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24 August 2022

The literal version of “hot girl summer” is no fun at all

This season is oppressive, and it’s not only the heat. Can we just skip to September?

By Pippa Bailey

The Great Gatsby, The Go-Between, Atonement, To the Lighthouse – literature loves a heatwave almost as much as GCSE English students love to write about pathetic fallacy. Everything at once slows down, becomes languorous, drowsy, and is intensified: feverish, fermenting heat creates tension without even the need for other characters and dialogue. In London, tarmac grows sticky, roads shimmer, anti-climb paint sends fumes up into the air. The lid is placed on the pot; the temperature and pressure rise, and within something is transformed. “In the heat the senses, the mind, the heart, the body, all told a different tale,” writes LP Hartley in The Go-Between. “One felt another person, one was another person.”

The problem is I don’t much like this different tale, this other person. I have grown to suffer through the summer, and to long for the fresh days of September, imbued – as they will forever be, for this lifelong swot – with that new-term feeling. The heat overwhelms my body and mind, physical and mental discomfort growing in tandem. I have learnt from experience that antidepressants impair your ability to regulate your temperature.

[See also: Swapping the sunshine for the dark fatalism of Kurt Vonnegut]

From my overly insulated modern flat, which is interminably hotter inside than it is out, I long for the dark cool of the Victorian house of my childhood. I have spent much of the past month taking tepid baths – though even this I cannot entirely enjoy, with hosepipe bans incoming and parks turned to dust – and sleeping on the living room floor with the balcony door thrown wide. I go to the cinema twice in three days purely for the air-con (Hit the Road is just as enjoyable as expected; Nope, more so). I do not own this “summer wardrobe” of which others speak, having resigned myself to sweating through the few hot days of previous years in my jeans, and so have been taking “hot girl summer” rather more literally than it is meant. During our summer publishing break, without the routine of sending this magazine to press week after week, I am directionless, my stupor deepens. All this is worsened by the existential awareness that it isn’t supposed to be like this: something is breaking, has broken, in the natural order – and in the order of my life.

I find summer a peculiarly lonely time. Weekends, my single friends often complain, are the hardest time because they are the preserve of families. The summer is one long weekend. Without a default person with whom to go on holiday, I work through July and August; my social circle being primarily made up of couples, there are few friends willing to take up the vacancy. Others flee the city, and my world seems to shrink. I cannot shake the sense that somewhere, in a place I am not, others are having The Best Time Ever. In winter, a Friday night at home alone in front of the TV is a cosy act of “self-care”; in summer, it is undeniable proof that I am a loser. Searching for connection, however temporary, I go on a perhaps more-than-healthy number of first dates – though ultimately this only increases my sense of aloneness.

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This week, finally, the tension was released a little. First, the rain came, and I watched strangers outside smile to themselves as their T-shirts clung to their backs with a different sort of moisture. And then the order of my working week was restored, and with it I am driven onwards. I type “1 September” at the bottom of these pages with relief. In a few short weeks I will pack the contents of my overly insulated flat into a van and drive it to storage (aka my grandmother’s garage). Some friends – a couple with two small children – have suggested that I move in to their spare room, and I am overwhelmed by their kindness. They gain nothing from this generosity, and yet they extend it anyway. I say all this to my therapist, and she replies, “Except your company,” and this makes me cry.

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No doubt in a few months’ time, after weeks of being woken up at 5am by a four-year-old demanding breakfast, I will long for those maligned Friday nights alone. But I certainly won’t be lonely – or, I hope, hot.

[See also: This will be the tenth time I have moved in my adult life]

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This article appears in the 24 Aug 2022 issue of the New Statesman, The Inflation Wars