For the first time since I started this blog, I am in a relationship.
Now, the purpose of this blog is not to talk about my personal life, so I’m not going to say much specifically about my girlfriend. We’ve been spending a great deal of time together for over three months now, though the relationship has only recently become official and gone public. But I’m going to focus on what I’ve learned (and am continuing to learn) through the experience.
This relationship offers an incredible opportunity and incentive for growth. My relationship makes me want to grow and be a better man: to pursue maturity and wisdom, to become stronger in mind and body, and to love the Lord better. I believe that a healthy relationship should never make me complacent and kill my aspirations. Instead, it should inspire me to grow and create: and in turn, to help my girlfriend do the same.
Closely related to this, it makes me want to grow in my relationship with the Lord, and gives me a greater appreciation for God’s love for me. As I’ve written about before, I firmly believe that Christian love relationships and marriage must be founded upon Grace and should look different from people who don’t have Jesus in their lives. This is impossible if we don’t have healthy relationships with the Lord. My girlfriend and I both understand the importance of putting God at the center of the relationship.
This means that our relationship and future together isn’t based on getting this or that from one another; it’s not about needing things from her. Rather than ask what she can give me, I’m focused on how I can help her grow and build her up. This was a huge realization I made some time ago, probably when I read Tim Keller’s The Meaning Of Marriage. And it’s freeing, too: I don’t need to fight for my happiness by trying to coerce my girlfriend to do this or be that way. I’m happy to enjoy her as she is, and look forward to the new, shared experiences we have together.
Maybe most importantly, I know that our relationship isn’t built upon feelings. It’s built upon Jesus and our shared faith. It certainly is supplemented by feelings; we are very much in love with each other, but neither of us chose to embrace this until after we had gotten to know each other well as friends, and really know the person we were getting involved with. Feelings of love are great and should be celebrated, but shouldn’t be impulsively embraced: especially with someone you’ve just met. It seems beneficial to not let your emotions cloud your judgment, so you can see if you’re really a good match for the other person, or if you’re just being controlled by emotions. I know my girlfriend’s character, I know that she’s trustworthy, and I know she has a kind heart that seeks the Lord; this frees me to love her with a confidence I wouldn’t have without that knowledge.
Finally, I’m learning how to grow in Love as well. Many couples have an initial spark of attraction that doesn’t suffice to sustain a relationship; when the spark is gone, so is the relationship. To have a thriving, healthy relationship, I need to constantly be engaging her: such as by taking an interest in what she loves and cares about. In the past, I always wanted a girlfriend who was exactly like me: who had the exact same hobbies, interests, and desires. Instead, I met a girl who’s similar to me in many ways, and who has a very similar heart; but who’s distinct in enough ways that it takes conscious effort to engage in what she cares about. This has been one of the best, and most unexpected, parts of the relationship: learning how to truly care about what she cares about, and learning how to present the things I care about without coming across as intense or obnoxious. This certainly takes more effort, but I’m convinced it will make us into better people.
Unlike in the past, my objective isn’t to remake my girlfriend in my image or to mold her into who I think she needs to be: instead, it’s a process of creating a new shared experience between us, which is even better. Once, I thought I needed a girlfriend to be loved; now I’m learning very different things as I reach a new, more mature understanding of what a relationship built on the Gospel should look like.