The Case for Not Participating in Hot Vax Summer

This summer is predicted to be a bacchanalia of post-COVID love and debauchery. Here's why it might be worth sitting it out.

May 4, 2021 8:35 am
Two people stand far apart from each other on either side of a giant black heart background
Don't let hot vax summer FOMO keep you from focusing on yourself this season.
Henrik Sorensen

At some point this year — probably June or July, according to most state legislators — coronavirus restrictions will ease and we will all re-emerge, like bears from their slumber, into polite society. To help you readjust, we’ll be sharing some advice on grooming, fitness, getting dressed in something besides sweatpants (but also sweatpants), how to manage your stress and mental health, dating, concert and bar etiquette, and more.

“2020 was nothing but pain,” Twitter user Milz tweeted to his 534 followers on March 16 at 5:52 a.m. Perhaps it was the weather that had inspired such early morning melancholy; he’d awoken that day in Charlotte to a disheartening 40 degrees, after a springtime tease of temperatures the week before that topped out at 80. Though he began his scripture with palpable moroseness — also revealing that in 2019 he “got played” and “learned a huge lesson in the dating world” — Milz closed with a more optimistic refrain: “2021 bitch don’t fuck wit me I’m living my best life and this summer shall be epic.” 

Though he might not be gifted with the traditional eloquence and punctuation practices of social commentary predecessors like Emerson or Wilde, Milz certainly knows how to capture a moment. He did so in this case on behalf of a singles’ zeitgeist that’s currently teeming with excitement over an impending extravaganza of dating and intimacy. The next few months have preemptively been dubbed “Slutty Summer” or, in a callback to a viral 2019 meme with a vaccination twist, “Shot Girl Summer.” Many also see “the Whoring ’20s” finally kicking off after a year-long delay — with a forecasted uptick in STIs

However, those getting wrapped up in all this anticipatory energy have more to think about than the prospect of abnormal genital discharge. While the rush of romantic optimism and sexual fervor is understandably alluring after the past year-plus of challenges, it might behoove single folk to take a pause and consider their mental health before jumping into relationships. Why? Well, because of the past year-plus of challenges.

As a culture we have “a tendency to want to get out of discomfort and try to react to it through jumping into action,” says Lauren Korshak, a licensed marriage and family therapist, couples counselor and dating coach in San Francisco. “But when we’re acting out of stress, our actions aren’t deliberate.” This type of hastiness translates unfavorably in our dating lives. “We’re not building a foundation, we’re not necessarily moving toward our values,” Korshak observes. 

One piece of advice she often leans into when working with clients who use such emotional avoidance — a common response to trauma — is to practice mindfulness and stay present in the moment. This, she says, “can help us to slow down and to respond to our feelings,” which just about all of us should have plenty of right now. 

But if in spring we’re already focusing on summertime dating and treating it as a balm for our recent emotional soreness, we’re not tapping into those difficult feelings at all. 

“This past year has caused a lot of trauma or retraumatization for people, and we’re not really out of the woods yet, so it’s going to take some time to process everything that came up,” says Julia Bartz, an LMSW based out of the Mindful Psychotherapy Services clinic in New York, who also blogs about sex, dating and self-care at Psychology Today. She says singles should consider if they are “using dating as a bypass,” a distraction or a coping mechanism, instead of seeking a true connection. If they are, and their messaging is not reflective of that, it can lead to emotional distress.

“If you’re trying to have sex with everyone, and they’re looking for monogamy, and you don’t make it clear that monogamy isn’t what you want, you’re going to end up hurting this person,” says Zachary Zane, a sex and relationships columnist. “Just consider the feelings of other people and be honest. Also, be honest to yourself about what you’re looking for so you can go out and find it. Dating without a sense of purpose or knowing what you want can be disastrous for all parties involved.”

The extremely predictive mentality running through the singles community can also be a setup, if not for heartbreak, then for disappointment. Like, what if Milz’s summer isn’t epic? What if he doesn’t get laid several hundred times (or whatever “epic” means for him)? What if instead, say, he becomes friends with the person who in a few years becomes his life partner? Will that mean 2021 was also “nothing but pain”?

A more mindful approach to dating, Korshak says, allows people to “engag[e] with its process” and be open to “what that looks like versus trying to get a specific outcome.” More broadly, “If we focus on ‘getting back to normal,’” Korshak continues, “we’re just always going to try and fit things into this idea of what that should be and try and rush back to that and not fully be present with what’s unfolding.”

Meanwhile, she also adds: “The unexpected is where relationships can happen, and vulnerability and intimacy are byproducts of being able to be open to that unfolding.”

Vaccination/COVID status aside, it’s perfectly acceptable behavior for two people to be on the same page about what they both want and engage in a new relationship even as the pandemic continues, Bartz says. However, for an individual to be certain about their intentions — at any point, but especially right now — it would be beneficial to both them and their partner to consider where they truly are on an emotional level. “That takes a little bit of effort,” Bartz says. It also doesn’t arrive with the pinch of a needle or a boost in atmospheric temperature.

“I think mindful dating is paramount in helping reduce emotional and possible physical harm to yourself, as well as long-term feelings of regret,” says Tiana GlittersaurusRex, a polyamorous educator, sex work activist and entrepreneur in the intimacy category. “Know your hard and soft boundaries and comfort zones, then have fun exploring within them,” she adds. “Affirming your mental health isn’t selfish; it’s sex positive.”

To achieve a more mindful approach to dating with an enhanced sense of current self, GlittersaurusRex advises singles to “diversify emotional support systems,” talking to friends, family and mental health care providers. Bartz adds that people should ask themselves very basic questions, such as “What am I looking for?”, “What would be healthy for me to engage in right now?”, “What am I craving?” and “What would feel pleasurable?” She suggests not only considering the answers but also journaling about them and/or practicing meditation. 

But all these investments — even if it means maybe not taking part in Slutty Summer to instead focus on self care — can pay off. Just ask Twitter user Nicole, who indicated in a recent post that she’s engaged in some mindful practices of her own. 

“i’m dating a fucking great guy. i landed a new role and progressing in my career,” she wrote, like Milz, sidestepping some grammar rules. “2020 was a year of inner child healing and growing. 2021 feels like i’m reaping the benefits.”

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