Now that the weather’s getting cool, let’s cast a quick glance back at the truth about the summer that just was: few characters in dramatic history sum up the realities of summer love quite like Danny and Sandy in Grease. “Summer fling, don’t mean a thing,” they belt out in the memorable theme song, “Summer Nights.” Sad, but true. Intimacy sparked literally in the heat of the moment tends to fade faster than a set of well-cultivated tan lines.
Autumn romance, however, is different. The love we seek and hopefully find in the fall is bound to have more depth, more meaning. Listen in as notable scientists, anthropologists and authors explain why… and then get out there and get mingling. Your season of lasting love has arrived.
Why scientists think of fall as “mating season”
The cooling climate is a signal to us humans that we need to pair up — a signal that no doubt dates back to the dawn of man. “We know that winter is approaching and it will be more difficult, or challenging, to find a mate during the winter,” says psychologist and sociologist Terri Orbuch, Ph.D., a research professor at the Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan and author of Finding Love Again: 6 Simple Steps to a New and Happy Relationship. “So we are more intent on looking for and finding that someone special during the fall, to nest with, to mate with, before the winter settles in.”
What’s more, we humans are creatures of comfort. “In the winter, we hurry home to our nests to stay warm and protected from the elements,” says Susan Davis, Ph.D., a New York-based clinical psychologist and co-author of Raising Children Who Soar: A Guide to Healthy Risk-Taking in an Uncertain World. “To nest well, if we are single, we need to find a mate. It’s a very basic, primitive need that still drives us.”
The force known as family
“Biologically, fall is a logical time to fall in love,” says anthropologist Helen Fisher, Ph.D., a research professor at Rutgers University and author of Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love. Procreation plays a key role: human beings are motivated to mate in the fall so babies will be born in summer, explains Dr. Fisher. “It’s an adaptive mechanism,” Fisher explains. “Summer is a time of plenty, a time of less stress, high nutrition and comfortable weather.” Even if you’re not planning on procreating in the months ahead, at a deep and primal level, we’re driven to couple up… perhaps for keeps.
Back to business
Here’s another reason why fall is the best time to get serious with a sweetie. We all realize it’s time to stop fooling around. “Summer is a time when we’re off, we’re traveling, we’re not part of our communities,” says Dr. Fisher. “But in fall we come back to our settled lives, get on with the important affairs of living. We’re in a position to make a long-term commitment now.”
As our focus returns to our community — the neighborhood, the office — we’re more likely to get that itch to “settle down.” “Proximity renews its power in the fall,” says Dr. Fisher. “When routine and normality return, we tend to fall in love with people who are around, who we see regularly around the water cooler or at the gym.” And the relationships that result are more likely to have staying power: says Dr. Orbuch, “Proximity makes interaction more likely and rewarding. The more we see someone, the more familiar they become and the more we are attracted to them — and the more apt to fall in love.” So mysterious strangers on a train or at a beach may be the stuff of flings, but real people who live and work nearby are prospects for true love.
Dressed for commitment
As anyone who ever hefted a September issue of Vogue magazine knows, fall fashion is serious fashion. “With fall clothes, you still see the form — you’re not cloaked and covered up the way you are in winter — but you’re not showing everything either, and that sends the message of ‘take me seriously,’” says Debbie Mandel, a Long Island, NY relationship specialist and author of Turn on Your Inner Light: Fitness for Body, Mind and Soul.
Plus, the shift from summer attire (say, T-shirts and cargo pants) to button-down shirts and more tailored clothes lets both men and women strut their “ready for serious commitment” stuff. “The way we dress in the fall shows our resources — our money, our class, our education, our mate value,” says Dr. Fisher. “Men wear suits in the fall. Clothes that reflect achievement and conscientiousness are attractive in a mate because they signal that you’re responsible, able to get up and go to work and to deal.”
A woman in more covered-up fall clothes may also appear to be mate material “for a good Darwinian reason,” according to Dr. Fisher. “When a man is looking for a long-term relationship, he’s not as interested in the girl in the very short dress and scoop neckline, because he’d have to do a lot of what we call ‘mate guarding’ from all the ‘mate poachers.’” In other words, your partner won’t have to work so hard keeping you to himself when you’re wearing boots, jeans and a sweater.
Celebration of love
Well, what about the pressure? Fall heralds the start of the holidays, and nobody wants to spend that time alone. “Christmas is the most profound festival in the Western world, I think, but there were midwinter festivals throughout the last 10,000 years of our agriculture heritage,” Dr. Fisher points out. “It’s the one that we all share — and it’s a time of family, of making connections. It’s not a time of short-term attachments but of building the real, solid relationships that the brain seeks.”
Take the next step
What to do with all this information on the power of fall romance? Get out there! Savor the season by literally getting outside: “In the fall the sky is deeper blue, the air fresher, the leaves more colorful,” says historical romance writer Linda Madl. “It’s time for bonfires, apple picking and hay rides, the scent of burning leaves.” Fairs and festivals abound, so visit them.
If that’s not enough activity inspiration, consider taking the back-to-school impulse literally and signing up for a course where you’ll meet like-minded people. And remember, you can always fall back. Get in touch with someone you might have dismissed during the impetuousness of summer — he or she may look very different to you in the clear, crisp light of autumn.