Like painted kites, those days, nights . . . can turn to dust

August 09, 1993|By Beth Sherman | Beth Sherman,Newsday

The moon was full above the gentle whitecaps. As Tom and Patty gazed at the ocean, they talked for hours, sharing intimate details about their lives. They had been dating all summer, and hadn't a worry about tomorrow.

But come fall, he didn't call, and that was that.

"I was head-over-heels crazy about him," says Patty Pruett, 24, who lives and works in Manhattan. "But for him, it was a casual thing. He basically broke my heart."

Like the songs say, summer is an ideal time to meet someone and fall in love -- whether it's under the boardwalk, by the sea, or in a group rental house.

"People are much freer in the summertime," says Debra Mack, a social worker who teaches courses for singles in Plainview, N.Y. "You feel good because you're outdoors. You're more exposed -- not just physically but emotionally. There's a tendency to let your guard down."

And that's part of the catch. Having a summer romance can be a little like trying to fly a kite on a not too windy beach -- soaring briefly and then thudding to a stop on the sand. An affair may last for only one night or one weekend or one week of vacation. Or love may flourish until ALD (otherwise known as "After Labor Day"), when real life takes over and the summer unofficially ends.

"Lots of people, during the summer, are not ready to make a commitment to any one person," says Ira Bromberg, 43, a systems analyst who has a summer share in a house in Westhampton, N.Y.

And that can lead to heartache when you and the person you've fallen for (however briefly) have different expectations. Psychologists say it's important to be clear about what you want before plunging into a summer romance.

"In the summer, people tend to stay out later and drink more," says Marlin S. Potash, a psychologist and the author of "Hidden Agendas: What's Really Going On in Your Relationships" (Dell; $8.99.) "If you're interested in a quick fling, make the decision consciously, with a clear head. That way you're less likely to wake up in a grungy room, worrying that you might have a sexually transmitted disease, and wondering how you got yourself into this pickle."

Experts say that it is women, more frequently than men, who seem to want a deeper commitment. "There are definite gender differences," says John Gray, the author of "Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus" (HarperCollins; $22). "A man can be sexually attracted to a woman and may not be wanting anything more than a casual relationship. But many times when a woman is attracted to a man, she is also attracted to the possibility of a relationship."

Some women feel (either consciously or unconsciously) that sexual contact or sexual intercourse will "solidify" the relationship, according to Mr. Gray. "She may feel that if she doesn't have sex with him, she'll lose him," he says. "But the danger is that she'll sleep with him and still wind up feeling hurt and used."

Meanwhile, the politics of summer romance can be as intricate as the plot of a John Le Carre spy novel. "You shouldn't date anyone in your own [share] house, because you'll lose your privacy," says Pamela Goldwasser, 24, who is in a group rental house in Southampton, N.Y.

Dating someone in the next town is OK, she says, but dating someone on the opposite weekend is tricky. "A girl from my weekend was with a guy from the other weekend over the Fourth of July. But she got blown off a week later," says Ms. Goldwasser.

The best way for this not to happen, experts say, is to hold off on sexual contact. Have the romance -- long walks on the beach, gazing at the stars, dancing by moonlight -- without getting too physical, at least initially.

In some instances, however, the romantic setting is a pitfall in itself. Vacation locales -- a beach house, a whirlwind European tour, a hike on a secluded mountain trail -- help foster a sense of instant intimacy. You can end up confiding secrets, disappointments and problems that you normally wouldn't reveal early on, either overwhelming the other person and scaring him or her away or making yourself more vulnerable to being hurt. That's yet another reason why most experts say it's best, if possible, to take things slowly, until you know the other person better.

"Just because you're living in the same house with someone on the weekends, it doesn't mean you're really 'living' with them," says Kate Wachs, a clinical psychologist who runs a dating service in Chicago. "They may have a girlfriend or a boyfriend that they're not telling you about."

To avoid getting hurt, counselors say, it's best to live in the moment and not spend too much time fantasizing about the future.

Sometimes the pressure to meet someone and have a summer romance is so intense that it's easy to fall for the wrong person. If you go out "with the idea that you have to meet the love of your life, it could be disastrous," says Mr. Potash. "That's when you're most likely to find yourself alone and depressed at 3 a.m., ready to latch on to the nearest available person."

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