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Credit: Seyoung An

The media does an expert job at pumping out archetypes of romantic stories where the coupling of two strangers results in the completion of both— even when this coupling is just a summer fling. There’s nothing wrong with wanting what happens in summer to stay in summer, nor should you feel bad about having a fling (at any time of the year); however, I’m not of the belief that they’re the cathartic and revealing whirlwinds that romcoms and novels build them up to be. Using a summer romance as the vessel into which you pour yourself doesn’t give you any insight about your natural form.

If your quest is to discover your natural folds and shapes, a summer fling might not be the best way to do it. When a season of self-discovery is what you’re after, being alone may be the least convoluted path towards said discovery (or rediscovery). As someone who spent the last year slipping my feet into the well-worn footprints of previous students, my fear of social repercussions from failed attempts at relationships stunted my interpersonal growth. While I was quick to jive with the freshman experience of finding someone you liked at a party, sharing a kiss, and never exchanging more than spit, I was terrified of seeing these people in the light of day, knowing words that other people put into your mouth don’t taste appealing. The consequences that follow any relationship like a shadow kept me from forging my own path. On the other hand, a summer spent in the small bubble of a secluded valley, where I knew consequences were temporary, didn’t aid my personal discovery either.

The grooves of a summer fling are far deeper and newer than the weathered paths existing at Penn, but they are slippery slopes just the same. When the bitter backlash of high school-like chatter began to follow me around this summer, a hole opened up in the pit of my stomach, and I knew that my dirty laundry was flapping in the wind for all to see in the form of a dehumanizing list of triumphs for an immature and commoditizing competition of conquests, of which my name was tacked on the end. While this is unimportant to my personal realization, it adds another layer of betrayal to the onioning reasons of why relationships don’t always illuminate what you’re hoping for. 

Relationships can act like black lights, illuminating pieces of yourself that are always present, but not always capable of being seen. We rely so heavily on other people to turn on those black lights, forgetting that we ourselves also have this power. I’m no expert at relationships and I often joke that I should have an anti-advice relationship column, but I have experience attempting to connect with people in both temporary and permanent social spheres.

Fumbling through a summer fling, where I am the first to admit that I had no idea what I was doing, proved to me that relying on someone else to explain my actions led me no closer to self-realization than my (unsuccessful) attempts at Penn. Even after shedding the worry of seeing these people every day on Locust that clung to me like a second skin, I found myself scratching my head and wondering who I was when standing alone.

Previously, I assumed the overarching concept of consequences looming like Big Brother was a contributing culprit. I thought that the freeness of a summer fling could extricate the hidden piece of me that I just couldn’t dig out while stuck in a permanent living situation. That line of reasoning left me feeling emptier than before. 

Realizing that finding out who I am in a relationship is a personal and individual journey was like finally seeing the other half of an optical illusion. What comes to mind is the picture where you can see either a rabbit or a duck depending on how you focus your gaze. Before this summer, I was forcing myself to bounce off of other people in situations, refracting my reactions through their replies, instead of just looking inwards for a genuine response. 

A summer fling may allow you to see one side of the illusion that is romance, but in order to truly grasp the whole picture of yourself, be alone for awhile. Learn and create yourself, instead of finding yourself in other people.

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