Cuffing Versus Coupling: What Does It Mean For Relationships?

Cuffing Versus Coupling: What Does It Mean For Relationships? Hero Image
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A few weeks back, I popped into my local coffee shop, and I couldn't help but overhear two single women having a conversation about dating. The first woman (we'll call her Nora) said, "Supposedly there's this thing called 'cuffing season.' It's when people can't bear to spend the holidays alone and pair up for just a few months. I don't want a cuff-friend. I want a boyfriend!"

In response, her friend (we'll call her Isabelle) said, "That is all you. The thought of getting a boyfriend right now horrifies me. Holiday shopping for some guy, coordinating schedules, no thanks—I'd just as soon wait till the New Year to start dating someone new."

If you haven't heard of cuffing season, don't worry—I hadn't either. I immediately looked it up on Urban Dictionary, which defines cuffing as the moment when "people who would normally rather be single or promiscuous find themselves, along with the rest of the world, desiring to be tied down by a serious relationship." Cuffing was first coined as a season in 2011 and spans November to March, when singles have fewer distractions and heightened biological desires to snuggle up to somebody.

As a psychologist who works with singles looking to find love, I wondered why I hadn't heard more about cuffing season. Is it because I live in Northern California, where winters are less harsh, or because I work with slightly older singles? I also wondered if there were statistics to prove the reality of cuffing season. Sure enough, a quick look at birthrates supports the biological tendencies toward intimacy in the colder months—more babies are born in September than in any other month.

Next, I wanted to find out if it was true that as the temperature drops, some people's standards for a mate also drop. How would you answer that for yourself?

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In my practice, I tend to coach singles more like Isabelle than Nora—men and women who would just as soon hibernate until the New Year. So, I realized that the counterpart to cuffing season is what I've termed "scoffing season." Both scoffing and cuffing have attachment styles related to the weather, it turns out.

Your attachment style (also referred to here as a "love style") is set by age 2 and is less genetic or biological than environmental. Your attachment style in part is about how closely you attached to your parents and predicts similarly how you will attach to romantic partners in the future.

People with isolated attachment styles might be scoffers instead of cuffers. Scoffers are the singles who would rather go to the company Christmas party stag than invite a date to meet Mom and Dad over eggnog.

While those who tend to seek companionship (cuffers) might lower their standards as the weather dips, scoffers like Isabelle may actually raise their standards—they can be too selective. Scientifically speaking, scoffers are also highly independent and tend to be introverted, needing a fair amount of alone time. It makes sense that someone who meets these criteria is less affected by biological urges and therefore may choose to go to holiday events solo.

So, is cuffing more likely than scoffing, or vice versa? According to attachment theory, there's an even split. Cuffers are people like Nora who put a high premium on being in close, intimate relationships. With an emphasis on being partnered, it makes sense that people who have an anxious/nervous attachment style might be less selective when choosing a date for Christmas and New Year's. Singles most affected by cuffing season are those who seek closeness not just during the holidays but year round. According to my Love Style profiles, these people are Loyal Supporters or Expressive Givers.

Scoffers like a fair amount of freedom and are less affected by societal norms. I call them either Hesitant Romantics or Renaissance Lovers. All in all, the reality is cuffing and scoffing are extremes on either end of the dating spectrum—either a desperate time to connect with anyone or to avoid engaging entirely. Both are examples of all-or-nothing thinking. Neither strategy is adaptive.

I encourage my clients to learn to think in the gray. Gray thinking is less extreme or drastic than thinking either you HAVE to be alone or you HAVE to be in a relationship.

So, I encourage all single people to go further than cuffing versus scoffing. Instead, explore the fears that propel you into either category, and try to deal with those. The love of your life could show up at any time in any place in any weather—you just have to be ready for them.


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