When I was 11, my mother dragged me to a 20th anniversary screening of Grease at Hoyts Eastgardens. I was mortified someone might see me and spent most of the film buried in my seat. But one scene would stay with me for many years. It’s the end of Summer Nights, where Sandy and Danny detail the unravelling of their beachside tryst to their respective gangs. They sing to one another without realising, aching for a love they barely even knew.
It turned colder that's where it ends
So I told her we'd still be friends
Then we made our true love vow
Wonder what she's doing now
Summer dreams ripped at the seams
But, oh, those summer nights…
There is something unnerving about the regularity with which relationships end as summer does. For most of us, this isn’t planned. Unless you’re having a fling that you know will finish the minute you get back into your work clothes, couples tend to thrive during the warmer months. If anything, it’s actually when the majority of romances begin. Warmer weather means we spend more time outdoors, often in the presence of other people. The heat has a certain permissiveness to it. We are not ourselves; we are better, more radiant.
We are also crueller. When I was younger, with less scruples, summer was typically the time my friends and I found ourselves in bed with people we shouldn’t. We used those long, balmy evenings to justify all sorts of behaviour we’d never condone during winter. We were cavalier with each other’s emotions, certain that a dunk in the ocean or a beer by sunset would smooth over what we’d done. Greedy, too, as we are with many things in summer; sucking the pip of a peach that was never really ours to eat.
But we didn’t love then like we do as adults. Now, each summer, we feel the passing of time more acutely. Perhaps it’s a biological clock, or dissolved dreams that have washed away with the tide. We take stock of things as the world grinds back into gear, wondering where our partners might fit, or if they will at all. Those summer nights become cooler. The wind picks up, the jackets come on, and abruptly, the party's over.
We break up. It’s what people do. You’d imagine that decades of hyper-focused pop culture would have given us a better road map for how to handle summer splits. Instead, the sadness is a gaping maw, and we know that even as we try to fill it with alcohol, sabbaticals or sex with other people, the only thing that will truly sate is time.
Letting go of someone you love during this season seems like a remarkably barbaric deal. Like Sandy and Danny, we find ourselves wondering what we could have done, if we could have been better people, more open to suggestion or forgiving of discretion. Separating in summer means we also stare down the barrel of an entire year alone. We ache and we cry, mostly in private. It’s not death, but sort of feels like it.
Spring can have the new life, regeneration and flowers. Real passion happens in the summer. The greatest kiss you will ever experience, the most fantastic sex you never imagined, the first date you never want to end … it’s all right here, sewn into the DNA of those three stifling, sticky months. The absence of another body might be more palpable when it’s cold, but missing someone’s smile, their smell, their laugh? That’s got summer written all over it.
Day is still bleeding into night and even as February fast approaches, it’s still light enough at 7.30pm to go for a walk. The sun is dull on the face but brilliant to the eyes, lavender at its base, the peak a fiery red pulling back against the horizon. Tears are warm like the simmering footpath, and in the heat, they bring little relief. We know that we used to do this with someone else. There used to be another voice, another hand holding ours. We don’t need Olivia Newton-John to remind us of that.
It turns colder. That’s where it ends.
Tomorrow, we start again.