The Rules of Engagement

Mitch felt a connection with Julie was established while walking home from the beach. Scott felt the same after going to happy hour at The Parker House with Kirsten.

Jeff contemplated leaving his longtime girlfriend for someone else, although he had no idea who she was yet.

And it was only Saturday of Memorial Day weekend.

The summer wind, came rolling in, from across the sea. And with it comes thoughts of love. Or like. Or somewhat of a hybrid…

The summer beach house season has mercifully arrived, and with it brings the rare opportunity to potentially meet 20-25 new people (and their visiting friends) all while living under the same roof for 15 weekends. Despite what some may tell you about their reasons for joining a mixed-gender summer rental, ultimately the primary objective is to meet folks—platonically, romantically, sexually, or in some cases a combination of the three—in the optimum conditions that only salt air, warm breezes and Captain Morgan can provide.

Mitch watched Julie go out to the outdoor shower. So did eight other people in his beach house. Five were guys, and two had the same thoughts as Mitch.

“Dude, she didn’t look that good at the Happy Hours during the winter,” Jeff noted.

“People always brings their ‘A’ game during the summer,” Mitch explained, not looking away from the bathroom door. “Everybody is in as good of shape as they are ever going to be. The skin never looks better. A tan can take 10 pounds off anybody and add tone that may not even be there. And when is someone really ever in a better mood?”

It was only the second night that Mitch had really spoken to Julie at length, but he already liked what he saw and heard. When Julie needed a drink, Mitch was there to buy it. When Julie spoke to another guy, Mitch uninvitingly joined the conversation.

All the while, Joe, a veteran of beach houses for five years, sat back and smirked, as he had witnessed this kind of process before.

That Saturday night Mitch’s house arrived home around 2:30 AM. Some went to bed, others to the back deck. Mitch, however, was in the apocalypse zone…a place in a drunken guy’s mind that convinces him the world will indeed come to an end when the sun comes up. His sense of urgency told him that only three hours remained before the human race ceased to exist, so he thought he better makes the most of it.

It’s the bottom of the ninth, two out.

Shot clock down to 3.

The trophy is Julie.

He must win Game 7.

Or something like that…

Mitch decided that a walk to the beach to watch the submarine races might be in order. He invited Julie and only Julie. Oddly thinking that they were going there strictly to talk, she decided to accept the invite.

With the conversation ending about one minute after touching the sand, Mitch and Julie ended up not coming home until 4:30 AM. The threat of the apocalypse never came to fruition.

He definitely had a crush now.

Julie didn’t let him do very much physically (call it a dry encounter), but the prospect of things to come intrigued him more. The best part was, because it was a three day weekend, there was still one night left with Julie remaining. The fact that there was no rush because there were still 14 weekends left, still boatloads of other girls to meet, didn’t even occur to him.

The house had an idea that Mitch and Julie hooked up, but using the age-old trick of coming in the house in separate entrances and doing so five minutes apart threw the gossipers off a bit. The day was predictable between the two from there: They sat apart from each other at the beach while making sure they completely ignored each other. No one can catch on, they thought. It was too much of a hassle to explain to everyone, anyway.

Sunday night began the same as Saturday, as Mitch started to play the role of boyfriend as the night wore on. Julie began to find this scenario a bit annoying. As she then went to another part of the bar with Joe, she chose to vent.

“He’s already beginning to suffocate me,” Julie said the minute she was out of earshot of Mitch. “He’s nice, but I can’t turn without him there. Anytime I even talk to another guy, he stares at me as if I’m doing something wrong.”

Joe had expected this conversation, “I wasn’t going to mention it, but I meant to warn you about this.”

“Warn me about what?”

“Always beware of the guy looking to be establish territory on the very first weekend,” Joe explained. “I like Mitch, but he’s done this the last three years: A new girl comes into the house, he pays her tons of attention, and ends up scaring her away.”

Guys like Mitch don’t realize that there are ramifications for making a move and establishing territory too soon. And in most cases, dependents like him turn out to be the ones with the most baggage.

Jeremy Piven in PCU said it best, albeit in a different context:

“Don’t be THAT guy.”

Let’s say things don’t work out after a Memorial Day tryst between housemates by Weekend 3. The result is tension and awkwardness not only for the two people initially involved, but for the rest of the house to endure as well. Plus, by going with someone in the same house without really getting to know them, it makes pursuing another house member down the road that someone like Mitch may end up having more in common with as difficult as calling in sick with a different excuse every Monday morning.

And despite approximately 1.2 million beachgoers trying to the defy the rules of engagement, never in the history of Jersey Shore co-ed rentals has a Memorial Day intra-house romance ever survived to see October.

There are simply too many variables to overcome. For starters, sharing a house and hooking up means not going through the standard courting process. There are no first dates or polite kisses on the cheek at the end of the night in the early stages. Nor are there controlled, sober environments to pace a potentially budding relationship.

Instead there is a copious amount of alcohol and premature penetration, which throws all of the rules of engagement into the Atlantic. The relationships that ultimately succeed at the beach are the ones that show some restraint and build over time. In the proper scenario, friendship and a bit of intrigue are established first before the next true step is made. Otherwise, the hurried hook-ups between housemates ultimately end in bruised egos, plenty of drams and hurt feelings.

As Joe and Julie returned from the bathroom, Mitch was there waiting with a shot for Julie. She accepted it, then pulled Mitch aside for a quick talk.

“So…I had fun last night,” she said with a “but” inflection.

“But…” Mitch replied.

“But I think we’re moving a bit fast. I get the feeling that if I even talk to someone else, even if it’s a friend, you’re going to get jealous. I came down here to have fun with my friends and to meet new people, so I think it’s better if we didn’t act like a couple while we’re out, at least for now.”

Mitch didn’t like what he was hearing, although it did sound familiar. In general, he always had trouble meeting women randomly, and the convenience of having new girls in his beach house each year made the courting process infinitely easier.

Mitch’s pattern was predictable: Enjoy some success the first few weekends with the same girl, then scare her away by acting as if he signed a lease. A girl like Julie eventually finds someone else, sometimes even someone under the same roof. Consequently, the Mitches of the world go after another member of the house to make the original girl jealous.

But by that point, he’s been labeled as a player for making a move on Weekend #1, or is considered off-limits because women will always value pseudo-friendship with sharemates and perceived reputation over hooking with a questionable guy (unless they’re convinced they can get away with it). Regardless, by August there is enough theater to fill an entire season of The Real World- Sea Girt.

Those who do not learn from their mistakes, or don’t read this column, are condemned to repeat them.

The beach scene may be like a baseball game, but those who forget that Memorial Day is only the first inning are the ones who end up in the role of batboy by July 4.

Four words to remember:

Don’t be that guy.