The Psychological Reason so Many People Seek Summer Flings—and How to Opt Out

Photo: Getty Images/Carol Yepes
From "Summer Nights” in Grease to “Summer Love” by Justin Timberlake to "Cool for the Summer" by Demi Lovato, there’s essentially an entire musical genre dedicated to the idea of getting hot and heavy when temperatures rise. These songs have long romanticized the notion that you can have a summertime fling that'll be amazing and fulfilling for a few months, leaving you with memories that last a lifetime come the end of Labor Day Weekend. It’s a novel concept, sure, but one I’ve never bought into.

That’s because for 34 years and counting, I’ve been my own summer fling—and honestly, the matchup continues to rock my world every single sunny season. I’ve chilled in air-conditioned movie theaters solo, with all the popcorn and armchair room for me, myself, and I—with no nagging need to rely on a Mr. Right Now to get me through the dog days of summer. I’ve also gone to the beach with my best girlfriends and had picnics in the park with my pooch, no summertime stud required.

But anecdotally at least, I've always felt like I'm in the minority with my lack of care for a snagging a light and breezy liaison. Am I denying myself of something bigger by not seeking a summer love other than myself? And why, exactly, do people seem to feel the heat when it comes to hooking up in the summer anyway?

“I think there are pressures to be in a couple in all seasons,” says New York City sex therapist Stephen Snyder, MD. “But in the summertime, people tend to be more out and about, so it's more obvious.” Think about it: Whether you’re hanging out at a beer garden or checking out your favorite band in concert, there’s definitely a buzz in the air regarding romantic expectations. Unlike Netflix-and-chill-heavy cuffing season, summer is more about having the maximum amount of fun with someone while you’re anywhere but your couch.

“There can be real benefits to spending a summer without a romantic partner: You get to spend more time with important people in your life. You have more opportunities to savor your solitude and enjoy all the benefits that can come from that.” —psychologist Bella DePaulo, PhD

But what if, like me, you still want to be single (and happy!) despite the societal expectation of how your summer agenda is “supposed" to look? Denver-based sex and relationship therapist and Denise Onofrey, LMFT, says though the choice to stay single is often stigmatized, especially in the summer when pressure to couple up shines from pop-culture imagery, familial pressures to settle down, and elsewhere. “But if it’s not fulfilling,” she says, “why bother?” If your gut isn't telling you it's time to find a mate, it's not time—vignettes of watching fireworks with someone on a blanket on the Fourth of July be damned. (PS: That messaging never seems to show all the sweating and bug bites, does it?)

“If you enjoy your time alone, that’s great. Lots of people can’t deal with alone time. You should feel proud of yourself rather than thinking of reasons to change your behavior or beat yourself up,” says Bella DePaulo, PhD, a Santa Barbara-based psychologist who studies being single. “There can be real benefits to spending a summer (or a year or a lifetime) without a romantic partner: You get to spend more time with important people in your life. You have more opportunities to savor your solitude and enjoy all the benefits that can come from that.” And while Dr. Snyder points out that a surplus of solitude can become habit (read: a social-situation-avoiding crutch), he caveats that “if that's what makes you feel most alive and stimulated, then why not be honest about it?”

All of this is great, but, uh, what about sex? “Sexuality is essential to our well-being, but luckily we don’t need another person to fulfill it,” Onofrey says. Amen to that. Still, “if someone freely chooses to have a no-strings, lighthearted connection with fun sex and sexuality gets expressed—I vote yes.”

Ultimately, whether during the summer or any other time of the year, what's most important is that you’re doing what you want and need out of life. “It’s healthier to think about what makes for the best you," Dr. DePaulo says, "with or without a romantic partner."

Even if you do really want to be in a relationship, it's possible to be single and happy. And if you're happy and fulfilled with your single status, but your parents aren't, here's how to deal.

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