Summer of love

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 August, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 August, 2006, 12:00am

MANY PEOPLE HAVE experienced a steamy holiday romance - and those who haven't probably wish they had. Let's face it, carefree days, exotic locations and the waft of coconut oil can entice even the most down-to-earth traveller into a passionate embrace.

What is it about a holiday that makes even the most demure become down-right flirtatious? More importantly, can a holiday romance last in the real world?

Holidays disrupt the daily patterns of our lives, leaving us feeling physically relaxed and emotionally energised. Without any set routine and with the worries of home, work or study a mere memory, it can seem like the perfect time for love.

Relationship counsellor Sharon Glick, from St John's Counselling Services, likens holiday romances to holiday shopping. 'Even for those who don't like shopping, when you go on vacation there's a desire to spend money - with holiday romance it's the same kind of idea. We set off with a fantasy that we have to act differently, or do something special to make great memories - that's the holiday mindset. To go off on a holiday as a single person and not have a romance ... well, how much scenery can you handle?'

Kate, now aged 37, sighs wistfully as she recalls a romantic holiday escape. 'I was 20 and single. He was 35 and the water-sports manager for the resort. Part of the attraction was the bronzed body and tiny red shorts, but the whole experience added something extra to my holiday. He taught me to water-ski and to sail. We went for moon-lit walks along the beach and had romantic dinners. For a 20-year-old, it was the perfect holiday.'

Kate left her romance behind when she boarded the flight home. 'It was hard to say goodbye, but I didn't want to take it further - for me it was just a holiday fling.'

US-born Michelle's first holiday romance lasted five months and started in Hong Kong. 'It was a blind date? A mutual friend knew we were in Hong Kong at the same time - I was on holiday and Rob had just been transferred here with his job. We were staying at the same hotel. After some pressure from the mutual friend I reluctantly agreed to meet Rob at the bar - it was only for an hour, but we had a good time and I agreed to see him again the next night. We went to Lan Kwai Fong and stayed out until four in the morning - we had a fantastic time. I was due to fly out the next day and he asked me to stay - I woke up the next morning in this exciting city and thought, 'Why not?' I ended up being away for five months.'

Glick says Michelle and Kate's stories aren't unusual - an exotic location and the mystery surrounding it make holiday romance all the more enticing. 'People take romance on holiday. When they pick a destination it's because they have pre-conceived fantasies about that place. And when you meet someone it gives the vacation a whole new dimension. It creates mystery, energy, excitement. It's not your real world and you're not the real you - you have the chance to reinvent yourself. I've known people who make up new careers for themselves on holiday. A bus driver doesn't say he's a bus driver - he's a transportation engineer or the accountant who becomes the financial analyst. Holidays that include romance and mystery are simply more memorable.'

Michelle admits she was seduced by the thrill of a whirlwind romance. 'Rob was English and that was part of the attraction. We travelled together to Italy, Bali, Australia ... It was fun, but I realised that for it to be serious it had to work in the real world. And it didn't. We visited LA and hung out with my friends. I could see right away that he felt intimidated and our relationship suddenly felt different. He just wasn't as appealing in LA, in my world. We didn't have that much in common.'

Why don't these relationships work when we get back to daily life? According to Glick, it's all about infatuation. 'They fail because they're couched in fantasy - and as reality unfolds it becomes imminently clear that, while there may be a physical attraction there isn't much else. Holiday romance is real infatuation rather than real love. Real love talks about the ability to truly care about the other person's well-being as if it was your own and that's not how one is on a summer fling.'

But Glick says holiday romances still have a lot to offer - if you go in with the right attitude. 'It's a way of creating life-long memories,' she says. 'You have to go into the relationship understanding it's a holiday romance, a fling - enjoy it for what it is and take away those memories. I can remember one of those extraordinary holidays and it gives me extra pause for fantasy - I wonder what would have happened if I'd stayed in Florence all those years ago?'

For a few, those holiday memories do become a reality. Tim and Betty Leslie met on a cruise 41 years ago. They've been happily married for 40 years and have two children. 'To begin, it was an onboard romance,' says Betty. 'But we kept in touch after the cruise and realised we had a lot more in common than just a holiday. To be together meant sacrifices. I had to leave my family and move cities, but it was worth it and we've been happy for more than 40 years. This November, we celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary and our daughters have bought us tickets on a luxury cruise, which I think is perfect.'

Although most of us won't end up like the Leslies, we can still take away those steamy holiday memories. As Glick says: 'Just remember who you are and what your true reality is - and most importantly, enjoy yourself!'