November 8, 2010
Romantic winter relationships on the islands: A survivors’ guide


(Editor's note: Despite common perception, the first sign of winter on Hatteras and Ocracoke is not the seasonal closing of gift shops and restaurants, the sudden drop in temperature, or even the first northeaster. Oh, no. It is the sudden explosion on your Facebook homepage when all of your friends’ statuses change from “single” to “in a relationship.”  Read all about it in Island Free Press columnist Joy Crist's guide to surviving a romantic winter relationship on the islands.)

Despite common perception, the first sign of winter is not the seasonal closing of gift shops and restaurants, the sudden drop in temperature, or even the first northeaster. Oh, no. It is the sudden explosion on your Facebook homepage when all of your friends’ statuses change from “single” to “in a relationship.”

Fall and winter romances are common on the island, as things start to shut down and the influx of hot tourists slowly dwindles for yet another off-season. But once you’ve found yourself in the happy romantic throes of coupledom, how do you keep the magic alive when you no longer have the movie theater or your favorite restaurant for entertainment, and, more importantly, you’ve traded in the cute bikini for hip waders? 

I could say that I’m an expert on the subject. I could say that, but I would be a complete and total liar. So instead, as you and your loved one shop for matching bait buckets, consider the following as a guide of what not to do. And if you do slip up and find yourself in the same predicaments that I’m usually in, just relax, take a deep lungful of the cool  breeze,  and just be happy that you have a special someone that somehow puts up with your crap anyway.

Keeping the romance alive sometimes means wearing pants

Like many locals, we are social animals in the summer, and are always jetting from one event to the other, hobnobbing with friends, and going to a new restaurant or venue every weekend, dressed to the nines with a dark tan and bright summer duds.

In winter, however, a special night out is defined as my running a comb through my hair for a trip to Food Lion after 7 p.m.

This is compounded by the fact that I work from home, and, as such, my daily uniform consists of a bathrobe with coffee stains on it and two-day-old mascara, which has migrated to under my eyes and nose.

Now who wouldn’t want to be with someone like that?

So my point is that when you get to that period in winter when your social life has slowed to a crawl and you’re perhaps not putting the effort into your looks that you did over the summer, it’s probably time to get dolled up and upgrade your attire for a change (which, in my case, is to put on pants).

Gentlemen, we know that your most comfortable shirt is the one that you have had for 20 years and has the washed-out name of some now defunct college bar you used to frequent, illegibly concealed by 10,000 holes. That’s fine. But once in a while, especially if you’re in a relationship, it might be nice to throw on a shirt that doesn’t look like a fish net.

And, ladies, fall and winter present the perfect excuse to go out and buy some new cute sweaters and jackets. (I find that pea coats make you look smarter, even if worn over a coffee-stained bathrobe.) Just do yourself a favor and save months of unnecessary trauma and therapy by hiding and refusing to try on all of your summer bathing suits, particularly after the winter holidays. We’ll worry about that nonsense in May.

Scrabble arguments and other romantic evenings

Many local couples find that the wintertime is when a relationship really blossoms, because with every sort of entertainment veritably shut down for the season, couples are forced to think outside the box, and spend romantic evenings at home, playing games, watching movies, or enjoying a sunset at 4:30 in the afternoon.

But be forewarned that because of this forced intimacy and many quiet evenings at home, this is also the time when your partner will really get to know you, in all your stupid, annoying glory.

On that note, let it be known that I warned my significant other within the first few weeks of dating that it is in my oh-so intelligent nature to become extremely competitive over really stupid things.

For this reason, I am permanently banned from many local and regional games of mini-golf, bowling, poker, Monopoly, Risk, Survivor the home game, and beer pong.

The poor thing thought I was kidding, but after numerous sulking-in-a-corner sessions after losing, or painfully long car rides home from the Nags Head bowling alley, where I used every opportunity I could think of to gloat about how I was a legitimate skee ball prodigy, he finally figured out that our relationship could not involve stupid, competitive sports.

Our only exception to this rule, and the one thing that got us through constant winter evenings, was Scrabble.

Until, naturally, we messed that up too.

With both friends and lovers, I have always been well behaved during Scrabble games, namely because I usually win. I am the goddess of using both Zs and Qs on a red triple-word score square that gives me a three-digit lead at the height of play, and I attribute this skill to my natural mastery of the English language. Or something.

But after a few big losses, my partner suddenly developed a crackpot theory that I was making up words as I went along and using long-winded and patronizing definitions and explanations to validate said words when they didn’t actually exist.

This theory, however silly, was correct.

“What do you mean you’ve never heard of a Ziggy-Quap? It’s like an 18th century surfboard, but gas powered.”

Apparently this quirk is also genetic, as my mother, an English teacher for the past four decades, has played this trick on my father during Scrabble games for more than 35 years. (He figured this out in the ‘80s, I think.)

So under the guise of being sweet and thoughtful and all that stuff, my partner, smart man that he is, decided to give me a leather-bound Scrabble dictionary as an early Christmas present.

What a jerk.

Of course, I had to accept the gift with the appropriate ooh-ing and ahh-ing as if this present didn’t completely ruin my entire game strategy, and he just had to sit there and smile sweetly and pretend that neither of us knew the whole reason he got me the darn thing was so I would stop cheating and he could win for once. He even had the gall to say he couldn’t wait to play a game so we could try it out.

But, oddly enough, shortly after I got the present, the Scrabble board that I’ve had for 10 years mysteriously went missing, and somehow ended up being mailed to my mother with a note about how she should make sure my father and my significant other shouldn’t have any Scrabble-related conversations in the immediate future. 

Also odd is the fact that soon after the Scrabble board went missing, I found my old Boggle game, which, to the best of my knowledge, has no dictionaries associated with it whatsoever.

So what’s the lesson? If you want to maintain a strong and loving relationship during the winter, stick to synchronized solitaire.

Utilizing Doritos and beer as a sensual aphrodisiac

Let’s face it. It’s winter, and we’re broke.

And as much as we would love to jet off to the Caribbean or a romantic bed and breakfast, or even better, have an Atlantic City gamble-a-thon, we just don’t have the funds or the inclination. One of Hatteras Island’s cruel seasonal jokes is that you can have time, or money, but never both.

But winter is the time when I can finally indulge in my true life’s passion, which is eating. The bathing suits are stored in cardboard boxes and won’t be dusted off for months, so the first few weeks of fall is the ideal time to work on my signature off-season look, the wintertime gut.

Thankfully, I have a partner who not only shares my passion, but encourages my creative pursuits by introducing me to new and exciting types of frozen pizza and joining me on expeditions to the Kill Devil Hills Harris Teeter when the limited-edition varieties of Ben and Jerry’s arrive.

As such, it is my position that the wintertime gut, and all the consuming efforts associated with creating the wintertime gut, is a time-honored island tradition that all couples should share.

Who needs roses when chocolates exist? Who needs a couples’ getaway when you can have a romantic tasting of six different kinds of “late-nite” Doritos? There’s a reason why it’s called “being fat and happy,” and I encourage everyone to take advantage of all the wonderful seasonal junk food that wintertime presents.

It might be considered odd in more tasteful circles that we have planned out-of-town evenings around Taco Bell’s hours of operation, (multiple times), but in my mind, if you can both stand to look at each other with said wintertime gut, and keep right on munching, then you know you have something good going for you.

Besides, men love women who can cook, and women love men who can cook – or who at least do the dishes once in a blue moon -- even more.

(Author’s note to partner if he’s still actually reading: hint, hint, hint, hint, hint.)

Starting an argument for no reason and other couples’ activities

Women are, by no means, inherent drama queens. But give us months of nothing to talk about and nothing good on TV, and we will make our own soap operas.

The settings for these elaborate theatrical performances require months of preparation and are usually staged months in advance. In my case, it always starts on the opening day of football season.

My partner is like the majority of males. Football has replaced religion as the cornerstone of his life, taking up the whole of his Sunday worshipping, and eliciting odd chants and impassioned cries that reverberate throughout the living room.

This is fine, at first, and I can usually spend the first two weeks of football season sitting patiently by his side on the couch and asking intelligent and insightful questions, such as “If they’re winning, and there’s only two minutes left, how come they don’t just run around the field with the football until the clock runs out?” and “Who on earth thought that orange-and-brown stripes would be a good color combination for a uniform?”

Then three things happen that starts to put a damper on my patience -- hockey season, basketball season, and baseball playoffs . This is known to women as The Perfect Storm, because at this point your partner will go missing and will likely not resurface until two days after the Super Bowl.

By mid-October, I’m starting to notice the number of hours logged on to various online Fantasy Football sites, as well as the butt-shaped imprint that now doesn’t leave the couch cushion, no matter how many times I swat at it.

This progresses for weeks -- compounded with other factors, such as eating nachos for dinner three nights in a row and explaining to my parents that it is just the TV that is loudly swearing in the background of Sunday phone calls -- until approximately mid-December.

And that’s when I snap.

Now bear in mind, that this whole time I’ve kept my growing annoyance quiet, so the poor guy doesn’t even see it coming, and the conversation goes something like this.

Partner: “Hey, are we out of Kleenex?”


Partner: “Ummm…. So we’re out?”

As scary as this scenario sounds, keep in mind that men are not immune to the fight-for-no-reason syndrome. In my significant other’s case, we’ve had numerous rounds on the proper way to do laundry. His stance is that at some point in my 30s, I should stop doing laundry like a college student, and my stance is that it’s economical to wash a bra, a suit jacket, and jeans in the same load.

Now with all the examples I’ve given of a typical Hatteras or Ocracoke island winter romance, I imagine that you are logging into your Facebook page right now to change your status back to “single” just as fast as your little fingers can click. But as we have established long ago, I am by no means normal, and, frankly, if you can put up with half of the nonsense that we go through on a seasonal basis, you’ll come out swinging in matching board shorts by the time summer rolls around.

Remember, above all else, that the beauty of being an island local is that it’s easy to find a person who is as resilient, quirky, and essentially just plain weird, as yourself.

(Joy Crist lives in Avon, where she is preparing for another round of surviving winter with her significant other.)

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