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On Love and Travel

The reality of expectations

If travel fantasies were boys, I’ve always dated casually. Well, until seventh grade--at 12 years old, I fell in love for the first time.

I formed my initial impression of Italy over an intimate class project. Assigned to choose any place in the world to write about, I began my research the way I might with any suitor: pictures. Italy caught my eye immediately. He seemed charismatic and radiant, smiling at me in every photo.

All it took was some reading, and I was head over heels. Everything I encountered about Italy told me he was warm, an extraordinary chef, and uniquely romantic. I was enamored before we even met. I loved the little I knew about him, and filled in the gaps myself.

Three years later, I made my way to Italy’s corner of the world. My starry eyes were greeted by a heat wave, filth, and far too much of his favorite food. I didn’t dislike him, though. I only knew that the image I crafted of Italy was according to my own desires--I made him out to be who I wanted, not necessarily who he was. It was the selective hearing of love and first impressions.

Of course, this realization startled me. So, Italy and I allowed ourselves some space (not difficult to do considering the geography of our relationship). Following my trip, I worried that I invalidated Italy by inventing my own version of him, though unintentionally. I also recognized that Italy likely did the same to me. Could Italy and I love each other for reasons that were true, not picturesque and imaginary?

This unanswered question is among many when it comes to Italy. It is only by mutually complete understandings- dreams, hatreds, fears, strengths, weaknesses, good, bad, and ugly- that Italy and I might determine whether our love is one of reality or self-serving fiction. I now know that lasting relationships are rooted in sincerity, not perception--a dynamic requiring time, shared experience, and transparency.

There are many variations of my Italian love affair. We create expectations of people, jobs, destinations, books, restaurants, events... And, in my eyes, there is nothing wrong with expectations. The trick is a willingness to know the truth and an ability to differentiate it from ideals.

The more we open our minds and hearts to reality, unanticipated (or not) as it may be, the more space we create for authentic love.

Cinque Terre circa 2019


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