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Marjorie Garber   Same Time Next Year  
 
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  It's not an accident that the hit play and film about the romance of an annual adultery takes place in a rented country cottage. Bernard Slade's "Same Time Next Year" is the story of an enduring relationship that develops from a one-night stand. The lovers meet for one weekend every year for 24 years, sharing confidences and telling stories about their "other" lives with spouses and children. But the real beloved, and the secret star of this drama, is the cottage itself. In fact hundreds of versions of this annual affair, complete with fantasy, reparation, confidences, and gentle aging, are conducted every summer, with the country cottage, or the beach house, or the cabin in the woods as the partner of our dreams.

For a number of years we rented the same house in Nantucket. It belonged to someone else. It had another name written on its brass nameplate. We were constantly reminded by small things-the books on the shelves, the prints on the walls-that we were not the real owners. But for a short time each summer it was ours, and it fit us perfectly, responsive to our wishes, exceeding our expectations. In its closets were the toys of summer, rubber rafts, balls and rackets. "Our" garden grew; the honeysuckle bush flourished. The neighbors waved at us in annual welcome (some of them, we learned, were renters, too). When after a year's absence we noticed a new coat of paint on the steps, or a new quilt on the bed, we felt loved and cared for-not by the absent owners, whose invisible industry had produced these changes--but by the house itself. It knew us, we thought. It waited for us. Perhaps it even loved us.

Ultimately it was we who were unfaithful, falling in love with a summer house that would become our own. But a house you own is a different kind of partner. The bills and the repairs are ours, now. It's hard to feel romantic about a broken furnace, or a flooded storeroom. Or so we think in the wintertime. In the summer the romance is back, the annual affair in full bloom.

A woman recently wrote to the Washington Post to says that she and her husband had watched "Same Time Next Year" on cable, and "loved the rental cottage by the sea." Where was it, she asked. Modern life being what it is, the romantic rendezvous-on the California cliffs near Mendocino--can be rented. (The two rooms associated with the film, now named "Same Time" and "Next Year," are usually booked six months in advance). But in a way every summer place offers these twin pleasures, the "same" of returning and the "next year" of fantasy. A summer house is the one non-monogamous relationship our culture endorses. It's the playing around, without the guilt. No wonder daydreaming lovers-individuals, couples, families-scan the rental ads each Sunday, seeking the partner of their dreams.
 
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Copyright © 2000 Marjorie Garber.