Summer Lovin'

James Rujimora
May 2019

"Summer lovin' had me a blast, summer lovin' happened so fast" is how the classic song from the musical Grease goes. If you have attended camp as a camper or are returning camp staff at a resident or day camp, you know very well that some of your campers will fall in love with this summer. And why wouldn't they? There is nothing like puppy love, those awkward gazes across the dining hall and a kiss or two (if they're lucky). For campers who attend same-sex or co-ed camps, it is a time for them to explore and test out relationships. Inevitably they develop crushes, and then dating and relationships become something for concerned counselors to watch out for. For some, it will all end in heartbreak; for others, it won't, and falling in love at camp will be a story to tell their grandchildren someday. But this isn't a discussion about camper relationships; it's about counselor relationships.

So you decided to spend your summer working at camp. Great! The majority of your fellow staff are college-aged students (18- to 24-year-olds), so you are in good company — and it is no secret that relationships often develop amongst staff members. For better or for worse, it is a given at camp. So you won't find advice here about how to find a date or your one, true love. But offered here instead is some sound advice about developing professional boundaries with your fellow staff, and more importantly, a frank discussion about how your romantic relationship will affect your relationship with camp if it goes awry.

As someone who has worked for multiple summers at camp and been a part of many staffs, I know that relationships form as early as orientation. They begin as late as the last session of camp too. When you're together for eight to ten weeks during the summer with very little contact with the outside world, how can you not gravitate toward one another and develop crushes, and sometimes more? Relationships are a great thing. According to relationship researchers, for attraction to occur, you need four general attributes: similarity, propinquity, desirable characteristics, and reciprocal liking (Aron, Dutton, Aron, & Iverson, 1989). Similarities abound among summer staff. You and your fellow counselors likely feel strongly about camp's mission to provide life-enriching experiences for children and young adults; that means you probably also share common attitudes, beliefs, interests, and ways of thinking (Lilienfeld, Lynn, Namy, & Woolf, 2011).

In regard to propinquity, or familiarity with each other (Aron, Dutton, Aron, & Iverson, 1989), summer camp environments are conducive to this attribute. If you're at a resident camp in a rural area or deep in a forest, you'll be spending an enormous amount of time with your fellow staff. You may even live and sleep in the same cabin.

In terms of desirable characteristics, general attraction mainly focuses on physical rather than nonphysical attributes (Aron, Dutton, Aron, & Iverson, 1989). But many staff will have similar, desirable personality traits, such as warmth and compassion.

And finally, if you combine the former three attractions, there will most certainly be some kind of reciprocal liking occurring, whether on a platonic or romantic level. Summer camp is a recipe for love.

If the attraction is romantic, you may very well decide to pursue a relationship with that special someone. Not surprisingly, that will have some implications for how you behave at camp. Here are five takeaways about relationships and camp.

You Were Hired to Do a Job

You jumped through hoops to land this job — whether it was an application, an interview (or multiple), and/or reference and background checks — to spend the summer caring for other people's children. You were selected to do this job, to fulfill your responsibilities, and have fun with kids, not to get into a relationship. It happens, I get it, but the relationship shouldn't affect your work.

Professionalism

For some of you, this may be the first job you've had. And you'll learn a lot about workplace environments and styles — and the other side of camp relationships. In my most recent job at camp, I was a supervisor for a group of 15 staff members and volunteers for eight sessions. Aside from telling them how great their summer would be, I also taught them a lesson I learned regarding workplace acquaintances (thanks, Ron Swanson), which is, you don't have to like the people you work with. You'll be on a staff with individuals you do not like, for whatever reason, which is OK. That happens in almost every workplace environment, but because you don't like them does not mean you can't treat them with respect and civility. Everything else (i.e., friendship, community, networking) is secondary, and developing these support systems can help hold you accountable.

Utilize Your Leadership Team to Hold You and Your Partner Accountable

Your camp leadership team will possess a wealth of knowledge and experience, and they can probably spot potential camp relationships before they even blossom. They've been around the block and know how things happen. And they'll address any lack of professionalism appropriately, so utilize them to help you and your partner have a successful and summer. They'll hold you to the promises you made when you accepted the job.

Don't Let Your Relationship after Camp Ruin Your Relationship with Camp

Breakups happen. What one party might think is a mutual breakup after a summer fling may not end up being so mutual. If things don't last beyond the summer, I strongly encourage you to not let your ex-partner ruin your view of, or mar your experiences at camp. We need good, strong role models at camp, so remember why you came in the first place.

It Is OK to Be Single During the Summer

Summer is about having fun, playing with kids, learning new skills, and getting some sunshine and outdoor time. You'll develop friendships with your fellow staff members. They may develop into something more, but sometimes they'll remain just friendships. Either way, there is nothing wrong with staying single for the summer. Peer pressure happens, but couple pressure is also real. You don't need to get into a relationship just because it seems like everybody else is in one.

I know this: I have seen far too many great individuals not come back to camp because of how a summer relationship ended. So, if you happen to find yourself in a relationship at camp, be aware that it has the potential to affect your experience in both good and bad ways till camp do you part.

References

Aron, A., Dutton, D. G., Aron, E. N., & Iverson, A. (1989). Experiences of falling in love. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 6(3), 243–257. Lilienfeld, S. O., Lynn, S. J., Namy, L. L., & Woolf, N. J. (2011). Psychology: From inquiry to understanding (2nd Ed.). Pearson 


James Rujimora is pursuing a master's in Education in Mental Health Counseling at the University of Florida. He has volunteered and worked at a variety of SeriousFun Children's Network camps over the last eight years, and held a variety of camp roles, from cabin counselor to program assistant.