What is it about those warm days of summer that makes even the most romance-averse of us able to get all starry-eyed and ready to fall head over heels? According to Dr. John Sharp, a leading Harvard psychiatrist and the author of The Emotional Calendar: Understanding Seasonal Influences and Milestones to Become Happier, More Fulfilled, and in Control of Your Life, certain seasons and times of year profoundly affect the way we feel, influencing our moods and behavior when it comes to searching for The One. In order to help you maximize your seasonal dating, mating and relating activity, we asked Dr. Sharp for his advice on how to maximize each season’s potential during your search for love throughout the calendar year; below are his answers.
Q: Are certain seasons better or worse for finding love?
A: Some people make the mistake of waiting for the most favorable of circumstances to embark on romance; others take whatever works in the moment. I am for the latter strategy — enhanced, however, by seasonal awareness. When one has “seasonal awareness,” he or she can gravitate to the emotional center of a given season and embrace what it offers. What does this mean? [It means that you should] strive, for example, to be empowered by the feeling of “spring fever” in spring, or that feeling of freedom in summer. Even winter offers wonderful possibilities for romance, [as it’s] a time for getting close and warm. Summer’s coming around the corner, and that’s a great season for love — especially if you are feeling positively about yourself. Do a little something to be healthier right now. Feel better about yourself and you’ll get in the mood for love.
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Q: Is spring fever real? How does it affect peoples’ love lives?
A: Oh, spring fever is definitely real. Scientific research has confirmed that there is a biochemical upheaval that comes with spring. That inner restive energy is cellular, metabolic, and neuroendocrine-based, revving you up to make you want to get going more, mix it up, and create a stir. There’s no need to change partners, but there’s certainly a need to harness the expansive upsurge and be the determiner of what you want. This is no time for standing on the sidelines — [it’s] better to get in the game! The big problem, though, is that early spring can feel too discombobulating. So hold on tight and focus your energy in the new direction you decide you want to go. Spring is ultimately about rejuvenation.
Q: Why are summer romances so prevalent?
A: Summer romances are indeed prevalent, and it’s not just [part of] American lore; it’s global. Interestingly, there are two very different explanations at work. One is simply that after the upsurge of restive energy in spring comes the opportunity to put this all to good use. Late spring and summer are natural times to follow the birds and the bees (or that boy or girl) if you are ready. It’s so natural — passions are enabled; people wear less clothing; we are out and about more; sunlight abounds. The other explanation has to do with the idyllic time away from reality that summer brings — or that we think it should bring. A summer romance, like in an Eric Rohmer movie, is a separate reality — an inherently time-limited and yet paradoxically unbounded time in our lives. It’s that “don’t be too serious, don’t worry about it, do it just for right now” kind of moment that we all crave sometimes. In The Emotional Calendar, I advise thinking of each season as its own separate world — unique with its own tastes, smells, colors and textures. And summer? It can be magic: don’t fight it, embrace it!
Q: How, specifically, do certain holidays — or holiday seasons — affect one’s search for love? And are men affected differently than women?
A: Women often want their men to live up to certain expectations. So, a birthday or Valentine’s Day or even a Saturday night date can be a proving ground. But men sometimes resist feeling forced or [put] on demand. I say that men should wise up and respond. Men [who are] determined to refuse, beware: you are doing so at your own risk. Men should ask themselves: What would it mean if I were to buy into the holiday ideal — go with it rather than against it — and seriously play the part with feeling and some measure of authenticity? The trick is always to strive to be authentic — to both yourself and the season. Find and magnify the connection between what is right for you and what is right for the season. If you are able to capitalize on the emotions associated with a particular season — a particular propensity to fall in love around Valentine’s Day, or the excitement and that “special” feeling [that happens] during her birthday — you can really score extra points.
Q: How do the weather changes that occur during certain times of year influence peoples’ love lives?
A: Some people never take a moment to really realize it, but weather affects how we experience our own selves and how we feel in our relationships with others. It doesn’t [necessarily] have to be fairytale beautiful outside [in order] to enjoy yourself and relate well to others. Bad weather, for example, can have a terrific bonding effect, making you want to help a neighbor or cozy up at home. Or maybe a weather-inspired adventure injects some unexpected delight into your everyday picture. Bad hair day? Maybe take a walk in the rain, I say — just don’t try to pretend that weather isn’t a big factor in your life. The key is to recognize how you are being affected. Whether you then decide to try and balance out the effect or go with it, smooth it over as best you are able or accentuate it, it’s all up to you.
Q: How do you advise dealing with a holiday season that might include a negative environment or trigger a painful memory for some daters?
A: The unhealthy thing would be to take refuge in the context of a relationship in an attempt to avoid the pain of the season. Yet, this is actually a most natural temptation; it’s a little bit like drugging yourself. Maybe this is not necessarily so unhealthy as long as you know that’s what you’re doing. But avoidance, distraction, and intoxication with a dramatic love affair trades one set of problems for another. You’d better make sure you understand what your motivations are and be wise to the fact that healthy relationships almost always come from a feeling of personal strength and positivity, not neediness and vulnerability. So, problem-solve in advance for hotspots on your emotional calendar that have proved difficult in the past. A holiday season, negative environment, or specific trigger in the past is likely to prove to be difficult again unless you approach it differently. Taking an active role in [dealing with] this prevents you from being the victim of circumstance. Sometimes having a valid need to do something different — to make a difficult time turn out better — can be downright empowering. More of that take-charge attitude can be a very attractive asset in the dating world!
Q: In your book, you explain that men are especially affected by seasonal sports. How do these “sports seasons” affect men’s dating experiences and their search for love in particular?
A: First, let me say that I know there are many women sports fans. It’s just that classically, it’s the dudes who congregate and do the “pretzel and beer at the sporting arena” or 60-inch plasma TV thing. A big game day is a big deal, and that means time away from romance. It’s really best not to try to control or interfere with this [too] much… it’s primal. If there is enough space in the relationship (and there probably is), make room for it. Take note that every sports season has its own phases; just like a natural season, there’s the beginning, middle and end — or, more specifically to sports, the first half, second half, and play-offs. And just like with a natural season, a sports season’s emotion gets more and more intense as it goes along, and we have to take that into consideration. Finally, remember that some guys may get extra-involved with sports because they have nothing better to do. But with romance in the picture, a better balance may come naturally.
When DC-based journalist Chelsea Kaplan isn’t helping you solve your relationship problems, she’s making jewelry. Check it out atwww.chelseabellejewelry.com.