I think I'm one of those people who is happier after the "honeymoon" wears off. My relationship with my husband, for example, is better now than it was five years ago when we got married. Of course, we have bad days, especially when it's... er... the time of the month when I just NEED to sink my teeth into some petty argument and shake my head around. In general, though, we are kinder to each other now, less likely to freak out at little faults, more vulnerable, better at giving each other what we need. Most of all, I value being comfortable together. I can dress in a ripped t-shirt and sweatpants and feel as attractive around him as when I'm dressed up. (Well, mostly. Regular showers are also important.)
I've been thinking about this a lot, lately, because in my life in Israel, I think I've moved past the honeymoon stage. And I love it.
First, a disclaimer: I know I'm very lucky, and I also know that I have probably moved to the phase of feeling comfortable in Israel faster than most olim. (I've heard it takes about three years, and I've been here for a year and a half.) I mean, this blog didn't grow out of nothing-- I was obsessed with becoming Israeli for years before I actually made aliyah. I came here with pretty good Hebrew and an Israeli husband, so I have someone to throw the phone to when I'm not sure whether the dentist is suggesting a teeth cleaning or a root canal.
When I first moved to Israel, though, I got easily embarrassed in stores when I couldn't communicate what I wanted or when the owners of the vegetable stand yelled at me for squeezing their peaches. I forced myself to read a whole novel in Hebrew, to cook from Israeli cook books, to eat salad for breakfast. I was like a person in the early stages of a relationship who is determined to prove that she has everything in common with her guy, that she is the perfect girlfriend and he a flawless paragon. Just as that isn't a realistic formula for a relationship, it's not a realistic expectation for aliyah.
There were good things about these early stages, too. Every holiday thrilled me (wow, we have concerts on Yom HaAtzmaut! People other than me are celebrating Sukkot!) and I generally looked at the world around me with shiny, love-struck, oil-glazed-from-too-much-falofel eyes.
Today, though, I forgive myself for reading newspapers in English or eating muesli and yogurt for breakfast. In some ways, I'm much more Israeli now-- I have grown to love nescafe, for example-- but I'm also comfortable with the ways in which I'm American. While driving somewhere strange in Haifa used to be a terrifying ordeal, it's now simply a trip to the nearest city. I expect to walk out the door and speak Hebrew. I listen to Galgalatz in the car and NPR over the internet at home, although many aspects of American culture and politics seem irrelevant and a little annoying to me now. And... please don't shun me, siblings... but I'm just as excited by a victory for the Maccabi Haifa football (er, soccer) team as the Pittsburgh Steelers. Whereas we used to go hiking to see as much of this beautiful country as possible, now we go because this, here, is our life, and we want to enjoy it. It's hard to explain this shift in feeling, but it's powerful. I live here. This is now my life.
I'm also much more comfortable acknowledging the imperfections of life in Israel. I look at politicians on TV and am more likely to think "scum bag" than "champion of Zionism." Before I came here, I idealized Israelis-- I saw them as more real and profound, less inhibited and fake. Some of that's true, some of that isn't. Israelis have shortcomings just like Americans.
The aliyah-as-marriage analogy works in many other ways, too: you must get to know each other first, you must be committed, you must discuss money and how to raise the kids and where to live. (I bet that the percentage of people who "divorce" aliyah over financial concerns is at least as high as the percentage of marriages that dissolve over money.) I once heard someone say that the best indication of how happy you will be in a marriage is how happy you are out of it. In other words, if you are miserable, don't expect marriage (or aliyah) to transform you. We are responsible for our own happiness. As I waited for aliyah, I reminded myself to practice enjoying life then so that I would be able to enjoy life in Israel.
Yet the fact is that I am happier now than I have ever been, just as I am so much happier and so much more myself with my husband than without him. I am growing into myself in Israel. The honeymoon is over, and life is good.
Now, if only Israel would remember to put the toilet seat down...
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