Illustration: Amy Neave

Summer of love: What ever happened to the summer fling?

Is the steamy holiday romance being consigned to history? Metro sex columnist Madeleine Holden investigates.

Gemma, a 32-year-old lawyer in Auckland, is telling me about her one and only summer fling. “He was French, and he was in New Zealand doing research for his master’s, and we met at an event about sustainability in Britomart,” she says. “I was in my early 20s, before Tinder or any of the hook-up apps were really an option. As clichéd as it sounds, we met because we locked eyes across the room.” The two went on a date, and the rest of the story follows a classic romance-novel narrative: they walked around the city hand in hand, made sweaty, passionate love, stayed up talking into the wee hours, and promised to stay in touch after he returned to Paris. He left, and they didn’t.

We don’t talk much about summer flings any more. The term, which describes a short-term romantic or sexual encounter that takes place over the summer months, is a relic of the days when glossy magazines like Cosmopolitan were important cultural arbiters and dating apps hadn’t yet made casual sex such a quotidian option. While there is some corporate data from dating websites and sex-toy retailers showing that people do tend to go on more dates and have more sex in the summer months, I’m reliably informed that “summer fling” is not a term commonly used by anyone younger than the Sky Tower. “I haven’t heard the word ‘fling’ in so long,” Maddie, a 27-year-old administrator, exclaims when I ask her about them. “The whole ‘summer loving’ thing is dead and gone for the vast majority of us.” Emmy, a 27-year-old community organiser and PhD candidate, agrees, saying she’s “never heard this [term] used”.

The problem is that most millennials are simply too broke to replicate the classic summer fling, which usually involves a vacation in some dreamy European locale, such as the French Riviera or an Italian village (think Call Me by Your Name). Summer flings are the preserve of those with disposable income and abundant leisure time, two things burnt-out, broke young people are famously without. In theory, university students should enjoy the seemingly endless free time afforded by the summer break between semesters, but most of them have to cram their summer break with casual work to afford Auckland’s stifling rents and their tuition fees. “We can’t afford to go on vacation and aren’t given enough leave over summer to allow for one,” Maddie continues. “I guess you do notice more foreigners on vacation on Tinder and Bumble during the summer months — does that count?” Emmy concurs: “Summer is for desperately hustling to make rent — it’s too humid and too neoliberal to hook up.”

Theoretically, summer presents all of us with more opportunities to meet people: we’re outside more, wearing less clothing and are probably more relaxed, with healthy vitamin D levels and bouncy sea-salt hair. But dating apps allow users to present a series of carefully curated photos, meaning they look their best at all times, during all seasons. Plus, you don’t need to so much as set foot outside to make the initial connection, all of which makes the “summer” part of a summer fling kind of redundant.

But then again, maybe the “fling” part is redundant, too. Among the people I speak to, there’s a sense that, these days, you’ll either hook up with someone a handful of times or fewer, or you’ll end up in a long-term relationship with them. There’s not so much of a space for seasonal relationships that last only for a few weeks. “I feel like everything is either a one-night stand, an occasional hook-up that goes on for seasons and seasons, or a relationship,” Maddie says. “And now that we have social media, you don’t have to be like, ‘Au revoir, Romeo, I shall never speak to you again.’”

Gemma’s experience, then, is probably a relic of the past: an idealised version of a summer fling that is more the preserve of Hollywood movies and glossy magazines than it is a viable relationship model, especially for young, broke millennials. And Gemma’s not even sure how much she’s mythologised her own fling in her imagination. “I remember it being so romantic,” she says, “but now, thinking back on it, I’m pretty sure we were mostly just fucking. Like, the connection was never that deep.

“I’m not 100% sure that it was even during summer now.” 

This piece originally appeared in the January-February 2020 issue of Metro magazine, with the headline 'Summers of love'.

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