A Love Tale of Two Cities

alovetaleoftwocities

Living in two different countries gave this author a unique perspective on how to look at the intricate search for a significant other.

by Michal Divon
At age 19, I was living in Israel and doing my compulsory military service in the IDF. I was a noncommissioned officer and a liaison with the Egyptian Military Forces in Sinai. In theory, this meant that I was promoting Israeli-Egyptian military relations; in practice, I spent 24-hour shifts sitting in an operation room twiddling my thumbs. I was fortunate to at least leave the base on weekends and return to my childhood home in Jerusalem where I could see my friends and play “civilian” again. I would spend most of the weekdays counting the hours until freedom when I could ditch the uniform for a couple of hours and pretend that life was just as it had always been.

It was during one of these weekends home that I decided to join my parents on a mini adventure in the northern part of Israel—the Galilee. We spent two nights in a spa in the mountains and reconnected with Boaz—an old friend and colleague of my parents who I met as a teenager in the faraway land of North America. “You have to meet my nephew.” Boaz told me almost immediately after greeting each other. I was only 20 years old at the time, and hated the idea of matchmaking. I was happy in my life and happy to be single again. I had survived three loveless relationships in the span of a year and a half, and so coupling was the last thing on my mind.

However, Boaz was pretty adamant about making this introduction. His nephew Idan was a naval officer who was “kind, handsome, smart, charismatic… ,” and apparently everything else you would hope to find in your future mate. He was athletic, played the guitar, and knew how to cook a mean Middle Eastern omelet. “So can I give him your phone number?” Boaz asked. Trapped in an army base without access to the outside world, one is willing to go great lengths in search of “meaning” and entertainment. I relented.

The meeting

Two days later, Idan called me and we hit it off immediately. Our conversations were entertaining and, furthermore, an outlet for army frustrations. Together we would make fun of our dictatorial commanding officers and the poor living conditions on base: showers were communal, often cold; food was greasy, rarely edible; breaks were short; sleep was a privilege; and beds were nothing but rusted metal springs bunched together with a sponge mattress on top (that is, if you were lucky).

Trapped in our military bases on opposite sides of the country, our assessment of one another would have to begin via phone. He was in Haifa, I in Eilat, and while the seven-hour drive would suggest we stop wasting our phone minutes on someone we may never meet, a greater force was drawing us together: intrigue.

One fine weekend two weeks into our conversations, Idan was given a 24-hour leave from his base when I was conveniently home and my parents conveniently abroad. We decided it was time to put a face to the uniform. He caught the first bus to Jerusalem and three hours later I picked him up.

As I drove to fetch him, my nerves kicked in. I saw him standing at the bus stop in his khaki uniform and “combat tan” and my heart skipped ten beats. I tried to get the best visual I could before our eyes met, but before I knew it he was sitting in the seat beside me and mutual embarrassment kicked in, hard.

But despite a rocky launch, our awkward date soon turned into one of the best nights I can remember. Idan had the talent of diffusing any uncomfortable situation with humor. He was a goof. The ice broke completely when Idan decided to sacrifice himself to a group of tourists in the streets of Jerusalem. “Follow me” he said with a reassuring smile. I was caught off guard and before I could respond he had joined a nearby crowd of singing and dancing strangers and began singing along. Laughing at the site unfolding in front of me, I had no choice but to join in. Standing in the midst of a hyper-giddy group of tourists, I finally felt comfortable enough to stare at him as I pleased. He took my hand and from that moment on we were inseparable.

Where conflict meets love

During a time when life and death brush up against each other, where war is present in every household, love means you are alive. And while the army experience can have its very uneventful moments, life in Israel is hardly ever dull. In a place where conflict and animosity are part of the social reality and where struggles are collective, the value of human contact is significantly higher.

Even though Idan and I shared many political disagreements and didn’t have the same outlook on life, we were linked by our shared experiences of nightly gunshots and military aircraft flying overhead. Love, war, army boots, and M16s were all part of my whirlwind romance. There was an inherently deep sense of joie de vivre and living for today because one could never predict whether or not tomorrow would come.

It was absolutely wonderful, at least for a while. But cuddled one Saturday morning under the blankets several months into the love affair, Idan suggested moving in together once discharged from the army. The idea, which excited me initially, soon made me feel the opposite: It was during this conversation when I realized I wanted out. My army love seemed to have lost its charm as quickly as I gave up my uniform. That same week I told him I was moving abroad for my studies. I didn’t want a routine relationship. I didn’t want to share household chores. I wanted my independence back. In three months I would be gone and he would be tied to the military for an additional six years. We broke up.

Welcome to the hook-up culture

I moved overseas to Boston, Massachusetts, and was eager to begin my independent life. During my first year, I quickly saw how different dating is for 20-somethings in the Western hemisphere. I witnessed the “hook up” culture and saw that too many behaviors were driven by lust and alcohol, and almost any human interaction could be replaced with the right kind of wine and the right amount of spirits. You could have a terrific date on a given night with X, proceed to have lunch with Y the next day, and follow up with neither. This is not to say that some of my peers were not falling in love and forming couples; it only meant that the tendency ruled against it. You had to swim upstream in order to catch a fish.

In Boston, my “love life” had a completely different pace. I met some interesting people, dated a little here and there, and discovered some great restaurants in the process, but every so often I was reminded why my priorities were work, career, and staying single. Although I never “mourned” Idan or regretted our break up, I was happy to have a reference point for love so that I could easily identify when love it was not.

It has now been two years since I left Israel and I can see that part of the problem with romantic relationships for many young Israelis is that we fall in love too quickly. Whether we find love in our teens or in adulthood, our affairs are intense just like our lifestyle. Today must be lived, passions must be explored, and getting a “real job” can always wait. In the United States, priorities are the complete opposite. Climbing the career ladder is your religion and investing romantically in someone too soon is an unnecessary risk. What happened to “love is all you need” ?

A taste of both worlds

I had a taste of both worlds and wasn’t willing to compromise for either one of them. Each seemed to offer sacrifices too grand: There was either passionate love accompanied by a war zone and inevitable unity, but a compromise of individuality, or, on the other side, there were disengaged daters, limited efforts, and the emphasis on individuality, personal goals, and self-growth.

No, I don’t have any regrets, but I had no intention of repeating any of my experiences either. So where am I heading from here? It seems like I have no choice but to revert back to trial and error and to continue in my scientific method of experimentation and failure. I will continue to jump in between “hot” and “cold” cultures until I hopefully come across the perfect climate in which to settle.

But is there, in fact, a perfect romantic scenario for me? What am I really after? I want happiness. I want to be happy in what I am doing and, at the moment of truth, if being happy means living in a cave with my caveman lover, I will be there tomorrow. However, I am still figuring out what happiness means to me and romance isn’t the priority. If I find someone with whom to share my happiness down the road, I will be truly thankful, but if not, I’ll be living all the same: content, free, and happy.

About the Author

author_michalMichal Divon
Michal Divon is an Israeli American and has been fortunate to live in various countries and amongst different cultures as part of her upbringing. Born to an Israeli father and American mother, Michal’s writing is mainly influenced by Israeli and North American culture as she attempts to better understand both societies and her own placement within them. Michal currently works in Boston as a teacher by day and bartender by night, but her true passion continues to be writing and the performing arts.

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