Something about summertime prompts us to dream. We lie in the sand with the rhythm of the ocean in our ears and begin to imagine. Why not go after that cute lifeguard? Why not spend the night staring at the stars with a boy we just met?
Maybe weve been immersed in one too many beach reads. Perhaps we dream because school is out we are celebrating a later curfew and a lifting of the rules. In either case, we dont want to acknowledge that summer will end and fall will return, and at some point in time we must leave our fantasy world and return to reality.
Whats wrong with a little fantasy? Why not engage in a deep, passionate relationship with the boy that is only in town until he returns to school, why not enjoy, for a moment, a relationship that is totally impractical? Why not live for today, for tonight, and forget everything but the moment?
Perhaps that what Victor Hugos Fantine thought when, in the words of Andrew Lloyd Webber, “He slept a summer by my side, he filled my day with endless wonder, he took my childhood in his stride, but he was gone when Autumn came.”
Privilege meets Responsibility
Romance is a privilege that brings an unparalleled emotional high. Of course we crave that feeling of being loved, adored, sought after, desired. Romance is wonderful, and nothing is wrong with those feelings of joy. However, along with the privilege of experiencing romance comes a responsibility. By definition, a summer romance only lasts the summer. At least one of the couple knows it wont last. Therefore, there is no promise to keep that heart you just stole, and care for it tenderly. Nothing can turn a romantic into a cynic faster than a romance gone wrong. And a summer romance, with no promise of a future is a romance destined to go wrong.
In my book, Unsteady Dating, we learn that exclusivity must always accompany commitment, or at least the intention of commitment. Teens and young adults alike, too often enter into an exclusive relationship with absolutely no intention of commitment. A summer romance, where a couple pair off, and make it clear that they are “in a relationship” have become exclusive. Becoming exclusive is fine if they are both in a position to make a commitment. A boy who is visiting for the summer is in no position to make a commitment. High school students who have not graduated are in no position to make a commitment. Unless these youth and young adults are in a position to make a commitment, they have no business becoming exclusive.
This does NOT mean that every time a couple becomes exclusive they have to commit to marriage. However, it does mean that if, upon becoming exclusive, they find they are compatible, and the relationship is practical, and they are both very much in love, they are willing and able to make a commitment.
It does absolutely no good to find the love of your life, whether in the summertime, or any other season of the year, if you are not in a position to keep that love. In fact, this very concept is the basis of romantic tragedy. In every story from Romeo and Juliet to Dr. Zhivago, a romance that cant last tugs at our heart strings. The angst of the romantic tragedy is even worse for the characters than the audience. Their hearts are truly broken by a star-crossed love, a love that had no possibility of lasting. They had no business allowing themselves to fall in love in the first place because there was no possibility of commitment.
Just for Fun
Why be so serious about love and romance? Why not just enter into exclusive relationships, knowing full-well they must end? Why not enter these relationships simply because it feels good for the moment? This is the line I often hear from people who over-eat, and the obvious response is, “a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips.”
Its hard to imagine that a summer romance that ended of necessity could affect one for a lifetime. Precisely how much of an effect a summer romance has will vary from experience to experience. Just as the calories a person takes in upon an indulgence effects everybodys weight differently, the response to a summer romance will vary. However, in general, the greater the emotional intimacy experienced during the summer romance, the greater the disappointment upon breaking up. Couples who are very, very connected throughout a summer, will be very, very hurt upon breaking up. Couples who are casually involved, will be less effected once the summer ends.
Research has revealed that when couples “fall in love” their actual brain chemistry changes. Couples who consummate that love with sex create a bond they may have never intended to create. They may think that bond will be easy to break, but its not. Couples who repeatedly create these intense bonds, and break them decrease the bodys ability to emotionally bond.
A popular analogy has been presented using duct tape. Imagine taking a piece of duct tape and adhering it to your forearm. When you pull it off its going to tear off a bunch of hair, and its going to seriously hurt. Imagine taking that same piece of duct tape and adhering it to your arm again. You will notice it doesnt stick as well the next time. If you tear the duct tape off and re-adhere it time and again, eventually it refuses to stick at all.
A summer romance is essentially the same as any romance that has no chance of survival and is destined to end. It could happen in the Fall, Winter or Spring. The danger is not when it occurs, but how long it can last. Regardless of the time of year you experience a romance, dont let it get serious unless there is a realistic possibility it could last.
JeaNette Goates Smith is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Jacksonville, Florida and the author of Unsteady Dating, available at amazon.com