Cuffing Season is Approaching — This Is What it Could Mean For You, According to Psychologists

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Kayla Heisler1.16k
Cuffing season refers to the fall and winter months when people are more inclined to "hook up" or start dating. The term "cuff" comes from the word "handcuff,"  which, in this case, means the bonding of two people. 
Over the past few years, the phrase has gained a significant level of popularity, which raises the question: Is cuffing season actually a reality, or is it simply an imagined phenomenon? 
In this article, we'll explore it's legitimacy, what to consider before cuffing and whether or not this is something you'd want to explore.

How legit is cuffing season?

According to psychologists, certain evidence does suggest that there is truth to the idea that people seek out romantic companionship during the cooler months. Social psychologist Justin Lehmiller shared his insights on cuffing season with NPR’s 1A podcast host Joshua Johnson. Analysis from dating apps reveals that there's a spike in user activity that takes place in the cooler months. 

Searches related to online dating also increased, according to a study where researchers found an uptick in searches related to online dating during the winter. Additionally, data from Facebook indicates that Facebook users are most likely to change their relationship status from ‘single’ to ‘in a relationship’ in December and February than any other months.
What exactly is to blame for the shift? There are a few probable causes. Dr. Lehmiller notes that humans produce lower levels of serotonin in the colder months, which makes it more difficult for people to feel happy. Coupling with another person can temporarily fill this lack, as entering a new romantic relationship is one way to flood the brain with hormones, including serotonin. 
Social pressures are another force that drives people to link up during the fall and winter seasons. Attending holiday parties or family functions can lead to conversations centered around romantic relationship status, as well. Pair this with social media posts from those in happy (appearing) relationships and advertisements connecting holiday magic with true love, and you have a recipe for desiring affection. 

Before you cuff for the season:

Be honest with yourself.

Make sure you know why you’re interested in entering a relationship and understand your own motivations. If you’re going in with the intention of lifting your mood, understand that you may be disappointed and could be left more emotionally drained than when you start out. Manage your expectations, and understand why you want to be in a relationship before pursuing one.

Be honest with potential partners.

Most would agree that cuffing season refers to short-term relationships, but not everyone goes into the season with a temporary relationship in mind. It’s crucial to remain up front about your intentions as you begin your search. If you don’t have the time or desire to be in a relationship long-term, let the person you’re pursuing know if you’re just looking for something casual. No matter the duration of a relationship, communication is key.

Establish and stick to boundaries.

If you know for sure that you aren’t ready for something long-term, create rules that will help keep you on track. For instance, you may decide that you don’t want your partner to meet close friends unless you decide to reach a certain point in your relationship. You may also want to impose physical boundaries or limits on how much time you spend with one another.

Consider where to look.

While many people rely on dating apps, you may also keep your eyes open for other opportunities to meet new people. If you’re more interested in something short-term, avoid choosing someone who is already a steady presence in your life. That can make walking away more difficult or awkward. Branch out beyond your typical friend group to avoid a potential fallout after the snow melts.

Keep an open mind.

One of the great things about relationships — romantic, platonic or professional — is that they can be an important way to learn about ourselves. Our interactions with others help us see what we do and don’t like. Go into any relationship with that in mind, knowing that whatever happens, you have a chance to evolve and notice how you want your next relationship to play out. You may walk away with a new appreciation for your alone time, a lifelong friend, or even a lifelong partnership — you never know what exactly will be gained from the experience.

Is cuffing right for you?

Before making any major shifts to your life, you should evaluate whether or not making the change is likely to hinder or benefit you. Make sure that however long you choose to stay with your partner, they aren’t stealing too much of your energy.
If you have the time and emotional energy to invest, then it might be a good choice for you. Ultimately, make sure it’s something that you want to do, and you aren’t chasing a relationship to appear a certain way to other people. If you are interested in cuffing to get invasive family members off of your back, consider being assertive with loved ones instead. Hiding behind a relationship because you feel like you need to can backfire in the long run.
Diving into something fun can be exciting, and if you believe that you’re in a good place dating someone regularly can be a great comfort during a typically gloomy time of year. If you meet someone you get along with, enjoying the season with another person can add an extra spark to the holiday season.
If you’re in the middle of pursuing a new endeavor like settling into a new city, recovering from a major loss, or tackling a new career, introducing a new element like a new romantic relationship may not be the best idea for you at the moment. You should be in a place where you feel steady enough to pick yourself up even if things don’t go your way.
Ultimately, if you feel like you know what you want to get out of it and are prepared to deal with the consequences if things don’t go well, participating in cuffing season might be right for you. If you don’t think participating in cuffing season is right for you, don’t force yourself into anything you don’t truly want to do.

Kayla Heisler is an essayist and Pushcart Prize-nominated poet. She is an MFA candidate at Columbia University, and her work appears in New York's Best Emerging Poets 2017 anthology.