For many, myself included, these next few months will be our last at St. Olaf. The end of one chapter in our lives and the beginning of a new, perhaps more uncertain one. It is a time for taking up and a time for leaving behind. As with all such periods of transition, the end of college represents an opportunity to self-consciously curate ourselves, and, all at once, become someone very different. No one in our new lives will remark the disappearance of what we leave behind, because they will have never seen it.
The same is true for our relationships, even those we said would last forever. The pretext of living in different locations, pursuing different careers, or simply moving at different paces is an easy one, and to be sure, may in many cases be reason enough to call it quits. There is certainly nothing noble about dragging around the remains of a relationship which has run its course. And yet, such reasons are often all too easy. They provide a tellingly clean and guiltless solution. Regardless of certain modern inclinations to the contrary, a serious relationship is not so easily or so neatly disposed of. To make a real commitment to another person requires something which extends beyond who one is now.
The fantasy that two people can stay the same, can fit together in the same manner forever, is easily and quickly disproven by experience. Any two people who remain together long enough will eventually find that they have grown apart in some way or another.
What once brought joy may become a source of irritation and what once held the relationship together may threaten to break it apart. An attempt to resist such change by returning to the way things were will inevitably end in failure. A relationship is not the preservation of a perfect moment, but rather the cultivation of a living promise. A promise not simply to live, grow, and change side-by-side, but to do so together. Those who would tell you that a relationship is only valuable or healthy so long as neither partner has to sacrifice anything of value have failed to understand the gravity of promising oneself to another. Periods of transition illustrate this quite clearly.
However uplifting it may be, any serious relationship will also be limiting. Starting a career, finding oneself, experiencing life freely, will all be made considerably more difficult by virtue of having a partner to look after — someone whose needs, aspirations, and dreams must be balanced with one’s own.
And yet, such a bond is also a unique and irreplaceable source of strength. It is certainly true that “though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him” (Ecclesiastes 4:12, ESV). The strength found in two becoming one is not simply additive, it is a union, bought through casting aside the perfect freedom and self-determination of solitude. It is found in consenting to be shaped in unpredictable ways by the hands of another. Giving yourself completely to someone else is easy enough, but it is something far more precious to relinquish what you will become to the one you love.