This normal life: Rekindling the romance in a love-lost marriage

After 20 years, we'd changed so much. Everyone and everything does, of course. Why would I expect that we’d be exactly the same as when we first got together?

A new immigrant at Ben-Gurion airport kisses the tarmac as he makes aliya (photo credit: REUTERS)
A new immigrant at Ben-Gurion airport kisses the tarmac as he makes aliya
(photo credit: REUTERS)
I’m not sure when it happened or even when I realized it. But something had shifted. After 20 years, we both had changed so much.
Everyone and everything does, of course. Why would I expect that we’d be exactly the same as when we first got together? We evolve, we grow, hopefully together. But in our case, it seems, we didn’t.
At some point, we fell out of love.
It’s not like I had an affair. I’ve had fantasies of course, who hasn’t? But I never did anything about it; heck, I never even looked anywhere else. Which puts me in the uncomfortable place I find myself today, stuck by inertia in a love-challenged long-term relationship.
This is not a confession about Jody. Don’t worry: Our marriage is fine, we’re still deeply in love, best friends, committed for life and all that. No, this is about my other “marriage,” the one established by the vows I took at the Interior Ministry when we made aliya in 1994 and I got hitched with the State of Israel.
When I share my situation with other Anglo immigrants, I know I’m not alone, although the particulars of what changed and the subsequent falling out may be different. In my case, I was a very different person 20-plus years ago: newly religious, right wing and recently Republican. For me and my fellow ba’al tshuva friends, living in the US was the definition of galut – the dreaded exile, which Israel had come to banish.
The Promised Land, by contrast, was filled with like-minded people, abundant prayer options and seemingly unlimited kosher food. Fueled initially by religious fervor (Zionism would come later), there was no other place I could imagine living.
But over the years, I made like REM’s “Losing My Religion” and returned to the secular-liberal roots I’d grown up with in Northern California. Without the shell of my now-discarded religiosity, Israel’s rightward drift has created an unexpected cognitive dissonance.
When a Knesset member or the prime minister opens his mouth, I cringe: Who will be blamed next, what hateful speech will be delivered from the podium, who will be deemed “not Jewish” or as “stabbing the holy Torah in the back?” Maybe me? Add into that the wars, the missiles and every new “wave of violence,” and I have to ask myself: Why am I trying so hard to stay in a relationship where the love has waned?
IT WOULD be so much easier if I had another “woman” waiting in the wings. But I don’t. I’m realistic enough to realize that every place has its problems.
My country of origin is also not perfect. Like me, America has changed, too. When I think about leaving the bed I’ve made all these years for the allure of fresh sheets, I feel no lustful attraction. When I get so down as to contemplate what it would take to actually file for divorce from Israel, there’s just too much bother for too little payoff.
Or as my friend Warren put it in a Facebook post: “Can’t go to the USA because of Trump and the high chance of getting shot. Can’t go to Europe because of anti-Semitism. Can’t go to China because of smog. Can’t go to Southeast Asia because there are too many Israelis there already.”
My friend Sarah has lost some of that lovin’ feeling, too, over her years since immigrating from North America.
“All the things that I used to think were ‘charming’ when I was in love have now become kind of annoying,” she says. “When I first came here, I used to give lectures about how outsiders might see Israelis as impolite, but once you’re on the inside you see that it’s really we’re one big family, so we speak openly, directly. I don’t think that anymore. I think Israelis are just rude. I don’t care what their family dynamic is.”
But I don’t want to live without love. I want to feel the passion I once had.
If this were a relationship between two people, one where commitment was something both sides took seriously, at this point I’d probably go for therapy – find myself a marriage counselor who specializes in the not-so-new immigrant. That therapist would undoubtedly start by suggesting a series of exercises to “rekindle the romance.”
What might those exercises look like? Here are some of the most common suggestions for relationships on the rocks and how they might apply to a country.
“Put fun time with your spouse ahead of [everything else]. Go on regular date nights. Take weekend excursions,” writes life coach Barrie Davenport.
That sounds easy enough. There are endlessly beautiful trails to hike in this country, and plenty of exotic foods to sample. Imagine how much fun visitors have vacationing in Israel. Then realize that you get to live here all the time! (And pay taxes and dodge knives and curse at obnoxious drivers, but I digress....)
MAKE A list of all the ways you used to connect and “all the reasons you fell in love with your partner in the first place,” urges the website How to Rekindle a Relationship. “Then think about all the good ways that [your partner] has changed since you first met. These are the elements you should be focusing on.”
And, of course, Israel is so much more than dire headlines. Indeed, when I think about the Israel of 20, 30 years ago versus that of today, there have been so many improvements.
Despite the ever-rising cost of living, it’s much easier to build a life here now. There was no Internet then; an international phone call was an “event,” not just a click into Skype; and only the earliest hints of the Start-up Nation (with all the economic opportunities and accolades that came with it) were present. The inflation that made us look like a Third World country in 1985 is under control; unemployment remains low.
Recycling is growing, smoking is banned (not everywhere, but remember when you could smoke on buses? Yuck). Heck, there’s finally even a law that allows you to return items and get your money back.
A third tip, this one from The Huffington Post’s Yagana Shah: "Work towards a goal together."
That one really spoke to me. A long-term project or a shared endeavor with mutual goals and values that are greater than any one person can help you glimpse the bigger picture; it can add a richness and even “purpose” to your life.
That was true when I first moved to Israel – and it still applies. No matter what has happened to my religious or political certainty over the past two decades, I continue to believe with all my heart that this country needs to exist; that a homeland for the Jewish people is not just “nice to have,” but an essential in the world and for Jews, whether they live here or back in the Old Country. It’s probably why I never entertained an “affair” with another country.
I can’t tell you exactly why I still cling to this belief so strongly. Maybe I’m still religious after all.
Getting involved in a specific project for which I feel passion is something to consider for sure, and I’ll start chewing on that now. But in some ways, my “purpose” is a lot humbler: It’s simply to “show up.” To make my voice heard, yes, but also just to be here, physically and demographically. To raise my children in Israel, to enthusiastically support them as they head off to the army. Because if I’m not here to do that – and no one else is, either – then who’s going to be the proverbial last one to turn the lights off at Ben-Gurion Airport? And would anyone even care?
MY FRIEND Sarah has come to that place, despite her grumbling. “Every person and every relationship has its flaws,” she says. “Do I love everything about my husband? No, not everything. Similarly, do I still love Israel? Some days yes, some days not as much. But life and relationships are all about compromise. Sometimes you have to put aside your self-interest for the larger narrative.”
Says marriage counselor Marci Payne: “If your marriage or relationship has reached a breaking point, take advantage of the crisis. Turn it into an opportunity for growth, and a time to work on yourself.”
So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m not giving up.
I still have purpose, and that’s something I feel here and nowhere else. When I allow myself to get in touch with it, it can move me to tears. Plus, I still have hundreds of kilometers of trails to hike. Maybe somewhere on the path, I might find love again, too.
The author is a freelance writer who specializes in technology, start-ups and the entrepreneurs behind them.
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