Long, stretched out Saturdays. Weekday happy hours gone too long. Blissed out sunsets by the lake and early, early mornings of sunlight. True, gritty heat waves, turning the United States into a red and orange gradient on the weather channel map. Barren highways on Friday mornings. Sweaty glasses of ice tea dripping down tan chests and quick, dismissive, flighty texts: Sorry! Can’t make it! We are out at the lake all weekend!
Summer and its inevitable, blissed-out truths.
After the Summer Solstice on June 21, we hit peak sunlight. On average, in most parts of the country, ongoing sunlight can last anywhere from 14-18 hours a day. During the Winter Solstice, there will be only 8 hours and 23 minutes of daylight, making summer feel like a long first drag from a cigarette, filling one’s lungs like a craved sickness. The arc of the sun even changes during the Summer Solstice, also offering the longest twilight of the year, a sweet closing of periwinkle evening sky.
Ideally, summer is the cat’s meow. Summer is a romantic telltale of starlit skies and nights by the campfire. Hollywood has romanticized summer lovin’ ever since John Travolta was stranded at the drive-in. Classics like 500 Days of Summer, Dirty Dancing, My Girl, Mamma Mia, and The Parent Trap have equally given us romantic tugs at the heart strings. Summer is the music industry’s seasonal starlet with the yearly “Song of the Summer.” Not to mention, in high school and college, we dream relentlessly of a coveted summer fling and the one that got away. What’s so romantic about it? Perhaps that it’s ephemeral, turning the season into a fleeting passerby. Evelyn Waugh, novelist, wrote about summer with epic fervor, “If it could only be like this always—always summer, always alone, the fruit always ripe.”
Sweet summer, the quick passing and beautiful art form for us to enjoy with rapture.
The thing is, for me, summer days stretch far too long.
Summer, as it turns out, makes me sad.
Long afternoons owned by heat waves and an hour that constantly feels like high noon make me incredibly melancholic. Weekends are worse, when everyone “leaves the city” for extended weekends away and open water. I am left surrounded by lonely cement and the smell of honeysuckle trees. Days stretch so long, 7 pm never feels late. And before I know it, I’m answering emails at 8 pm, simply because the day is still awake.
Which brings me to the summer expectations. The pressure to do “all of the things” in one day. The pressure to answer that email at 8 pm, because there is still daylight. The pressure to road trip and celebrate the warmth because the weather is perfect. “Another top ten weather day!” they say. The pressure to “be outside” and “get tan” and “patio happy hour my life away” sits on my frame like an eager passenger, willing me to be active.
With expectations so high, I’m also ushered into an extended existential crisis, giving me an emotional plain to frolic through. I am left to define “life’s meaning” with intense worry. I spend deep Saturday afternoons trying to figure out why I exist, digging into strenuous sessions of psychological books and poetry. Summer is perfect for poetry, my longing for purpose throbbing at the helm of every sonnet.
With expectations so high, I’m also ushered into an extended existential crisis, giving me an emotional plain to frolic through. I am left to define “life’s meaning” with intense worry. I spend deep Saturday afternoons trying to figure out why I exist.
Summer also feels very “blah.” The dynamics aren’t there, and the afternoons lull forward without much change, its monotony saddening. For me, the days feel flat and repetitive—all full of constant heat and staying up too late.
In the winter, spring, and fall, leaving work is different. There may be only an hour left of daylight. The day feels urgent and fleeting. The nights are paired with candlelight and dim lamps. An excitement is there. When the sun falls behind the horizon, the city can feel as if an entirely new adventure is in store. The evening can hold so much more. The day has more longevity because it’s constantly changing and I find myself balancing the afternoons and looking forward to autumn evenings.
The world has led us to believe summers are fruitful with possibility, that the days never end—an encouraging way of life. Write that summer bucket list. Take the long weekend road trip. You can do it all! The twist here is, summers end in a split second, so the pressure to pack adventures all in one season with delightful complacency is far, far too much.
Since the days are longer, I feel as if I’m tiresome most of the time. I stay up too late and the birds start their urgent singsong as early as 5 am. The sun doesn’t seem to mind if I want to go to bed at 8 am. And I try to fall asleep with the yellow/blue dusk and black silhouette trees. I wonder if this is the main reason summer makes me so melancholy. Lack of sleep can mess up your circadian rhythm, something that hugely supports the eating and sleeping pattern of animals, humans, and plants. When it’s thrown off, it can affect hormone production and cell regeneration, causing an increased sensitivity to pain.
The heat doesn’t help much either. I’m agitated and uncomfortable, and convince myself that the typical dose of anxiety I experience is on high alert when I’m overheating. I don’t know if it’s true or if I’m merrily making it up. But, I don’t hydrate myself nearly enough and I’m left feeling bloated and unkissed by the sun. Long stretches of record high temps in mid-July drag me to an impeccable loneliness, one that is a hideous drag.
Recently, the anxiousness brought me to the doctor. I had been feeling light-headed and lofty at work and convinced myself I had a brain tumor. At the doctor they took dozens of tests: blood tests, EKG tests, pregnancy tests, blood pressure tests. My blood pressure was through the roof, but the rest of my body was healthy. The doctor breezed in with her clipboard after receiving the results and wrote down a book name on a piece of paper filled with dozens of therapist contacts.
“The book is called Am I Dying. And you should read it.”
She went on to explain that I was cramming way too much into my calendar each week and I needed to take a deep breath. I was feeling so exhausted and anxious, and those tiny anxiety attacks were creeping into my vision each day at work. I half convinced myself it was because of the summer sadness, that my normal (mostly maintainable) anxiety was peaking because of the heat and lack of sleep and because I felt summer’s great expectations to do all the things. I don’t know. There’s really no way to prove that. But, I’m trying to relax. And I ordered the book.
It’s okay to find summer a little sad. Although summer is full of fruitfulness and airy freedom and wistful flower fields, it can also be ridden with haughty FOMO and a deep pit of mundane. That’s okay.
Lana Del Rey was right when she sang about summertime sadness. Even though I feel like The Upside Down, alternate universe version of The Grinch, summertime sadness engulfs me every summer, like solstice clockwork.
It’s okay to find summer a little sad. Although summer is full of fruitfulness and airy freedom and wistful flower fields, it can also be ridden with haughty FOMO and a deep pit of mundane. That’s okay. I try to be grateful every day even for its heat. For, if anything, I can let summer be a reminder that I am alive, even if pitifully sometimes. Emotions, as grungy as they can be, feel good.
Brittany Chaffee is an avid storyteller, professional empath, and author. On the daily, she gets paid to strategize and create content for brands. Off work hours, it’s all about a well-lit place, warm bread, and good company. She lives in St.Paul with her 80-year-old cat, Butch. Read more about her latest book, Borderline, and go hug your mother.