My first date with my husband was a four-day hiking trip one June, I won’t say how many years ago. It’s not as scandalous as it sounds: We’d been friends for a few years beforehand. But the day before we were supposed to leave, I got cold feet. He had to talk me back into going, and the coaxing came down to this: It’s summer. Why not?
Reader, I married him. (No, not on that trip. Please.)
Summer is the time for crazy love. For flings, for odd pairings, for risks that probably won’t pay off, but then again, who knows. The movies know this. In Grease, Sandy and Danny could only have met in summer. The montage of them on the beach, kissing, falling over sand castles, and kissing some more to that god-awful music “is only the beginning,” just as John Travolta promises, with the swagger that will take over the film’s sensibility (thank goodness). Jack and Ennis wind up on Brokeback Mountain for a pair of jobs herding sheep and find each other in the night—a romance that could never have happened without the seclusion of a warm wilderness night. Lloyd, John Cusack’s schlumfy character in Say Anything, only gets to romance the beautiful class valedictorian because he waits until after graduation and before her departure to England for a scholarship. In that suspended moment of summer between old life and new, he stands outside her window and gives us the immortal boom box tribute (Peter Gabriel is still thanking him).
OK, are you inspired? I hope so, because I want to hear your best (or worst) summer romance stories. For a follow-up article, send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, in 200 words or less, or tweet them at me. Email may be quoted in Slate unless you stipulate otherwise. If you want to be quoted anonymously, please let me know. And here are a few stories from Slate staffers to start you off:
The summer I was 34, I was adrift. I had just left a great job of four years at Texas Monthly in Austin, and I had also ended a long (for me) and tumultuous relationship. In Boston to visit family, I went to Logan Airport to pick up a long-time friend coming through town.
These were the days you could stand outside the gate for arriving passengers and a small knot of us were waiting. Scanning the crowd, I noticed a striking and familiar looking older man with a large leonine head. It was Saul Bellow, the Nobel Prize–winning novelist. What a coincidence; I had just finished a collection of his short stories and had seen that face every evening on my nightstand. I must have been staring because Bellow returned my gaze, and smiled. I smiled back and in a moment he was stepping toward me, hand out, introducing himself. I said I was a huge fan.
“Are you a student?” he asked me. Was I a student! This man was smooth, even at 74. I replied I was a journalist. He told me that one of his sons was a journalist. I already knew he’d had a series of sons by a series of wives.
As we talked—he stood very close—I tried to make sparkling conversation while wrestling with an internal dilemma. Through my 20s I had been involved with considerably older men. But I had gotten help for this daddy issue and was reformed. I now only dated men around my own age. But here I was getting the full Bellow treatment, the heavy-lidded bedroom eyes, the sly smile. I thought to myself, “Maybe I can grandfather him in under the Nobel clause.”
I lost track of time and purpose and then suddenly passengers started arriving. Out of the corner of my eye I saw my friend. I could see him do a double-take as he immediately recognized Bellow. I tried to furtively wave him off with my left hand, but either he didn’t see my gesture or ignored it. I found myself introducing him to Saul Bellow. It was clear Bellow thought he was more than a friend. The spell was broken, and we all parted.
One morning that fall, my alarm clock woke me up to the news on NPR that Saul Bellow had married for a fifth time. His new wife was 31. I lay there in the gloom facing the brutal truth: I was too old for Saul Bellow.
When I was 22, I worked at a summer camp in Maine. The camp hosted exchange counselors from all over the world—including a gorgeous blond German girl who taught the kids tennis and spoke near-perfect English. I was smitten the moment I met her. One night we went out on the lake in a canoe, and talked about our hopes and dreams under the Maine moonlight. Smooching ensued. Life was absolutely perfect. Until camp ended and she had to go home. She lives in the Munich suburbs these days, married with kids. Every once in a while we still exchange letters, and I remember the sound of water lapping against a canoe hull, and the feeling that I never wanted to paddle back to shore.
You know those college-run programs for high school students that are mostly about generating extra cash by preying on parents’ ambitions? When I was 16, I spent three weeks at Penn State’s lower-rent, but not really cheaper, version. It came at a difficult time for me: I knew that soon after I got home, my mother would be remarried and we would move in with my new stepfather and stepsisters. I had to change schools, too, just in time for my junior year. I was terrified.
But at the summer program, to my great relief, I made friends. And the girls I met decided to dress me up one night and set me up with a geeky boy I’d been eyeing. They put me in a tank top and fussed over my messy, curly hair, smoothing it into ringlets and giving me a strict talking-to about which products I should be using. At a party that night, they gave me a pep talk and pushed me toward him.
We danced. We kissed. We kissed many more times on campus over the next week or so. When I came home, I referred to him once or twice as my “boyfriend.” He never called or wrote, but that was OK. He had done his job. When I started at my new high school that fall, I had a boost of confidence: My hair looked better, I knew I could make friends, and at least one teenage boy out there had enjoyed kissing me.
I vividly remember Dana, at Summer Music Clinic in Madison, Wis., giving me her five-digit dorm phone number not by just saying it but by taking my hand and push-button-dialing 4-3458 on my palm. That was in 1988 but I will remember it until the day I die.
In my high school senior spring, I had my first real girlfriend. She was beautiful, talented, kind. We knew it wasn’t going to last. She was heading south for college, me north. Still there were proms, parties, lovely early summer evenings in Battery Kemble Park. And there was Paris! She was going to spend the summer modeling there—not a joke, she was really spending the summer modeling in Paris—and I was going to Eurorail the continent with a couple of friends. We arranged to meet. A month passed. I arrived in Paris bearded, wearing sunglasses, so adult. It was Paris. It was our pre-college summer. Our parents were 3,000 miles away. My friends had made themselves scarce. And did I mention that she was a model? We went for a walk in the Latin Quarter in late afternoon, meandered along the Seine in the Parisian dusk, and … absolutely nothing happened. Nothing. She had a new boyfriend.
I never really had a holiday romance like the kind they sing about in Grease. I suspect that even today, lesbian teenagers have a hard time randomly finding another compatible lesbian teenager to fall for at the beach or on a campground. But long after I’d said goodbye to my teens, I had an amazing holiday pash, which was all the more exciting because it played out in secret. Even now I feel compelled to keep things vague—all I can say is that one summer, completely unknown to everyone else on a group vacation, my, um, friend and I would spend the daytime doing touristy things with everyone else, and the nighttime madly making out—sometimes with other people in the room! It was bonkers—and totally hot. The end of the holiday was the end of our romance, and as far as I know she’s still heterosexual. Sometimes one vacation fling is enough for a lifetime.
The summer before my senior year of college, I found a group house in Georgetown where a friend and I could share a room. The other half of the house, split in two, was shared by half a dozen women. One day I came back to the room and told my friend I really liked one of the girls next door. Awkward silence—he liked her too. He deferred to me, and she and I were together for a couple of months. Then I had to go back to finish college (she was done). I told her I didn’t think we could keep the relationship going. I felt like a total shit.
My friend didn’t have to go back to school. Next thing I heard, he and she were driving across the country together. Today they’re married and have a terrific kid, and we’re all friends. Sometimes the best thing you can do is get out of the way.
When I had just finished college I lived in Israel for a year. I had gone there to study with a group of American Jews but after about a week became thoroughly alienated from most of them. I was born in Israel, and my extended family still lives there. I had a good sense of what Israelis were actually like: blunt, practical, and fond of bacon. My American friends it seemed to me were stuck in a hazy Biblical fantasy, imagining everyone around them to be characters out of Leviticus. As a result I fell a little in love with the only person on my dorm room floor who was not an American Jew, and as it happens he was a German Catholic. Our intense flirtation was maintained by Post-it notes we left everywhere for each other, and by my own fantasy that I was walking on the precipice of some forbidden, war-era romance. It did not occur to me that I was turning him into a character just as my American Jews were doing to Israelis. We took hikes in the Judean Hills together and I imagined that we were escaping from some kind of authority. Once, he rescued me when I was lost in the desert. I’m embarrassed to say what romantic scenario I concocted from that. Eventually I came to my senses and we became great friends, and are to this day.