Every season ends, but no other season ends as hard as summer ends. No other season is about doing so little on such accelerated time. Summer is hot, then hotter, then so impossibly hot the air is almost liquid, even at night, and we wear as few clothes as possible and we spend time with people we barely know or who are bad for us or who we'll never see again and then it's all over.
We want to fall in love in summer because it seems urgent to do so, because we know there is a deadline but are too dehydrated to think about what that means.
The last time I fell in love it was 2009 in Memphis and summer had come early. At the time, I already had a boyfriend, but he'd gone to Israel to study for several months, which I took to mean he'd run away. That was fine; I didn't love him. I told him this over Skype, a conversation that took three hours. Was I already in love with someone else, my ex asked over and over. I said I wasn't sure.
I was sure. When I wore a pair of cream-colored high-heeled oxfords that had elicited a sneering "I just don't get those" from my roommate, this new guy, Michael, looked at them and said, "Oh, nice." Michael ran the college radio station. Freshmen requested him as their writing tutor en masse. The day after we slept together for the first time, we worked the cotton candy booth at a carnival. One night he offered to make me quesadillas in his $500-a-month apartment—so I moved in. In summer, it's too hot for logic.
Summer couples aren't just madly in love, they're furiously in love. And sometimes they're just furious.
Here's how quickly this romance escalated: My good friend Julia* and Michael's best friend Jason* started dating a week after we did. Two days later a professor couple asked Julia to house-sit for the rest of the summer. Julia, Jason, Michael, and I relocated to the professors' 1920s bungalow. When Julia and Jason weren't around to play piano or guitars, Michael and I listened to an Amadou & Mariam CD we found in the kitchen. The central air broke for two days. The boys' childhood friends stopped by a few days a week, and we all walked to the nearest bar. Neighbors left angry notes on our cars about the noise.
The worst part about summer is that no one bothers to mention that it's ending until it's almost over. And when hard stops loom, the urgency of summer romance and sex becomes especially urgent. Summer couples aren't just madly in love, they're furiously in love. And sometimes they're just furious.
In that small house, the divide in relationship quality got wider by the day. Julia had not yet caught on to what Jason already knew, that theirs was a summer-only romance. When she demanded more vulnerability from him, he shrugged and reminded her that she'd be leaving to start grad school in August. Why be vulnerable and emotionally intimate when they could just sit on a porch and stamp out cigarettes into beer cans, their T-shirts ringed with sweat, for the last few weeks they had left?
When Jason got too aloof, Julia drew him back to her by threatening to end summer early. She would walk through the living room carrying her clothes in her arms, head out the front door, and stuff everything she could into her car. Nothing was ever folded or packed; it was a hasty, desperate act meant to demonstrate just how fragile the construct of summer really is. Jason would balk, pull her clothes out of the car, beg her to come back inside.
To fall in love during the hottest days of the year is to slide willingly into a fever, knowing that when it breaks we might wake to find the spell of the season has also broken.
Michael and I acted dangerously in our own way: We made plans. I signed a lease on a New York apartment while still in Memphis, and he bought a plane ticket to help me move at the end of the summer. His mother and stepfather baked a cake and ordered chicken wings for my birthday. Without smartphones or a GPS, we got lost twice trying to visit Rowan Oak, William Faulkner's home in Oxford, Mississippi, both times yelling that the other had gotten the directions wrong. Still, we referred to those arguments as formative, rather than foreshadowing.
Summer is romantic because it is a liminal season, on the threshold of a host of unknowns—and we love the unknown. To fall in love during the hottest days of the year is to slide willingly into a fever, knowing that when it breaks we might wake to find the spell of the season has also broken. In fact, it usually has. It did for Julia and Jason, though they would admit the gamble was half the romance. Or we might get lucky. I'm still waiting for the fever to break.
* Names changed to protect the poorly behaved.