What is a… Campmance?

Campmance. I have no idea who came up with the term, but it’s perfect.
Here’s the Urban Dictionary: campmance definition.

Almost anyone who has worked at camp has had a campmance or at the very least, witnessed one.

Cue the song “Lovers In A Dangerous Time” by Barenaked Ladies… I’ll wait. (In case you’re not familiar with the band, it’s a group of men. Not actual ladies – I know, it was confusing for all of us in the 90’s too)

Some camps have very strict rules about camp romances being a big no- no, while others go so far as to encourage it by promoting past staff marriages as a way of recruiting staff… umm… yep. No judgement. Everyone has their own way of promoting camp.

I’ve always fallen somewhere in-between.

Here’s my take on campmances. 

(Using photos of my cats to illustrate my point because, why not!?)

I get it, I was a 20 something counsellor once (not THAT long ago guys!) it makes sense to me that counsellors would be attracted to each other.

First of all, you’re spending all of your time with these people (some might say that you start to wear “camp goggles” but that is a post for another day) and you get to know them really well over a relatively short period of time.

After all, that’s one of the most amazing things about camp – the incredible relationships you build in such a brief time, why would that be any different for romantic relationships than it is for friendships?

Secondly, you’re seeing these people at their best, everyone is running around all day getting tanned and fit, and since camp is such a safe place people tend to feel confident and happy. What’s more attractive than a confident, happy person? Exactly. Nothing.

You get to see them be vulnerable yet strong, “she’s nervous about singing in front of others, but gets up for talent show because her camper asked her to sing together… awww how sweet”, you get to see them be adorable and silly, “He danced down on his knees to be level with a tiny little camper who asked him to dance… swoon”, and you get to see them be competitive and hard-core, “she portaged  a canoe by herself while wearing her pack and her campers pack for the entire trip… she’s awesome!”

You get it, right?

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My feeling is that those camps who have super strict rules about dating at camp are fighting an uphill battle, and they might lose some good staff because of it (if it’s their policy to dismiss staff who become involved in a campmance) because who wouldn’t have a crush on a vulnerable yet strong, adorable, silly, competitive, hard-core, fit, tanned person that you’ve gotten to know really, really well in a super short period of time. Who happens to love kids and the outdoors.
(Have I mentioned lately how freakin’ awesome camp people are! 😉  )

BUT

I also think it’s a slippery slope when you give the green light for campmances. You’re working with young adults remember, with all the hormones, and the … well you know. Things can quickly get out of control if you don’t set some boundaries and make sure the camp rules and your expectations are very clear. I don’t think I’d ever overtly encourage camp relationships with my staff on an organizational level. You won’t see happy married camp couples on any of my brochures (although they do exist!).

So, here’s how I deal with campmances.

I’m upfront about it. I like to be proactive when possible, so I lay it out for the staff, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Staff training
I talk about it with my staff during training (usually during policy and procedures talks – cause it’s in the manual) and tell them that I get why it might be appealing, and as long as their relationship doesn’t affect their work, or anyone else’s then they should be fine. I don’t care what they do on their breaks as long as it doesn’t impact camp.

How will they know if it’s affecting their work?

They need to be professional.

  1. If I can tell they’re crushing on each other, or dating, then they’re doing a bad job of being professional. Then we have a problem. *
  2. If they’re making other staff uncomfortable with their behaviour, then they’re being unprofessional. That’s a problem.
  3. If campers can tell they’re crushing on each other or dating – then we’ve got a huge problem. That means that they’re being unprofessional in front of campers and it’s affecting the camp.
  4. If they’re not doing any part of their job, if they’re distracted, or if they’re spending time in places they shouldn’t be/ when they shouldn’t be. We’ve got a problem.
  5. And finally, if their relationship is causing drama, either between the people involved or with others. Then it’s a problem.

* If any of #2 – #5 happen, then #1 happens. **

I let them know upfront that if any of these things happen, then I’ll step in and have a SUPER awkward conversation with both of the people involved.
(You’d be surprised by how much the threat of an awkward conversation can deter people from making certain choices!)
I’ve only had to have a few of these conversations in my career – they took place before I started being upfront about all of this. I haven’t had one since.

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I also explain to them that although I won’t reprimand them for dating inside the team, I will reprimand them for being unprofessional and not meeting their job descriptions. I’ve never had to though. (Not for this reason anyway)

I try to stop drama before it begins

Part of the reason campmances can be negative is because they can cause drama on a team. So I address that early on.

During this chat I explain to my staff that the reality is, their campmance won’t last. If it lasts the summer, chances are it won’t last much longer… hence the name. I also tell them this:

Here are some things to think about before you date at camp  

  1. If it doesn’t last the whole summer, are you prepared to live and work with an “ex” while still being professional and without creating any drama?
  2. Even if they start dating someone else on the team?
  3. Are you a jealous or insecure person? How will you react if your partner is spending a lot of time with another staff person, and joking and laughing with other awesome people? Because they will be. (Obviously, everyone at camp is awesome!) Can you separate yourself from your relationship to keep doing your job… without drama?
  4. What do you want out of this relationship? Talk about your expectations, wants, and needs with your “special friend” (hehe) if you’re just looking for a summer fling, then make sure the other person knows it. Put an expiry date on this relationship to make a clean break.
    If you’re looking for something more, then talk about that too… if your wants don’t match up. It’s going to be a problem.

Those are the things I ask my staff to consider before getting themselves into a campmance.

All of this comes back to respect.
I respect my staff enough to trust them to make good choices in both their personal and professional life.
I expect them to respect the camp, and their colleagues enough not to “flaunt” their relationship or act inappropriately at any time
I ask them to respect their partner enough to be upfront and honest about what they’re looking for in their relationship.

Final thoughts:

** The camp director always knows about relationships. Even though I tell my staff “I shouldn’t know” I will. That’s the way it works. The grapevine is noisy. And at this point, I can spot a budding campmance a mile away. BUT as long as they’re trying to be stealthy about it and it’s not super obvious. It’s cool.

I think it’s really important to be open about this stuff. Not encourage it. But let the staff know that if something happens in their relationship or life in general, you’re a safe person to talk to and that they’re not going to lose their job if they come to you in confidence or for advice.

I want counsellors to follow the rules out of respect, not fear.

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What are your thoughts on campmances? Super, awesome, wicked, cool? Or the devil’s tool? How does your camp deal with them? Tell me about it in the comment section below.
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Categories: Administration | Tags: , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

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7 thoughts on “What is a… Campmance?

  1. Being involved in a campmance this summer I completely agree with everything said. Our camp director also pretended not to know, although he totally did. I made sure my campers were taken care of before I even thought about if I would be spending my break with him. I think as long as camp comes first, the relationship is okay.

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  2. Pingback: 5 Quick Tips – Awkward Conversations | The Camp Nerd

  3. The cats did a fantastic job in the photo-shoot. The ‘awkward conversation’ picture is great!

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    • I love that one too… I wish I hadn’t been trying to get a nice picture of the three of them together and had actually been trying to stage it that way. Let’s just say the saying “it’s like herding cats” exists for a reason!! haha At least I found a good use for it!!

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