Seasonal Affection Disorder

On the perils of the seasonal significant other.

BY LARISSA PHAM

I met him at a party. Well, he met me. He saw me in the corner and marched over, his hand extended. “Hey,” he said. I took it. He told me his name. I told him mine. And in that instant, I knew two things: first, we would sleep together before the night was through. Second, he’d be a really nice seasonal boyfriend.

On a recent train ride from Connecticut into New York City, the little towns of New England were made even more picturesque by a blaze of fall leaves, lighting up the crisp sky in a riot of color so bright and autumnal you could almost taste the cold. A fall day’s never warm when the sky’s so clear. Everyone in my car was dressed for the weather—cabled sweaters, huge scarves, those long dark coats that always look so good on tousled young men. Wrapped in my own big gray pullover, I looked out the window at a landscape so blatantly picture-perfect it was almost laughable, and I thought about how nice it would be to have someone next to me. Not in a serious way or anything. My hand just felt like it needed some holding.

That night, he had tangled his fingers in my hair and asked if I would like to sleep with him. Laughing, I agreed; our bodies were already reflecting off each other in the charmed way that they did or do, and it was getting cold anyhow.

My roommates and I try to stave off turning on the heat for as long as possible; we’re cheap. October and November then become a contest to see how long we can keep ourselves warm: sweaters and blankets multiply imperceptibly quickly on our couches and beds, until we’re swaddled like tiny children in our own home. From my room, in the attic with a sloped roof, I can watch the trees on our street turning as yellow as the sodium of the streetlights. By mid October, we’re all tracking leaves in on our boots.

October always comes with a certain brisk excitement, tempered with a weird melancholy. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way. Sure, pumpkin-spice everything—but also that heady sense of fall. The smell of wet leaves. The sun sets earlier. It gets colder. We layer up: heavy coats and boots and flannels come out. The air grows crisp, skies blue and sharp as a knife; you feel the season in your ears, in your nose. And all of a sudden, like a hunger you never knew you had, you feel strangely alone. Maybe it’s a product of the quiet we all get when the seasons turn; I don’t know.

Over the weeks that unfolded after that night, I imagined all kinds of a season with him. Just a season. It was that kind of thing. And it was easy to do: enough of the things we liked lined up. We wanted to touch each other enough. And we were faced with that particular problem of those who meet and sleep together so soon: I didn’t know him, but I liked what I knew of him. I thought to myself: I’d desire him if I could. As it stood, I only knew I wanted to. And I only knew my idea of him.

Isn’t that how it goes? You meet someone new and things fall into place enough times and all of a sudden there you are sitting on a train, gazing out the window, dreamy smile on your lips, crafting some inane, happy future together—nothing serious, enough to get you through the winter. If love is where you get by knowing someone, lust is curiosity: let that not be the corniest thing I’ve ever written, but it’s close. Also true. It’s a mix of wanting what’s in the stories and the movies, and wanting what seems like it could be so good and easy because you don’t even know each other yet. Just the dream of you, me, him, whoever, no one’s exempt. Also, because it’s fall. Fucking fall.

Anyway, we slept together a few more times, and then drifted apart. Me and that guy. Maybe it was my fault; maybe it was his. More likely it was just the both of us knocking up against each other at new angles and realizing our personalities didn’t fit. For a few days, I’d pace around my living room, griping to my roommates about how suddenly my autumnal romance had disappeared; by the end of the week, I realized I no longer cared. All that was left was a vague sense of something lost, but it wasn’t something we’d ever had to begin with. Just the dream of it.

My last train ride home from the city was on a Saturday morning, chilly, sharp, fresh. I slouched in my seat, boots up on the one in front of me, and watched the graveyards and churches of New England roll past. Maple leaves as red as apples, as red as a blush. In my pocket, my phone buzzed; it wasn’t him. It wasn’t going to be. I laugh now, thinking about it. That was something in the tiny story that I had created, that the season had carried with me—the crisp dark air, the breeze, the lip-biting cold.

So maybe I liked him for being him, or maybe I just liked who I thought was him, or maybe I liked the least noble iteration of all this mess: what I thought he could be for me. With me. It’s fall, after all, and it’s getting colder. Maybe I just wanted to jump in a pile of leaves with him. But I could jump in a pile of leaves with anyone. My roommates and I need to turn the heat on soon.

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