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When the end of the year starts inching closer and temperatures begin to drop, the urge to have someone to snuggle up with in front of a fireplace has never been stronger. Hi, and welcome to cuffing season!
“Cuffing season” marks the time of year where many short-term relationships happen, usually beginning in the fall around October and ending in the spring around April—so there’s time to get “cuffed” and “uncuffed.” And while a months-long relationship with an expiration date doesn’t sound the most intriguing to some, don’t be fooled: There are actually benefits to getting cuffed.
First of all, it focuses on the ~coziness~ of a relationship, says Shadeen Francis, a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Philadelphia. "While [it] might not have the same depth as a long-term relationship, some of these short-term bonds can feel really soothing and comforting," she says.
Meet the Experts:
Shadeen Francis is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Philadelphia, specializing in sex therapy, emotional intelligence, and social justice.
Dr. Holly Richmond is a certified sex therapist and author of Reclaiming Pleasure: A Sex-Positive Guide for Moving Past Sexual Trauma and Living a Passionate Life.
Dr. Betsy Chung, PsyD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and relationship expert in Newport Beach, California.
Marisa T. Cohen, PhD, is a relationship researcher, licensed marriage and family therapist, and the author of From First Kiss to Forever: A Scientific Approach to Love.
Because while spring flings are fun and all, it’s not hot 24/7 in every part of the world, leaving those who live in cold temperatures feeling a little, well, lonely. Having a cuffing partner could be the cure for those winter blues.
"When there’s not as much going on outdoors, not having to be alone indoors in those darker winter months is good for people’s mental health to not be isolated," says Dr. Holly Richmond, a certified sex therapist and author of Reclaiming Pleasure: A Sex-Positive Guide for Moving Past Sexual Trauma and Living a Passionate Life.
Ahead, find out everything to know about cuffing season, including what it actually is, how to go about starting that type of relationship, and how to get “uncuffed.”
And when in doubt, listen to Beyoncé…she literally told us to “cuff it!”
First things first: What is cuffing season?
With "cuffing" popping up in the Urban Dictionary 10 years ago, you're probably familiar with the concept and even participated in a few cuffing seasons of your own. But as a refresher, "cuffing season" is the time of year when the weather starts to turn cooler and people start seeking relationships to get them through those upcoming long, chilly nights.
More specifically, it refers to "the desires that many people have to be 'cuffed' to another person during a specific time of year," says Dr. Betsy Chung, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist and relationship expert in Newport Beach, California. So, it just makes sense that this season falls around the months leading up to the end of the year, including the holidays. When it gets chillier outside, somehow everything feels a little more romantic.
The thought process? "During the cold winter months, people are less motivated to leave the warmth and comfort of their homes and meet others for social gatherings," says Marisa T. Cohen, PhD, a relationship researcher, licensed marriage and family therapist, and the author of From First Kiss to Forever: A Scientific Approach to Love. "Instead, people would rather find one person to spend their time with at home."
That said, the past two years of decreased dating options during the COVID-19 pandemic doesn't seem like it will impact future cuffing seasons, says Chung. Although people were more inclined to stay at home (and in turn, become a little restless) during winter 2021 to 2022 due to the Omicron outbreak, that doesn't necessarily mean singletons will be super motivated to date around in the colder weather now just because they can. There will always be "a certain holiday spirit in the decorations and extra time off that make people want to have somebody to share that time of the year with," Chung notes.
When is cuffing season, exactly?
Couples typically start to cuff off in the late fall or early winter and then stay together until the weather starts to thaw in the spring. But it's not just the weather that's to blame for this impulse to couple up, there's a biological aspect as well.
With serotonin levels naturally dropping with the temperature, people can start to feel a bit down, Cohen explains, triggering a desire to find someone to spend time with to combat these feelings.
In addition, anyone who's seen a certain genre of movies has witnessed the social norm of having a plus one during the holiday trifecta of Christmas, New Year's, and Valentine's Day. If you feel more pressure to not be alone during these events, you're not, well, alone.
"Look at rom-coms [since] forever, it’s like, you need someone to take home for Christmas," Richmond says. "They’re either going home or they’re going to events, there are things happening where they feel like they should be partnered."
Richmond adds that she would even consider Halloween as another holiday where there are starting to be societal norms around not showing up at a party without a plus one. "They’re just all holidays that people like to spend with someone else, and in this case, a romantic partner," she says.
How do I find a seasonal bae?
On an average day, it’s hard enough to find someone worthy of your time. Factor in shorter days, fewer chances for a meet-cute since you’re inside all the time, and an instinct to just pull the covers over your head until spring. It can make dating prospects feel dismal.
But, say you matched with the cutest person in 60 swipes or have your eye on a friend-of-a-friend adjacent to your social bubble. Be upfront that you’re looking to cuff—then, you can focus on how their personality gels with yours. Try, "I'd love to hang out if you're down, but I'm not really into the idea of something long-term. What are your thoughts on something short and simple?" As long as you set those clear boundaries and expectations upfront, you should be good to go.
"So many times, I see one person is much more attached and has this vision of what the relationship is and will be, and the other partner just isn’t on the same page," says Richmond. "We're not responsible for someone else's feelings, but we are responsible for not leading people on."
So do some swipes on dating apps you can tolerate, resurrect promising conversations you ghosted on two months ago, or take to the Instagram DMs. Just be sure both of you know what your connection is all about.
How can I tell if I’ve been cuffed?
If you’re not the one cuffing a partner, the flip side can be confusing. Maybe you started talking or dating at the end of the summer, but then they didn’t stay over after an apple picking outing. What’s happening? Here’s where a vibe check comes in handy.
Are you talking about future plans? Does it happen organically? Do those plans cut off in March or April? Take note of the nature of these conversations because they can signal if your partner is thinking short-term. That can also help you understand where you’re at, too. Take notice of the little voice inside your head and whether it's telling you that you want more commitment, or that you're good with where things are at, Francis says.
Of course, the easiest way to find out if you’re being cuffed is to ask (seriously, see above). It doesn't quite have to be the dreaded "What are we?" conversation. An easy, "Where do you see this going?" will do just fine.
Once you get your answer, what happens next is up to you: Are you interested in getting to know more about each other, or is your connection good as is? If you're okay with the 'ship status quo, keep it going until you pack your sweaters away in storage again. But if not, it's best to cut things off now and find someone who wants the same things you do.
Is cuffing a type of situationship?
You could definitely consider it a type of situationship—after all, the two do share some similarities. Both types of relationships have blurry lines, and most of the time, neither have solid plans for a long-term commitment, says Chung.
Should I participate in cuffing season or nah?
Cuffing isn’t for everyone—if you want to go through winter with your fine self, more power to ya. But even those craving attention and affection should think about what they actually need at this moment in life, lest they settle for a cuddle buddy hiding red flags underneath a cozy blanket or fall into a relationship they never really wanted.
Here are some tips to help you decide if cuffing season is worth your time:
1. Figure out what you want.
"Sometimes, the thing we say we want isn’t compatible with what we’re hoping to experience," Francis notes. Maybe you want to go on cute fall dates with someone who will spice up your Instagram, but on a deeper level, you want a genuine emotional connection.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with wanting companionship or attention, but be honest with yourself about whether a temporary relationship will fulfill that emotional need, suggests Francis. Take a beat and write down what you’re looking for in a relationship—whatever the length—and whether romps in pumpkin patches do it for you.
2. Consider just how intimate you're willing to get.
No one can blame you if you hold your cards close to your chest. After all, there’s a tentative expiry date on your fling. Check in with each other and yourself regularly about just how open you're willing to be with one another. In some cases, that might throw family functions out of the mix, and in others, it might mean you designate various days to be alone and focus on yourself or friends without your cold weather bae around.
And sure, though you might not be unpacking childhood trauma or work woes with each other, cuffing can still be fulfilling. Even when you're focusing on the light, fun stuff that makes cuffing season special, you should feel like your needs, whatever they may be—physical, emotional, or both—are being met.
3. Don’t let the pressure get to you.
Of course, you want to publicize your matching pumpkin spice lattes, or bring a mysterious date to the annual white elephant to impress (read: shut up the nosy folks around you). But if you’re just cuffing to fit in or avoid awkwardness, you might want to reconsider. "You don’t want to act out a relationship you’re not actually in," Francis says.
Pro tip: Invest in a weighted blanket instead.
4. Get clear on boundaries before, during, and after you're cuffed.
Good news if you were upfront about wanting a short-term partner—you’ve already set boundaries. Now, you’ll want to define those, chatting through what’s in and what’s out. What’s the line between a casual thing and taking it to another level?
For example, say you want to give your partner flowers. Such a nice gesture, right?! Sure, but that also might be uncomfortable for them because things are supposed to be casual. If you catch yourself in that sitch, Francis offers an easy and clear convo starter: "I thought about getting you flowers today, but that's sometimes seen as more emotional gesture, where do you stand on the topic?"
It doesn’t have to be a super serious conversation, but check in once in a while to share what you have or haven’t liked during the situationship. That way, you can better skirt mixed signals.
Here's how to detect whether your fling is a cuff or something more:
What if I want to uncuff in the middle of cuffing season?
Let's say the second the clock strikes midnight and, as it suddenly becomes January 1 of a new year, you decide you want to be single again. Or, maybe you're just realizing that hanging around the same person isn't adding value to your life anymore.
Even though ending things with your cuffing season partner isn't exactly a breakup, cuffing is still a type of relationship, and should be treated as such.
So, if you're inclined to uncuff, initiate that convo, but remember: The conversation will go way better if expectations are laid out at the beginning of the 'ship, so the other party isn't left blindsided, Chung explains.
But if you forgot to set boundaries from jump, that's okay, too. "There are always opportunities to initiate a conversation during cuffing season so that the other person also has a say in what and how much they're investing their time and energy in," she says.
*Checks calendar* Okay, cuffing season is over. What now?
If you've enjoyed hanging out for a few months but aren't looking to carry on the relationship any further, that's totally your call. Decide how much or how little contact you’d like to have with the person from this point on, and then off you go!
But if you're interested in continuing the relationship? That's totally okay, too! Asking yourself questions like, "Does this person have the attributes or traits that are important to me in a partner?," "Do we share the same values?," or "What do I like about how I feel with this person?" are all good considerations before jumping into a conversation about making the relationship long-term. And yes, you will need to have a conversation.
"As with all relationships, it is important to keep the lines of communication open and to be comfortable and vulnerable enough to share your needs, desires, and fears," says Cohen. "Therefore, if you are in a caring and secure relationship and want to see it continue, let your partner know. Be honest and share your feelings."
So, take the time to talk it out with your partner. And if you're both on the same page, then the next step is easy–start planning which patios you'll visit and what drinks you'll be having once it's warm enough.
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