Should Your Summer Fling Last?

Photographed By Lauren Perlstein.
Summer 2015 is over and fall is officially upon us, bringing with it wardrobe adjustments, a ramped-up work schedule, and, possibly, shifting relationship goals. If last season found you in a "summer fling," defined by that authoritative lexicon Urban Dictionary as "a sexual adventure free of hassles, commitments or drama, timed for the summer only," you may now be grappling with the question of whether to continue and deepen the commitment — or to go your separate ways. Maybe the physical spark is there, but you're unsure of whether chemistry alone will sustain you through the cold months to come; maybe you just don't know your fling partner well enough to predict if you'll be as compatible over takeout on the couch as you were at rooftop bars. (Of course, you may also be perfectly happy to continue a casual arrangement as-is, in which case, enjoy!) We asked San-Francisco-based sex therapist Vanessa Marin and marriage and sex therapist Kat Van Kirk, PhD, to walk us through potential next steps for your summer relationship — no bad-girl makeover à la Sandy Olsen in Grease required.
1. What should you do if the physical chemistry is great, but the conversation isn't quite so stimulating?
The classic summer-fling scenario features hot sex and less-exciting communication. "Sometimes, an intellectual connection can be more subtle" than a physical connection, Dr. Kat observes. "Creating a few more opportunities to engage about values and issues might reveal someone who is shy about speaking up." In other words, maybe the reason that you and your fling partner haven't had any "deep" conversations is because neither of you has initiated one. When it feels natural, test the waters with a more serious topic than your Friday night plans by, say, asking about his or her take on a current event you've been following. Keep in mind that some benefit of the doubt is healthy: "There are lots of different types of chemistry, and each can take time to develop," Marin states. "You never know if that other person is nervous, coming off of a bad day, or just feeling off" — though of course, "if you can tell that there's absolutely nothing there, it's fine to move on."
2. What should you do if you like the person you've begun seeing, but aren't feeling the fireworks?
"Chemistry is tricky!" says Marin. "Sometimes you do have great chemistry with someone right off the bat, but sometimes it takes a number of dates to build." In an age of effortless right-swipes and seemingly limitless romantic options, many people expect a Hollywood-ready first date (or first couple of dates) to sweep them off their feet, or they bail. "In general, I think most people tend to give up on new relationships too quickly," Marin points out. "Unless you feel no spark whatsoever, I'd give it at least three chances." If, after several dates, you are still feeling nothing but platonic vibes, then cut your potential paramour loose.
Photographed By Lauren Perlstein.
3. What should you do if you want a relationship, but you aren't head-over-heels for the person you're seeing?
The question of whether you're "settling" in a relationship is complicated. Maybe you know instinctually that your current partner isn't forever material, but hey, you're having fun and would love a steady dinner-cooking companion for when the temperature drops — and that may be okay, Marin says. "We all need different things at different points in our lives," she explains. "You may have some stages in your life where, for whatever reasons, comfort is what you need the most. Just be honest with yourself and don't [lead] your partner on." That means open conversation with your partner about what he or she can expect from you (and vice versa): Will you be exclusive? How much time do you plan to spend together (maybe weekdays are for work and friends, for example, but your partner can expect quality time with you on Saturdays)? It's when you prolong a relationship more to avoid being alone than to enhance your life with an enjoyable partnership that you should reassess. "If you are staying in this type of relationship out of fear, then you are settling, and that should be avoided," Dr. Kat advises.

We all need different things at different points in our lives. You may have some stages in your life where, for whatever reasons, comfort is what you need the most.

4. What should you do if you'd like a more serious relationship with your fling partner, but he or she doesn't feel the same?
Again, that depends. If your love interest says "maybe" to a deeper commitment, and "if you enjoy spending time with him or her and can truly be present without pushing for more, then giving the situation a little time may be a good thing," Dr. Kat states. "Oftentimes, people who don’t want to commit right away may have a good reason; they might’ve just gotten out of a relationship or been betrayed." However, if your fling is up-front about not wanting anything serious, ever — first of all, appreciate his or her honesty. Then, "it's probably best to move on," Marin says. "You've already developed feelings, and it's not like you can just turn them off and keep things casual." And, if you're still waiting for a "maybe" answer to change (and the conversation around your relationship status only resumes when you bring it up), it's probably time to get going. "Everyone's tolerance varies in these casual, non-defining relationships," Dr. Kat observes, but "if your feelings continue to deepen while there is no proof theirs [are deepening too], then that is a risk you may not want to assume." Summer flings are, by definition, commitment-free. If your partner is satisfied with those parameters and you are not, then consign the fling to your mental scrapbook and open yourself to someone who would be thrilled to celebrate decorative gourd season fully at your side.

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