Illustration by Cate Johnson
Each week, Dr. Took-One-Psych-Class-Sophomore-Year will be answering Colorado College’s questions about the one thing that most perplexes our student body, Love on the Block. In the final issue of the year, we ask about the possibility of starting a relationship when home for the summer, away from campus. Can summer flings turn into something more? Can they survive once school restarts? Should we take them less seriously, since they’re just for the summer? Email your burning questions about love, sex, and relationships to Catalyst@ColoradoCollege.edu for a totally free, totally anonymous consultation in these very pages in the fall.
Dear Dr. Took-One-Psych-Class-Sophomore-Year,
I’m a first-year student. When CC first announced that it was closing its campus to most students due to the pandemic, I went to live at home with my family in Louisiana. I miss my CC friends a lot, and I’m disappointed that I didn’t get to spend the spring with them. However, as restrictions start to loosen up here, I’m looking forward to seeing my friends from high school, hopefully in-person. In particular, there’s one boy I’d really like to see. We dated briefly in high school, but broke things off before college, since we were going to different schools. He’s home for the summer, and we’re both single. I’m thinking about trying to see if we still have chemistry, even if it’s only for a summer fling. However, I also know that I still have feelings for him, and I don’t want to have to break things off again as we go back to separate schools in the fall. Should I give up on trying to have a relationship over the summer and just settle for something that isn’t so serious? Or should I just put a pause on romance until I get back to CC?
Summer is a strange time. It’s a time of leisure and elevation, a time in which schedules and the discipline of the academic year don’t seem to figure. We tend to associate its long days with all the pleasures of independence; we can be free in the summer, at liberty to experience the passing of time without the constraints and urgency of the Block Plan. We can afford to spend hours at the beach, in the sun, reading whatever we like or nothing at all. The pressures of the academic year, which students at CC experience in a particularly intense form, fade into the background, and it feels as if our lives are our own — there for the living.
But the summer is also a time of abrupt cessation, a pause that might feel removed from everyday life. Its rhythms aren’t like those of the rest of the year; its days might seem longer, slower, more even in tone, less clearly carved up. A break longer than four and a half days may be sorely needed after a year spent hard at work. But the summer is long, and we might begin to feel listless without the structure of certain responsibilities and tasks.
This is the strangeness of summer: all at once it seems to be a time in which we experience the real depth and intensity of life and in which we’re at a distance from life, on pause, at sea, with the usual shoreline three months away.
This summer is particularly strange, since we can’t have much of an idea of what it’ll be like. Will we be able to go to the beach? Will we be able to see friends and family? Will summer’s slow days seem so significantly different from the days of the rest of the year, so leisurely and long-awaited, after months of quarantine? It might seem impossible to answer these questions, and so impossible to get a sense of what the summer will be like. If we can say anything with certainty, it is that this summer won’t be like most summers.
This only exacerbates some of the questions that those thinking about summer relationships tend to consider. The summer fling is often imagined as the scene of casual sex without commitment; it’s a name for whatever that was that happened during those long, slow summer days, at a remove from ordinary life. It’s the sort of thing we wouldn’t do during the rest of the year, the sort of love that feels appropriate to life’s yearly pause. When things start up again, it’s time for something more serious; a fling is always for the meantime.
Those who want to start a relationship that could last in the summer already seem to be up against a common myth, a seasonal trope. This year, things are more difficult still: it isn’t even clear what shape summer flings might take, or what exactly the return to everyday life will look like.
Despite these challenges and this uncertainty, there are a few things that seem sure in your situation. You’re home for the summer in Louisiana, where it seems that restrictions might loosen in the coming weeks. If they do, you could see friends from high school, with whom you’ve kept in touch. Though you miss your friends from CC, spending time with your high school friends would make for something like a normal summer.
You’re hoping to spend time with someone in particular: a boy you dated in high school, for whom you still have some feelings. You wonder whether trying to rekindle this romance is worthwhile, whether it’s bound to be a mere summer fling or could last and be something more. Since you know you still have feelings for this boy, you don’t want to be forced to break things off — again — when you go your separate ways in the fall.
Three things seem to call into question whether this will become a relationship more lasting than a fling, as you see it. First, summer is a strange time, a time for which the fling appears to be the appropriate form of romance. Second, this summer is stranger than most summers, and it isn’t certain that you’ll get to see this boy to begin with. Third, the two of you have a history, and rekindling an old flame isn’t always easy. It isn’t always sure to burn.
I don’t think that any of these are reasons not to pursue romance, not to see if this boy is also interested, not to perhaps develop a relationship that will last. Summer is peculiar, and this summer is especially peculiar, but life is always and everywhere a little strange, and we needn’t wait for stability and security to seek love. Otherwise we will be waiting our whole lives.
Certainly a romance which begins in the summer is often colored by its distinctive temporality; it seems to be tied up with slow days and sand and heat and sunsets. In outlasting the summer, such a romance will have to be adjusted, tweaked, as the time of everyday life resumes again. But every romance demands adjustments, and this adjustment isn’t in principle so impossible that summer romances are bound to stay flings.
The fact that many summer relationships can’t outlast the summer is due in part to the fact that summer feels so removed from other times; some people will therefore take its romances less seriously. But there’s no reason this has to be true for you. And furthermore, there’s no reason that a summer fling can’t become something that continues into the academic year. Moreover, the fragility of summer love isn’t particular to the summer — most relationships don’t last, and that isn’t always a bad thing. A brief romance can sometimes be the love of a life, too.
While this summer may feel more distant than most from everyday life, given the pandemic and our response to it, this is true for everyone. These strange circumstances aren’t yours alone. Every relationship has needed adjustments particular to our situation, and some that begin in the coming weeks will require significant adjustments as things start up again. But a romance worth sustaining is a romance in which the partners are willing to make these sorts of changes. If it’s worthwhile to begin and keep things alive with this boy, you’ll make the needed adjustments. If it isn’t, you won’t.
The fact that there’s a history between you two could make rekindling your love an easy task or an exceptionally difficult one. This might depend on how things ended. It will also depend on both of your feelings about each other; you still have feelings for him, but he might have moved on. So take things slowly, and don’t feel as if you need to begin right where you left off.
Time has passed, and things are likeliest to outlast the summer months if your romance doesn’t feel like a simple return to high school. If you’re going to try to begin things again, your romance will be strongest if it isn’t just a continuation of what came before. Let it be its own thing.
You shouldn’t have to give up on serious romance just because it’s the summer, or just because it’s this summer. A summer romance isn’t bound to be a fling, nor is a fling bound to stay one interminably. And you shouldn’t have to wait until you get back to CC, since you’ll be willing to deal with distance if a relationship is truly worthwhile. So, my advice is to try things with this boy, to take things slowly, to see how it feels after a year or more apart. There is no such thing as a time in which real, committed love isn’t appropriate or possible. If the love is right, the times will bend.