you had your first terrible break-up. Welcome.

Yeah, it's a twist that there was another woman involved, but I'm not so sure gender is relevant. Your ex was looking for something else. I'm don't think you'd be any happier right now if the "something else" had been male.

It seems to me that much of what you're struggling with is the loss of control. You changed your attitude during the relationship. You told her you weren't sold on a life with her -- as if it was your decision. Then, when she moved out (signifying a break-up?) you made a rule against dating other people. She broke your rule and now the fate of the relationship is up to her. Not fun.

Therapy will help you process what you've experienced. You'll learn coping skills. You'll learn how to be a good single parent to your dog. More importantly, you'll be able to talk about why you withdrew and how you could have better handled whatever weirdness was going on in your head. But therapy won't fix your broken heart. Therapy doesn't cure sad feelings. It does help you understand them. You're supposed to miss her profoundly. Eventually, you're supposed to start thinking about what comes next.

Readers? Is this just your average break-up? What can therapy do? Thoughts on the other woman? Thoughts on the dog? Thoughts on his mixed-up-ness? Discuss.

– Meredith