How to make sure a summer fling is understood as such
July 12, 2009 9:36 PM   Subscribe

I started seeing this girl as a fun "summer fling" type relationship, but I think she's taking it more seriously then that. How can I ensure she isn't heartbroken at the end of the summer without killing the fun?

At the beginning of the summer, I was at a party and I met a girl. We got to talking, and ended up kind of hooking up. (Though I hesitate to use that phrase, because really it was more innocent than that.)

Anyway, the next day, we had a sort of "where we stand" conversation, and I told her that I did want to pursue a relationship, however, I did not think it would last past the summer. Still, I said, we could have a fun summer, and she seemed to be okay with this. The main reason it won't work past the summer is that I am moving (far) away for college, while she is younger and still in high school.

We've continued seeing each other, and we're both having fun. However, I'm pretty sure (I'm also pretty sure that this isn't just my ego speaking) that she's becoming increasingly attached to me, and increasingly expecting me to stay with her past the summer.

What should I do? I don't want to basically kill the fun thing we have now by saying "oh yeah, by the way, the fling is over at the end of the summer," but I don't want to leave her heartbroken or (since she is friends with a few of my friends) make things really awkward when I come back to town. Do I have any sort of ethical obligation? Should I just not worry about it?

(oh yeah, if it isn't obvious, I'm sort of new to this whole thing)
posted by Bahro to Human Relations (24 answers total)
The next time you're having fun or there's a nice easy-to-talk time, just ask "Um, you remember I'm going away in the fall, right?" and see what she says. It doesn't even have to be apropos of anything, since bringing it up in a "Oh it'll be sad when this is over." way is even sort of nice of you.

How she responds will clarify everything for you, and give you a nice, polite opportunity to correct or adjust her expectations.
posted by rokusan at 9:41 PM on July 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Just be upfront with her. It might not be easy, and yeah, it might cancel the gravy train, but if you can avoid hurting her and causing some end-of-summer drama, it will be worth it in the long run.

Be a stand-up guy.
posted by elder18 at 9:44 PM on July 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yeah, a gentle reminder is the way to go. She's responsible for her own emotions if she gets in too deep in a relationship that she knows is strictly limited, time-wise.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:52 PM on July 12, 2009

"Um, you remember I'm going away in the fall, right?" Yeah, but don't say it like this. She'll probably interpret that as "Oh hey, I know it seems like I really care about you, but BTW I think you're disposable, you remember that, right?"

Be honest, be upfront, don't drop hints, don't dance around the issue or play it cool. This won't spare her feelings. If you're intent on ending the relationship at the end of the summer, tell her that. Anything else is cruel. This might mean that she'll want to end the relationship before then, but if she does, it's for emotional self preservation. You have no right to want to convince her otherwise.
posted by telegraph at 9:59 PM on July 12, 2009 [8 favorites]

Your question is basically: "Blah blah blah, summer fling, blah blah blah."

Look. Dump her. It doesn't have to be nasty. It doesn't have to involve some gigantic exposition, or deep, "we need to talk," type interaction.

If you say anything at all say, "Wow! We had a really fun summer fling, didn't we? Good luck, catch ya on the flip side."

Better yet is just to let it fizzle out. That means shrugging when she suggest you spend more time together, not returning her phone calls, acting "aloof" and whathaveyou.

Honestly, you're really over thinking this.
posted by wfrgms at 10:12 PM on July 12, 2009

At bare minimum, you need to make sure she's on the same page you are.

You asked about ethics, though. I think there needs to be some overlap in expectations for you to continue seeing her. If her thoughts are "wow I'm falling in love with this guy, I'm gonna wait for him no matter how much long distance it will be" and yours are "wow this is so much fun and I can't wait to hook up with new girls at college", then no amount of disclosure on your part will make it ethical to continue dating her. (I wish I'd always followed this rule ... I'm not saying it's easy.) However, if there's some overlap in how the two of you feel, I think you can enjoy the summer together.
posted by Happydaz at 10:12 PM on July 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

elder18 is right on. It's going to hurt for her no matter how you handle it. You know what you're going to do, i.e. move on when the summer ends, so you need to let her know the nature of your feelings even if it "cancels the gravy train." That's a great phrase and it should be used more often.

Ending it sooner rather than later is to your advantage in so many ways. You don't want to go off to college with a guilty conscience and very recent memories of the inevitable, emotional breakup. And you don't want to ruin your first semester at college by spending hours on the phone with her hashing things out, or dodging her calls.

You sound like a nice guy, so do the nice guy thing: let her know it's coming to an end.
posted by vincele at 10:14 PM on July 12, 2009

Relationships come and go at that age. Don't worry about it. It would be better if you were upfront with her, though.
posted by delmoi at 10:48 PM on July 12, 2009

Be upfront and nice. Much better than disappearing and doing the equivalent of: "Dear Baby, Welcome to Dumpsville. Population: You".
posted by smoke at 10:48 PM on July 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

The unethical thing to do would be to go along not saying anything -- to hide that you're concerned about her expectations, or to even tacitly seem to agree that things will continue after the summer. You're having concerns now, and the appropriate thing is to talk to her about them.

I'd go with something like, "how are you going to handle it when I leave for school in the fall and we're not together anymore? I worry about how you'll feel, and that you'll be really sad, or even mad at me. I like you a lot, I just know I can't do a long-distance thing. I know you can take care of yourself and everything. What do you think about it? What is it going to be like for you? I want us to be together now, but if that is going to make this fall really terrible for you, maybe we shouldn't keep getting closer and closer now?"

If she said anything explicit, I especially think you have a duty to clarify how you see things moving forward. That might sound like, "hey, you know how you were talking about what we're going to do over Thanksgiving? ...I'm not even sure I'm coming back for Thanksgiving. And even if I did, I'm not sure how things would be with us, after all that time of not being together. It think it might be a bit different."

The thing for you to think about is that, even if she says that she knows you guys are just together for the summer, there's no guarantee that she won't be hurt or angry -- those are feelings she might have, and it might affect whether or not things with her or her friends are awkward in the future. You could say "you knew, so why are you taking it out on me?" and maybe she'd say something like, "yes, rationally, I understand the whole thing. But when I see you, I still feel so sad. So, I just can't hang out."

So, a comment that said "well, her feelings are her problem, you guys had an agreement," wouldn't be giving you the full story. While ultimately, it's her responsibility, you also have a responsibility to yourself, one that gives you at least some amount of interest in urging her to not deceive herself, to think things through, and to really do what is right for her in the long run, even if in the short run, it's not what you would have preferred. I'm not saying you have to go overboard, but what you're basically telling us is "I don't want to leave her heartbroken, even if she's willing to lie to me and say that this isn't what's going to happen." I think this is something you could say to her, and that you could ask her to basically explain to you why she really is okay with this arrangement. If it's an explanation that makes your concern go away, great. If it's completely unpersuasive and you see the writing on the wall about future anger and pain and awkwardness coming your way, then it's up to you to decide if that's something you're willing to accept that future if it lets you have a great summer.
posted by salvia at 11:04 PM on July 12, 2009 [20 favorites]

Whoops, sorry for the typo in the last line.
posted by salvia at 11:05 PM on July 12, 2009

So, a comment that said "well, her feelings are her problem, you guys had an agreement," wouldn't be giving you the full story.

I agree with salvia's excellent advice.

My comment that her feelings are her own responsibility was premised on the idea that the summer fling was explicitly & unambiguously understood & agreed by both parties, and that the sands hadn't shifted since then.

Of course, it doesn't always go so neatly when feelings are involved, and even if it was clearly agreed back whenever, there still might be some wishful thinking creeping in on her part, as in "yeah, I know we had an agreement *but* this has developed into something really special & I thought you'd feel the same way, too..."

"Managing expectations" is what this kind of thing is normally called in the business world - appropriate & repeated communications to ensure that you stay on the same page, and that the other party isn't somehow expecting something substantively different to what is actually being offered. That sounds really clinical, but it's an important part of good communication.

If you want to get even geekier, I remember a friend referring to it once as a "ping test" - just ping every now & then to see if they're still in the same space as before.
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:27 PM on July 12, 2009

Go read Salvia's comment again. She is exactly right.

Even though you started out with very clear expectations, you can't blame her if her feelings change. People are not robots.

Imagine if it was you in her situation, and treat her with the kindness that you would want to receive.
posted by exceptinsects at 11:48 PM on July 12, 2009

I had a relationship that went something like that - we knew it would end at a preset date when we went off to college. I thought it would be really hard, but the way it actually went was just a very gradual falling off - we met up less and less often, spent more time with other people and planning for things after the set date... and eventually we realized that it'd been two weeks since we'd as much as talked, and the relationship was basically over, just in time to move away.

So I recommend not being cruel but just being 'casual' - you're enjoying her company, you're having fun together, and you're also thinking about all your packing, etc. Don't give in to the temptation to spend progressively more and more time together because "you're leaving soon". That just encourages her to obsess and makes the transition very strong when you do move away. You don't want her to have the feeling of going from days filled with you to never seeing you again. If you're kind and maintain good boundaries, this can be a fun relationship that you both remember fondly.
posted by Lady Li at 12:09 AM on July 13, 2009

Remember Dan Savage's advice: when dating someone younger (she's still in high school, you're going off to college; in some ways there are years between you), follow the Campsite Rule. Leave 'em better than you found 'em. No littering.

Salvia appears to understand this concept the best of anyone here so far. There is nothing in that comment that is wrong, and there is everything right with it. Follow Salvia's advice.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 12:25 AM on July 13, 2009 [5 favorites]

dirtynumbangelboy is right—you have a duty here.

There is, however, an easy way that I've seen people use to some effect, although it's really the cowardly way:

You could declare loudly and frequently that you don't believe that there's such a thing as love, and that you don't believe that human beings were meant to be monogamous at all. That would pretty much rule out the chance of a relationship in her eyes. However, as I've said, this is the cowardly way, the dishonest way—unless, of course, you actually believe that.
posted by koeselitz at 4:51 AM on July 13, 2009

Yep, salvia's spot on.

(Though, I am amused to remember that once upon a time, I got a Very Earnest Talk from the older boy I was dating that summer. Yes, I was really enjoying my summer with him, but uhh, I think he was the one getting too attached. Not saying this is your situation, but even if she is getting a little carried away in the moment right now, doesn't mean you need to dread this talk.)
posted by desuetude at 6:43 AM on July 13, 2009

Continue to date, and accept that one (or both!) of you will be heartbroken for a while at the end of the relationship. This is normal, the risk we all take and the price we often pay for entering into romantic and/or sexual relationships.

While salvia's advice is compassionate and honest in principle, I've found that in practice it ends up being kind of manipulative. She's going to hear you saying "we can only be in a relationship if you aren't too serious about it. You're not being too serious about it, right?" And of course if she's in love with you she'll say "no, it's fine, it's just a fling" because the alternative is losing you now rather than in September. You have the power here as the one more willing to walk away; using it to extract a confession of non-love to ease your conscience is just another method of using that power.

In addition, it's disrespectful of her agency as an (almost) grown-up. Like she can't be trusted to make the decision to be in a short-term relationship where she might develop feelings, so you'll make it for her. If this is a mistake she's going to make, better to make it with you, an apparently honest and compassionate guy, than the next asshole who comes along.

When things come to an end, she may be upset, or she may not. You may be more upset than you expect. Just follow your instincts and be kind. It's the best you can ever do.
posted by a young man in spats at 7:03 AM on July 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

Thank you all for the sage advice.

There are definitely misunderstood expectations, and after reading your comments, I agree that I have some duty to correct those. What I'm trying to figure out now is how I can avoid coming across as telegraph said when I try to reconcile our expectations.
posted by Bahro at 10:38 AM on July 13, 2009

"I am really enjoying our relationship, but I am concerned you are getting too attached to me. I'll be leaving at the end of the summer, and don't want a long distance relationship while I'm at college. What do you think?"
posted by xammerboy at 11:06 AM on July 13, 2009

SALVIA, can I pay you to come over as a stand-in for my next breakup?! You will be like my boyfriend's phone-a-friend.

I've been in your girl's situation, and those are THE EXACT words I'd have loved to have heard. But instead I got the generic, "you're not getting too attached, right?" and I was like "omg no, definitely not!" and I so was.

And I just want to pitch in (or reiterate) that just because you "already told her in the beginning" that this would only be a summer fling, you are not absolved of responsibility now. Women (and maybe men I guess) have a habit of not hearing that type of thing. Especially since she's in high school, right now she might be all, "Oh em gee, I know he said it'd be just a summer fling but I really feel like we have this like, connection, and I really feel like he's like, falling for me, I can really see him wanting to be together when he goes away!" Your words will far eclipsed by (what she perceives to be) your actions.
posted by thebazilist at 4:07 PM on July 13, 2009

Thank you all for the sage advice.

I saw what you did there.

...but was just chiming back in with a minor correction to dirtynumbangelboy's comment:

Remember Dan Savage's advice: when dating someone younger anybody, follow the Campsite Rule. Leave 'em better than you found 'em. No littering.

posted by UbuRoivas at 4:37 PM on July 13, 2009

Yes, Ubu.. but people often have a habit of stripmining when they're dating younger folks, and need to be extra careful. Contemporaries can be assumed to be somewhere near the same page.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:15 PM on July 13, 2009

Fair enough point, but remember that we're talking about end-of-highschool v beginning-of-university. They're different worlds, sure, but conventional wisdom would have a girl of that age pegged at the same level of maturity as a guy up to a few years older.

There isn't really *that* much difference between a 17yo & a 19yo (except in countries where the legal drinking age is 18)
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:16 PM on July 13, 2009

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