Do you remember the first time you fell in love?  Was it love at first sight, or was it the kind of love that grows over time?  Did you go through the ups and downs that all relationships seem to experience, or has it been nothing but smooth sailing?  Do you still see the goodness behind the facade, or has your love faded over the years?  When you see your love, whether it’s every single day or with extended absences, does it still make you smile, perhaps your heart skips a beat?  And when you finally must part, do you start planning and counting the days until you are reunited once again?

That’s how I feel about Italy.

I forged a relationship with Italy rather late in life.  I first knew her through family and friends who teased me with talk about her excitement, diversity, and simmering sensuality.  I tried to dismiss her lure and be strong.  I dabbled with other pseudo-loves, trying to find meaning in my relationships with Manhattan and Cartagena.  With Miami Beach and San Francisco.  While thrilling for awhile, these relationships eventually ended, not out of any sense of betrayal, but because the love waned, leaving a big hole in my heart.   Even Paris, with all her chic in-your-face sexiness, could only fill the void temporarily before she, too, was relegated to the status of a fond former love,

And then I met Italy.

I had to travel far to meet her.  An early morning flight across the country followed by an overnight flight to Rome.  With bleary eyes, and barely awake, through a haze of sleepiness, I dallied with the Eternal City.  I fell in love the very first moment that I came up from the metro station and saw the Coliseum in front of me.  I knew immediately that Rome and I were destined to go the distance in our relationship.

But it was not to be.

Maccagno on Lake Maggiore, Italy

I couldn’t commit to Rome.  I was unwilling to be exclusive, and so allowed myself to be seduced by Capri and the Amalfi Coast, by the beauty of Lake Maggiore and Montepulciano, and by the hill towns of Umbria.  There were so many flings, and it’s embarrassing to admit that my head was turned by the murmured sweet nothings of cities and towns across Italy.  I was captivated by the vibrant wisteria of Sorrento, I was enchanted with the playfulness of the sunflowers in Tuscany, and I was swept up by the passion of Sicily.  My love overflowed with every sip of Brunello, every scoop of gelato, every mouthful of pasta.

I fell hard.  I was, at last, in love.  And I was ready to commit.

But loving Italy is not always easy.  She’s self-absorbed, requiring you to adjust to her pace rather than she to yours.  You’ll have to turn a blind eye to her grittiness, and it is there, and focus on her gentle and nurturing soul.   You must learn to embrace her quirkiness, her inconsistency, her fickleness, and even her seeming disinterest.   You must be prepared to stand by her through the tough times, knowing that she will eventually return to her true self.

Sunflowers in Tuscany

There are many reasons to love Italy, and if you are willing to commit to a lifelong relationship, you’ll find that she just might love you back.  Loving Italy may not always be easy, but it’s always exciting.