Lots of stressful stuff has been happening lately, but lots of good stuff too. It's against this blog's charter to talk too much about really personal stuff, but for those of you who have been hiding under a rock somewhere (oh wait ... it was just me that's been under the rock), I am now dating Thayet. Officially and stuff. Most of the good stuff has to do with that, in one way or another. Especially since finals this semester (I almost wrote quarter ... oh for the good old days) are rather tough. There's all manner of stuff to do besides finals (all good, necessary things, mind you - none of that "say yes to it because I can't say no" stuff), and that makes life hard. "Is it always going to be this hard?" asks my twelve-year old self of Mom. Yes, little Natalie, yes it is.
Of course, there's nothing wrong with that. It's really a good thing: if life was easy, it wouldn't be an adventure, and I'll trade an adventure that's hard for Easy Street any day. Well, at the end of any day. It is like the good hross says: "I do not think the forest would be so bright, nor the water so warm, nor love so sweet, if there were no danger in the lakes."
Ah, love being sweet. I will now concede from experience as well as theory that there is something different about romantic love. If the Cardinal reads this, there you are. I will also confess that the hard adventurous road is a lot easier to bear with a warrior princess on your right, walking in the shadow of her shield. But as much as I love Thayet, and as much as she supports me (and, I hope, as much as I support her), I actually want to talk about something that a girlfriend (or really, any non-spouse significant other) is not.
What I want to emphasize is that a girlfriend (or NSSO) is not a measure of success. Sure, it's great to be able to look Thayet in the eye and say, "I love you." Great in that kind of winged, lifty, dizzy sort of way. Fantastic. There is, perhaps inevitably, a measure of relief - and a temptation to say internally, "Made it, at last." Well, we haven't made it - except to another milestone on the road. A significant milestone, to be sure, but there is not (and thank God there is not) a plateau to be reached here. There never will be. A relationship must always be growing, and the sense of contented peacefulness with a partner that we all dream of (or at least I dream of) must come from the inside, or not at all. It is a fine and noble thing to be at peace and at home with a Godly partner at your side. It is a base and terrible thing for the two of you to ever stop growing, to say to yourselves, "Here we are. From here on out, we needn't strive quite so hard."
But it is not just that having a girlfriend is not the sort of thing that you can reach on the scale of success and go, "Behold, I have made it to a Success Marker." Having a girlfriend isn't even on the scale of success. If there is such a thing. Which there probably isn't, because I'm pretty darn sure that the only real measure of success is whether a person is wholly submitted to God. Except that we can't wholly submit ourselves to God without God's help, and God gives his help because he feels like it (what I mean to say is, not because we have obligated him to do so), so it's probably more than a little silly to be talking about "success" at all. But to whatever extent "success" is non-silly, it certainly has nothing to do with a girlfriend.
I say this because it's something good for me to remember (and hopefully edifying for those who read this). So what is a girlfriend? Not a support. Of course Thayet does support me, and I'm very grateful for that, and I hope I support her back - but not in the sense of a spouse, where one of the reasons you become one flesh is for support. We are not boyfriend and girlfriend in order to support one another. That would be twisting the relationship into something it's not - and if I got a girlfriend for the purpose of getting support, I would be using her (credit should go to Thayet for that observation, I think). Of course there's nothing wrong with getting support from an NSSO. I daresay that if you don't get support you should seriously reconsider the relationship. But that's not what an NSSO is.
I think what an NSSO is (I mean the same way a ship is freedom; points for the reference) is a co-adventurer in romantic obedience. It is someone along to walk with you the hard adventurous road of finding out who your spouse is going to be, and all that entails - and it seems to entail quite a lot of growing and learning. There are marriage-like elements to this; spouses are co-adventurers in life, which obviously entails romantic obedience. But it is not marriage. An NSSO can leave - sometimes, helping you down that road means she has to leave. Leaving in those cases is a good thing in a way that leaving in a marriage never is. Esther Selene comes to mind as a good example. There are some stretches of this road that must be walked without a girl at your side, and some that must be walked with a companion. Of course, it may well be easier with someone at your side - and it is almost always harder when someone has just left. And there is always the temptation to walk a little longer than you know you should, just because leaving will make things hard. But that is really a betrayal of your partner, and a deception of yourself.
What the future holds for Thayet and me I cannot say. I hope, of course, that one day we will wear one another's rings on our fingers and accept the call to walk all of our roads side by side, come hell, high water, or even (what is really a much harder adventure to face than hell or high water) the spark going out of our love. But of course I can't know that, not yet. For now, we will walk the road we have been given as best we may.