Last week I met up with an old friend. She was tangled up in relationship drama. She'd met an unlikely someone at Memorial Day, and after two intense, fabulous months, things were starting to come off the rails. We laughed about it a little, even though she was sad, because it so neatly followed a well-worn arc: summer love.
Even before you have a summer romance of your own, you know the way they go. Summer is a time apart, with different rules but rules, and everything re-sets at Labor Day. The formula is codified in stories, songs and films you've seen and heard a hundred times before you ever come of age: a brief but meaningfully condensed light-baked interlude with a bittersweet ending, destined to fade into a sunset glow of fetishized nostalgia. Finding one of your own becomes a benchmark of growing up.
It is a strange paradox of content and form - after all, you lay yourself open to real feeling, and feelings inevitably knot into their own unpredictable shape. But you know the path they are supposed to take (ex. A), the way the story has to play out to achieve the proper catharsis. It is as ritualized as Victorian mourning. A way of playing at something bigger. It's like getting to detonate a little bomb in a very remote, controlled location. The collateral damage is limited, and the hurts are necessary scars, yours to treasure and bear.