WASHINGTON — On a frigid day at Occupy D.C., Tim McFallon, the camp’s medic, stood chatting with a shivering blonde, gallantly offering her his warm pea coat.
“Let’s swap,” she purred as she discarded her own coat to reveal a long stretch of taut midriff underneath what could only loosely be described as a sweater.
“He’s my personal physician,” the young woman said, giving McFallon a meaningful glance. She then enveloped him in a gentle hug before drifting off, leaving the 21-year-old medic grinning.
As the Occupy movement enters its fourth month here, it has spawned two full-service camps, more than 100 arrests and an ongoing constitutional debate over the right to free speech on federal land. But a combustible combination of youthful energy, enthusiasm for shared ideals and tight living quarters has given rise to something else: romance. Lots and lots of romance.
More than a dozen couples have emerged after three months of outdoor living, including one pair who got engaged over the holidays. As with Occupy encampments nationwide, there have been many more casual hook-ups, bruised hearts and unofficial entanglements.
Medics at the McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza sites routinely hand out condoms. At McPherson Square, there are also pregnancy tests, at least one of which has come back positive. Indeed, Occupiers are beginning to joke that a string of Occubabies may appear come summer.
”You can’t spell ‘revolution’ without ‘love,’ ” said Michael Patterson, 21, who had a brief romantic involvement with another Occupier last fall.
“It’s a bunch of people in their 20s, gathered in a public space with the express purpose of breaking the law. What do you expect to happen?” asked Rob Wohl, 23, of Washington.
Wohl groused that he had been “sexiled” from his tent one recent chilly night by an amorous pair seeking privacy, the Occupy equivalent of the old college dorm trick of hanging a sock on the door knob.
Sgt. David Schlosser, public information officer for the U.S. Park Police, said that anyone caught having sex in the parks could be arrested and charged with indecent exposure or committing an indecent act. Occupiers are supposed to leave one tent flap open so that Park Police, who are assigned to the camps around the clock, can monitor the area for illegal activity. More than 50 arrests have been made on park grounds for various offenses since October, including one charge of sexual assault, according to a National Park Service tally from December. About a half-dozen of the arrests involved quarreling romantic partners at McPherson, Schlosser said.
Protesters at both camps said they have no internal rules governing sexual activity as long as it occurs between consenting adults and remains “inside the tents.”
Occupiers say that friendship forged during the movement can turn into something more in an instant, sparked by a lingering hug or a flirtatious glance. At McPherson, the exhausted and chilled protesters often fall asleep in group “cuddle puddles,” which are supposed to be platonic. Until they’re not.
Sariel Lehyani, 28, of Washington, bonded with his girlfriend during a march to the Supreme Court, where they laughed together and decided not to get arrested. Amid such chaos, he said, it is good to have “an anchor . . . someone you can trust.”
Lehyani said he wonders about the permanence of such couplings in a place that has the heady atmosphere of sleepaway camp.
”These are the things you are thinking about: What’s holding you together? Is it camp holding you together, or do you just want to be warm at night?” Lehyani said. ”In the real world, outside Occupy, do you have anything in common at all?”
Freedom Plaza protesters Mike Sheffer, 54, and Leigh Tatum, 45, met last year on a political discussion site on Facebook. In the fall, Tatum, a hospice nurse from Alabama, persuaded Sheffer, an unemployed contractor from Vermont, to join her at the Occupy movement.
The two first shared a tiny tent as friends for six weeks, getting on each other’s nerves in such cramped quarters. Nonetheless, Sheffer began asking her for a good- morning kiss. Her response?
“I said, ‘I would like to wake up in the morning and not want you dead,’ ” Tatum quipped. But then one day something changed in her heart. Finally, she kissed him.
“The look on your face was priceless!” she giggled.
“It was so surprising,” he said. ”I didn’t know what to expect.”
Then, over the holidays, Sheffer proposed. Tatum said she’d sleep on it. In the morning she said yes.
“I thought … full speed ahead!” she said.
They are the first to say they’re not a traditional couple. There’s no ring yet, and they’re not sure where they will live once they wed. But they are happy.
“It was really like a meeting of minds and hearts and souls,” Sheffer said. ”It’s a great way to meet someone.”
Staff researcher Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.