A fling or a future: Can a summer romance last?

Chicago TribuneJuly 18, 2014 

Popular culture would have us believe finding love in the summer is as easy as finding sand on a beach. Countless movies, novels and TV shows perpetuate the notion that when school's out, the temperature is up and clothes are scarce, romantic encounters with attractive, thoughtful, chiseled strangers happen all the time.

But, remember, we live in reality. While there's no definitive data to prove more people hook up in the summer, something about the season does make it seem naturally conducive for romance.

"There are a lot of ingredients for the summer that amp up the desire to meet someone," said Ramani Durvasula, a licensed clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at California State University Los Angeles.

Whether it's the outdoor soirees, exotic vacations or lighter workloads at the office, people tend to be more affable and carefree, which improves their odds of attracting potential love interests, she said. A change in routine - or better yet, location - can also boost the chances.

Don't be disappointed if your summer doesn't unfold like the plot of a Nicholas Sparks novel. It's key to evaluate your expectations as you become involved with someone, said Marie-Joelle Estrada, visiting assistant professor in psychology at the University of Rochester in New York. Be honest with yourself and decide if you envision a fling, or a future, and make sure both partners in the relationship are clear about the plan come autumn.

"Just look at 'Grease,'" Estrada said. "You've got one person who thinks, 'Oh, we're a real couple,' and the other person thinks, 'This has an expiration date for me.'"

Can it last?

Three years ago, when Katie Steinharter decided to take a hiatus from conventional employment, she accepted a job as a nanny for a family who owned a summer camp in Maine. One balmy night, Steinharter was sitting in the bleachers next to a volleyball court, chatting with fellow camp employees, when a guy, brown-haired with an athletic build, plopped down beside her.

"He asked if he could sit down to put his shoes on," Steinharter, now 25, remembers. He told her his name, Teddy Sorenson, and that he worked as a wakeboard instructor at the camp. The exchange was brief, but the two kept crossing paths over the next few weeks, and although there was initially a mutual fascination, Sorenson's game-playing soured Steinharter.

"Every time he saw me, he would call me the wrong name. I honestly thought he was a complete jerk and wanted nothing to do with him," Steinharter said.

Eventually, he dropped the act. On the Fourth of July, as Steinharter sat with her campers under a sky lit by fireworks, Sorenson again plopped down beside her and apologized for all the times he pretended to forget her name. They grew closer over the next two months; as the closing of camp loomed, neither knew what would become of their dalliance. Sorenson, from Idaho, and Steinharter, from Connecticut, jetted off to opposite sides of the country. That wasn't the end of the story, as it turned out.

Whether summer romances can endure when normalcy sets in depends on the settings in which they started.

If your relationship bloomed in an environment that seemed idyllic and immune from day-to-day drudgery, it might not be able to weather the monotony of routine.

"Many summer relationships are based on drama," with long walks on the beach and nights spent under the stars, Durvasula said. The more consistency there is between how a couple's life looked in the summer and how it will look the rest of the year, the more likely a relationship is to succeed.

"While it's super romantic to take up with that footloose and fancy-free musician, if you're an accountant, come Sept. 1, that real disconnect in lifestyle doesn't promote the likelihood of (the relationship) succeeding," she said.

However, couples who manage to establish a good foundation of intimacy and trust over those few months and who have similarities in lifestyle and priorities will have greater prospects of sticking together, Estrada said.

For Steinharter and Sorenson, the ending so far is a happy one. After the two geographically parted ways at the end of that summer, Steinharter took a job in Spain, but not before she and Sorenson declared themselves an official item.

"We managed to make it work despite the geographical obstacles and warnings from a few other campers who said summer relationships wouldn't last," Steinharter said. She and Sorenson now live together in Denver.

However things seem to be going, watch out for signs from your summer love that he or she sees an end in sight. "If the person you're seeing is communicating less and going out more, your summer relationship has gone from sizzle to fizzle," said Steve Ward, CEO of Master Matchmakers and host and executive producer of the VH1 show "Tough Love."

Pay attention to your love interest's communication style. If he or she stops initiating conversation or takes notably longer to respond to texts or calls, that could be a red flag, Ward said.

Don't consider an exhilarating summer fling, however brief, a waste of time. Every romance can be a teacher, Durvasula said, prompting people to stray from their comfort zones and consequently grow as individuals and discover characteristics about themselves.

"I think it's wonderful when the accountant dates the musician," Durvasula said. "Even if she doesn't marry him, she will listen to music differently the rest of her life."

Tips for finding a summer flame:

Even if you'll be stuck in the office every weekday this summer, your mind clouded with daydreams of sailing Italy's Amalfi Coast or walking the festive streets of Barcelona, romance may find you or vice versa.

Lori Bizzoco, relationship expert and founder of CupidsPulse.com, offers these tips for meeting people closer to home:

Talk to strangers: Meeting someone in a local coffeehouse can be just as romantic as at a Parisian sidewalk cafe. Start a conversation with the cute guy standing ahead of you in line. Introduce yourself to random guests at your neighbor's cookout. Don't mention the weather. Instead, ask open-ended questions to see if you can find a common interest.

Separate from the pack: When you pull yourself away from your social group, you're more likely to meet someone new. A clique is a comfortable crutch, but don't be afraid to be independent. If that's too extreme, be the third wheel to a married couple. That way, you're not only more approachable, but it also gives off the impression that you're serious about commitment.

Just say "yes": If a pal invites you to a dinner party at the last minute after a grueling day at work, not only should you show up, but you should also bring a bottle of wine. Even if you'd rather be on your couch watching Netflix, go and make an effort to meet at least five new people.

J.R.

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