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I have a friend from my university days who has fallen in love. They did have a deep relationship in their early twenties but that time came to an end and they have not had a partner since. They assumed that romance was not going to be for them.

But last year all of this changed. However love in the Autumn of life is different. Both of them have homes and established patterns of life. In particular they do not want to fall into a pattern of traditional domesticity. So they continue to life apart with much time together and shared activities. They have found an unexpected happiness. Their friends have been thrilled too.

It would be intrusive to ask, but I assume that this is a full romantic relationship. The aim is a lively companionship but without the commitments of formal ties. I can see that there is a way they want to be both deeply committed and also keep their freedom. I wonder if it is richer than that?

Supposing one of them has a crisis? An important next of kin requires some demanding support, what then? Does this bring commitment from the other party? They may have to share the duties required. They may suffer the absence of their partner that they have so far enjoyed. Is this the time to end the relationship because life is now worse and that is not the deal? Or do they act with love?

Alternatively one of them might get a serious illness. There are a series of hospital appointments and medical procedures. The sense of romance is quenched with the experiences of pain and fear. Again, is it time to leave and choose freedom rather than illness? Or does love choose to stay?

Finally all of the exciting experiences and adventures might be brought to a close because one of them had invested unwisely. They can now not make ends meet. Will the prosperous partner now feel put upon and decide not to carry the load for both of them? Or does being in love generosity?

All of these situations are in our relationships. When the initial joy of romance is refined. I think we could say we have not just found companionship but true love. It would be a love that had been tested, matured and is committed for life. Experience has transformed a couple from companions and lovers into having a relationship of great depth and richness.

You might have noted that our couple had been faithful in better and worse, through sickness and health, whether richer or poorer. They have found a commitment, loyalty and unity which is truly to be desired. Life has given opportunities and a very valuable relationship has been created. It has the shape of marriage. but no legal arrangement. Also, are the couple gay?

Our modern world has transformed what it means to be in relationships. Contraception means that a sexual relationship does not lead inevitably to having to bring up children. Divorce recognises that law cannot make a relationship work but it can make provision for the consequences of the relationship. Sexuality is not as simple as love between males and females.

In February the Church of England had to retract from a statement that sex can only be respected if it takes place between a man and a woman in marriage. It is wonderful for couples to celebrate their love publicly, have legal rights if it does not work and in church receive God’s blessing. But when life and commitment fashion a true loving relationship it should be to be respected.

Relationships begin with the unknown. A new person enters our life. The anxieties we have are covered by the excitement of our shared experience. I suspect a lot of current marriages are entered into thinking that all is now settled having gained a home, children and knowledge of each other. In this way marriage says ‘we have arrived’. But marriages are about making promises and saying you are committed despite not knowing what trouble, illness or poverty might lie ahead.

God invites us to lives of love. There are pleasures that fill us with joy. There are responsibilities that give us strength and nourishment. There are issues of freedom so that we do not suffocate each other with too many demands or neglect each other with disloyalty. It can be a difficult path and we need discernment to offer our own love and encouragement to people as they find their way.

Best wishes

Alan Keeler