I can’t say it was love at first sight. That wouldn’t be accurate. I met her at an awkward point in my life, when I was still unsure of myself, and far from the man I would one day become. As my teenage years melted away into my twenties, I gained a better sense of who I was, and where I had came from. Looking backward to my past, both that of my family and that of my people, helped me arrive at that understanding. And it was in that context, in late June of 2008, that I fell in love with her for the first time.

It was all fun and games at first. I had a back-up, if you will, so I strode into our relationship fearlessly. I acted bold, at times maybe too bold. I crossed her borders, and flirted with her distant neighbors, but in the end I always came back to her; or more accurately, I was pulled back to her by a force I couldn’t quite explain at the time. If I’m to be completely honest, it didn’t start as love so much as fascination. She spoke a different language, and came from a different culture. The night life scene she exposed me to was like nothing I had ever experienced before, and her friends were like none I had ever had. She was what strangers might call rude, but those who knew her well also knew that she wasn’t rude — just brutally honest. Maybe even to a fault. But I loved it. As a 21-year-old with an eye for adventure, she was just what I was looking for. Toward the end of our first extended period together, we were still riding the high of our initial feelings for one another.

And yet, even then, there was something more to our relationship than just hedonism. Her favorite song, “The Hope,” brought tears to my eyes long after we had separated for the first time. The sight of the blue and white that she always loved to wear brought back memories of late nights on the port, sunsets over the Mediterranean, and the pride of being associated with something as beautiful and dignified as her, my first true love.

When I came back to her, two and half years older, and a little bit wiser, I was still in love. But this time, I came back not just to love her, but to defend her, and as a result the nature of our relationship changed. Our love became more intense, and with that change came hardship. It was no longer late nights and full days spent hung over in bed. Now it was early mornings and hard work. In the first year and a half we spent together after we were reunited, I worked harder than I’d ever worked in my life for her. We spent every moment together, and that can be taxing at times. A little bit of distance is healthy in a relationship, but I forfeited that luxury when I took a vow to defend her.

(Israel flag image via Shutterstock)

I had changed as well. I no longer had a backup. No longer did I flirt with her neighbors. Now I was hers, and hers alone, and committing yourself fully to someone is a scary thing. When you put it all on the line, you have a lot to lose. But ultimately, that’s the only way to get real satisfaction from a relationship.

Today is July 12, 2012, nearly four years to the day from that afternoon in late June of 2008 when we first fell in love. And yet not everything has changed. While I now stand at attention when she plays “The Hope,” instead of just singing along, it still brings tears to my eyes. Blue and white, especially when they’re together, have become my favorite colors, as they are hers.

Yes, I’m not naive; I know she’s not a virgin. Israel has had many lovers before me and will have many more after me, but I feel a connection to her that is unique. I pledged my allegiance to her, and I defend her with all of my heart and with all of my time. And as I struggle to love her, she rewards me with moments that I will remember for the rest of my life. Last month, she even rewarded me with two beautiul pins on my uniform after a year and a half of training. Our relationship continues to be a difficult one. Defending her takes more from me than I knew that I had in me to give. But that comes with the territory. Nobody ever said love was easy. They just said it was worth it.