As the temperatures drop, the number of couples rise. Seriously, it’s a real thing and it’s called cuffing season. Think about your Instagram or Facebook feed right now: Are you seeing more engagement Instagram captions than usual? That’s not just because Christmastime or NYE proposals are the most magical of all; it’s also because the cold winter months mark the beginning of cuffing season.
After all, who doesn’t want to cuddle up with a partner during a cold night? Or show up to the family holiday meal with someone by their side?
“Cuffing season is that time of year when the days grow shorter as the cold nights grow longer, and people seem to instinctively crave companionship and someone to share their space with,” explains Scott Valdez, founder and president of VIDA, an online matchmaking service. “It coincides with the holidays when singles are bombarded with images of happy couples celebrating their togetherness.”
And there’s one more thing to remember, too: Most of us have been stuck inside, self-isolating, during a yearlong global pandemic that made dating almost impossible. For many, isolating with a love interest sounds a lot better than isolating alone.
“This year, with some singles coming out of lockdowns and others heading back into one, finding a meaningful relationship has never seemed more imperative for many people,” Valdez adds.
If you’re single (and duh, ready to mingle), here’s everything you need to know about cuffing season: what it is, when it begins and ends, and why some singles choose to skip it altogether.
What Is Cuffing Season?
The modern-day term “cuffing season” refers to the colder months of the year, which coincide with the holiday season, when people are more likely to get into an exclusive relationship. The season—or term, really—has different connotations depending on who provides the definition.
According to Urban Dictionary, for example, cuffing season is defined as “the cold season when everyone’s coupling up, so you settle for a new BF/GF way below your standards.”
Comparatively, lowering one’s standards doesn’t seem to be apart of Merriam-Webster‘s take on the term. (In fact, that might be a totally different term all together, but more on that later.) “It’s the time of year when the weather starts to turn cold and single people begin the active search for romantic partners in the hope of having someone with whom to ride out the colder, snowier, bleaker months.”
So, whether or not your definition errs on the side of jaded in that you believe cuffing season to also be categorized by a lowering of romantic standards in order to find a beau, cuffing season is simply a time period during which singles are more likely to get into exclusive relationships.
“Cuffing season is a time of the year when singles start to put in extra effort to spend the time with during the cold, winter months,” says Eddie Hernandez, an online dating consultant. “This is usually out of loneliness—family holidays, get-togethers with friends, or envy.”
So, where does this term come from? It originates from the phrase “to cuff,” which is American slang for making someone your exclusive girlfriend or boyfriend. It’s kind of like you’ve put them in handcuffs. When you establish exclusivity, it’s like your cuffed together. You’re each other’s and no one else’s.
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Is Cuffing Season Real?
It’s no wonder that the legitimacy of cuffing season is met with a lot of cynicism. Can something like this be real? Are humans really more likely to desire an exclusive relationship during a certain part of the year?
Certainly, there are skeptics but science seems to be on the side of cuffing season truly being real—especially in the time of coronavirus.
“In fact, 53 percent of adults in the U.S. say they’ve participated in online dating [and] that number has never been higher,” Valdez says. “It’s been a long year for everyone, and singles in particular are feeling the pangs of isolation. It’s no wonder more and more people are flocking to dating apps and matchmaking services to find their own someone special.”
The science and the dating app data is there to reinforce the legitimacy of cuffing season. But if it’s anecdotal evidence you’re looking for, that’s also very clear. In fact, partnering up in the wintertime just makes sense.
“The days are shorter, people tend to stay in more, more rom-coms pop up on the TV interestingly, people make plans for travels with their family and significant others, leaving singles feeling more alone than usual,” Hernandez says.
What’s more, Valdez argues, is the imagery associated with this time of year. “Pandemic not-withstanding, ‘the season’ has historically been packed with imagery seemingly designed to make singles feel anxious and lonely. Happy couples are everywhere. Your Insta and Facebook feeds were probably full of your paired-up friends and family celebrating their love for each other. Throw in the need for a date to all the [holiday time] cocktail parties, and your well-meaning relatives asking when you’re finally going to meet someone… There’s a lot of pressure to not be single.”
All of these factors work together to help singles feel more inadequate and lonelier than they may have before.
Add an isolating global pandemic into the mix and singles are more inclined to feel more rejected, despondent, and/or unloved than ever.
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When Cuffing Season Starts and Ends
Perhaps the most interesting part of cuffing season is that it is inherently determined by the time of year. Typically, cuffing season is thought to start around October and last until February.
By this logic, if a single person couples up around this time, they’ll have a boyfriend or girlfriend to spend all the major holidays with: Halloween, Thanksgiving, the December holidays, New Year’s Eve, and even Valentine’s Day.
“People tend to go out less during the shorter, colder days and are more open to settling down—even briefly—than they are during the warmer, longer days when there is typically more to do outdoors,” Hernandez explains. “As an online dating photographer and consultant, these are typically my busier months whereby single people reach out to see how they can improve their dating profiles, get tips on how to frame their bios, answer prompts and meet people organically.”
Most often, cuffing season culminates in the ultimate holiday no one wants to be single for: Valentine’s Day.
“You spend one person to become exclusive with so that you do not have to spend those long winter nights all alone. And then by the time Valentine’s Day rolls around, you usually have a good idea whether the relationship can go the distance or if you’ll be going your separate ways once the weather warms up again,” explains Rori Sassoon, relationship expert, co-owner of the professional matchmaking agency Platinum Poire, and author of The Art of the Date.
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Why Is October and December Cuffing Season?
Fall and winter are the primetime for seasonal affective disorder (SAD), symptoms of which include depression, feelings of loneliness, anxiety, irritability, and even difficulty concentrating or feeling motivated.
Now, that’s not to say that everyone who participates in cuffing season has SAD, but with cuffing season correlating with an increase in likelihood of experiencing such symptoms and isolating feelings, it’s no wonder this is why cuffing season happens during fall and winter.
“Autumn is one of the busiest times of year for us, as people are preparing for [cuffing] season,” explains Sassoon. “We have even had clients tell us, ‘I hope you can find someone for me; winter is coming soon!’”
With less to do outside during the winter months—which is compounded by the fact that there is generally less to do due to COVID—people are more likely to feel alone and isolated. Hence, the desire to have someone romantic to connect and hang out with.
But cuffing season isn’t just about the weather. It coincides with the holiday season, too, which is notoriously known as a time where relatives tend to ask the tough questions. No one wants to show up to Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, or Christmas dinner alone and risk being disapprovingly asked by Grandma, “Why aren’t you married yet?!”
Then, there’s the loneliness component of New Year’s Eve and then Valentine’s Day, too. It’s human nature to crave a New Year’s kiss when the clock strikes midnight; similarly, no one really wants to be alone on February 14 either.
But this past year, and the currently ongoing cuffing season, has been more unique than ever given coronavirus. It’s not just cuffing season; it’s COVID cuffing season, as Sassoon puts it.
“Cuffing season [in 2020 and 2021] is a very different thing than it’s been in the past, and finding someone to ‘cuff’ with [can feel] more important than ever,” Sassoon says. “It was already hard enough being in quarantine for so many months… People are craving that human connection and are more than ready to cuddle and cuff!”
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What’s After Cuffing Season?
Cuffing season may not go on until February after all. According to Hannah Ewens and Emma Garland of VICE, cuffing season is actually separated into two main phases, the second of which comes after the initial cuffing season and is known as “clearing season.”
According to the writers of the original 2018 VICE article, clearing season runs from January to March and is characterized by a deeper sense of desperation.
“Clearing season is a system used by modern humans as a last ditch attempt to fill time before the start of the summer. When those single people who—whether by circumstance or choice—did not successfully cuff before the end of the year begin to twitch.”
In short, it’s the time period for singles who unsuccessfully ‘cuffed’ (AKA, found a boyfriend or girlfriend) during October to the end of December. It’s when, devoid of a romantic relationship during the colder months, you experience a harsher, more desperate craving: any kind of human interaction or contact.
This is the part where those aforementioned standards are really, really lowered. It’s like if beer goggles was a months-long time period, only without the aid of alcohol. It’s not beer that’s making a prospect look good; it’s the intense loneliness.
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