How to have a healthy summer fling

Ellen Tout was not looking for a relationship. Then, one warm summer’s evening, as eyes met across a crowded room, she found a different kind of magic


How to have a healthy summer fling

7 minute read

Three summers ago, while sitting around a pub table, I told my friends how much I was enjoying being single, how I was not interested in dating and just wanted to have fun. My six-year relationship had ended the year before – a slap in the face that I had not seen coming – but, to my surprise, I loved having time to myself and relished my freedom.

I queued to order more drinks – and that’s when I met Alex.* She flashed her cheeky smile as she pulled our pints and I couldn’t help but notice her beach-golden hair and unusual tattoos. The place was busy, but we chatted a little and, as I went back to my table, I felt a flutter in my stomach that I hadn’t experienced for years. A bolt from the blue I tried not to think too much of it – and surely she wasn’t interested in me in that way anyway! Later that evening, we bumped into each other again. She lingered and told me she was Australian and had been travelling in Europe. She seemed adventurous and spontaneous – nothing like my ex.

I told my friends I thought she was flirting with me, but it had been so long since I had dated, I had no idea what to do! They gave me a pep talk, but I still felt nervous, stumbling over my words and turning red. I worried that she was simply being friendly or had a partner but, without hesitation, she offered me her number. 

We messaged for hours that evening and agreed to meet at an open mic event later in the week. I really liked her and, when she said her UK visa expired soon and she would be moving on, my heart sank. Before our meeting, I was so anxious I nearly bottled it – but I forced myself through the door and we spent the evening laughing. I agreed to show her around my favourite spots in Kent the following day. 

One thing led to another and I soon realised how liberating it was – not having the pressure of our relationship ever becoming long-term. Knowing it could only be a summer fling meant we seized every moment – heading off on unplanned trips across the country, dancing all night like nobody was watching and spending long, warm evenings on the Kent Downs. Alex’s spontaneous nature rubbed off on me and those few months felt like a holiday – a nurturing retreat with a travel partner who just wanted to enjoy themselves. It seemed so easy.

True romance

The first time we kissed, I felt like a teenager. I was dropping Alex home after a day out in Brighton. I’d been trying to psych myself up for it for ages, but always stopped myself at the last minute. We sat in my old banger for an awkwardly long time, dragging out our goodbyes. Then, we hugged, turned to each other and kissed. I drove home feeling light, cheerful and like I was getting my confidence back.

Later, I texted my best friend. Was I was getting in too deep? She reminded me that I already knew I didn’t want a relationship, so I should go with it and make the most of every moment. I also met up with a few couples who told me about the stresses of buying houses, commuting to London and various relationship hiccups – and I felt lucky. I thought, ‘I know this casual romance, with no strings attached, is exactly what I need right now.’

My previous relationship had been difficult and had knocked my confidence. Spending time being single helped me reconnect with myself, but feeling desired and attractive again boosted my selfesteem. I still remember when Alex called me ‘beautiful’. I didn’t know when last I’d heard those words; I’d forgotten how it felt to be wanted and was close to tears. My romance with Alex was raising me up, helping me regain my spark and teaching me that I could, one day, trust and love again.

Alex’s personality was infectious. As we explored coast and countryside, I felt like I was seeing my home through fresh eyes, with a spirit of adventure. I realised I could step out of my comfort zone, take risks – and enjoy the ride. I’d never been on a gap year or travelled for more than a few weeks at a time, but hearing Alex’s stories and exploring together affirmed my desire to travel.

You, me, here, now

We knew from the start that, while we might stay in touch, ours was never going to be a long-term thing. That meant no expectation to meet each other’s families, make promises or think beyond the next few weeks. We could live in the present, and it was truly freeing.

Just before Alex left, we went to a festival in Cornwall. We spent the whole car journey talking openly about our families, thoughts and dreams – she was planning to study, and I would soon be off on a trek abroad. Our paths had crossed at the right time but were going in different directions. The festival was the perfect end – teaching her about the British tradition of dancing in muddy wellies; laughing as people tried to copy her accent, singing to live music and huddling in my tiny tent at night.

When Alex left for Australia via Asia, I shed a few tears. We had shared the most beautiful summer and I’ll always look back on it with fond memories. Yes, part of me wanted to jump on a plane and continue our adventure but I knew that, if I did, it wouldn’t be the same. It was the timing, the fantasy and knowing it would end that made it so special. Neither of us was ready for a relationship – we’d been upfront about that from the start – and, when I was honest with myself, the thought of our summer romance leading to anything more scared me.

I’ll never forget you

We’ve remained friends and check in with each other online from time to time. But her leaving taught me that I could be with someone, watch them go and still be happy. Later, when I started to date, I remember feeling nervous, yet sure of myself. I knew I could do it. The fear was gone. I felt prepared; ready for the excitement and ups and downs of dating. My short romance helped me reflect on old loves and recognise what I did (and didn’t) want from a relationship.

I now believe that we have different soulmates throughout life; and Alex was exactly what my soul needed that summer. Because of her, I felt alive again; brave enough to be open and vulnerable. I’ve been with my current girlfriend for two years now and I truly don’t think I would have been ready to love again without Alex, my summer sweetheart.

*Name has been changed

How to have a healthy summer fling

Love coach, psychosexual therapist and couples counsellor Cate Mackenzie shares her advice… 

Where are you in your life? Are you meeting your core needs for connection and fun? It is important to look inside yourself and make sure that you are not vulnerable to ‘over-bonding’ – becoming too attached to someone who is not always going to be available to you. According to writer Quentin Crisp, it’s harder to have heartbreak if you have lots of friends. Do you feel steady, with sufficient resources to open up to the idea of a light and fun romance? Do you feel secure about yourself? If your relationship with yourself is good, you know that you can always come back to you.

What do you want? Do you want to spend a short time together? Do you want cuddles or sex? Are you mindful of protection – how to keep safe physically, mentally and emotionally? As an exercise in awareness, write down how you want to explore a new connection, sensuality and sexuality.

Be clear and upfront. What are your intentions? Set boundaries for yourself and don’t keep the other person in the dark. Look up to help yourself become clear about your boundaries.

Most importantly – and it sounds trite – but have fun! 

Follow Ellen @Ellen_Tout.

Image: Getty