November 8, 2010
Romantic winter relationships on the islands: A survivors’ guide
By JOY CRIST
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.)
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
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
someone that somehow puts up with your crap anyway.
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
Scrabble arguments and other
Many local couples find that the
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,
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.
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
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
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
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.)
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
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
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,
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?”
Me: “OH MY SWEET LORD, CAN YOU PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS
GOOD, TURN OFF THAT @*&#$%#&# TV AND DO
FOR A CHANGE?!? AGGGGHHHHH”
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.
Crist lives in Avon, where she is preparing for another round of
surviving winter with her significant other.)