This Year's Cuffing Season May Be Bigger Than Ever: How To Stay Levelheaded

Contributing Sex & Relationships Editor By Kelly Gonsalves
Contributing Sex & Relationships Editor
Kelly Gonsalves is a sex educator, relationship coach, and journalist. She received her journalism degree from Northwestern University, and her writings on sex, relationships, identity, and wellness have appeared at The Cut, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.
Why This Year's Cuffing Season Might Be Particularly Dramatic

The so-called cuffing season happens every year as the colder weather rolls in, making people want to find someone to settle in and nest with for the winter. But with everything that's happened this year, behavioral anthropologist Helen Fisher, Ph.D., suspects this year's cuffing season may be more dramatic than in years past.

Why this year's cuffing season may be particularly huge.

Dating has changed since the pandemic hit. Fisher's research this year has shown many single people have been getting more serious about dating this year, and various dating apps have observed similar trends toward more intentional dating among their users. Many people are more drawn to serious relationships these days, she says, and they're being choosier about who they're dating and more upfront about what they want.

"This pandemic has required all of us to think seriously about our lives," Fisher tells mbg. "People are spending more time getting to know potential partners, using more honesty and transparency, and are even more likely to ask potential mates what they are looking for. Transparency is in."

That means that more people than usual might find themselves searching for partnership this winter—and might be more likely to find it because of this new, more intentional approach to dating. Fisher says this year may look less like a "cuffing season" and more like a real coupling season.

The dating app Match, for whom Fisher serves as chief scientific adviser, has also observed a general shift in dating app usage. Traditionally dating app usage is higher at the start of the year, according to Match, but this year more people were swiping in July than on Valentine's Day. And they say this higher dating app traffic has stayed steady even as we head into cuffing season.

And emotionally speaking, this year has been an absolute roller coaster for many people. The sweet comfort of a loving relationship—and a warm body to curl up with at night—might be more appealing than ever this winter.

Add all that to the usual biological factors fueling the annual cuffing season, too: The brain's pineal gland secretes more melatonin in the winter, Fisher explains, making people more sluggish and enticed by the idea of staying on the couch. Testosterone also tends to rise in November, making people want more sex, which can get those bonding hormones flowing, she adds.

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How to stay levelheaded during cuffing season this year.

Fisher isn't actually too worried about singles this year—she says they seem to be more clear-eyed than ever, frankly. But if you can feel yourself wanting to jump head-first into a relationship more for solace than for true love, here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. Stay mindful.

Make sure you're aware of what you want, why you're dating someone, and whether you're interested in committing to someone for the long haul or for the time being. Both are perfectly fine; just make sure you're honest with yourself and your partner about why you're snuggling into a relationship. You can enjoy comfort, closeness, love, and sex while still recognizing that you're not necessarily going to be together forever, and that's OK.

(Here's our guide to defining the relationship, and all the helpful relationship labels you can use when you're still figuring things out.)

2. Be thoughtful about big milestones.

COVID-19 has come with an influx of so-called turbo relationships," aka people skipping over the earlier stages of a relationship and jumping into big commitments on a faster timeline than usual. That's not necessarily a bad thing, though it's important to pause and really consider whether you want to take a big step with someone you haven't known for very long.

"Go slow with making any big decisions," couples' therapist Linda Carroll, LMFT, writes at mbg. "[This stage] can fog your vision and make you want to dive into situations that might not actually be wise or healthy for you in the long run. In general, don't make decisions because you're 'so in love'—because that's a temporary feeling of infatuation that will eventually fade."

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3. Look for your yes, too!

At the same time, let yourself be happy and enjoy yourself! "Think of reasons to say YES," Fisher recommends. "The brain is built to dwell on the negative. Try to overlook the little things you might not like about someone and concentrate on the things you do like about him or her. In short: Overcome the brain's natural 'negativity bias.'"

Balance goes a long way here. The key to a great cuffing season is being able to lean into pleasure, comfort, and connection while also having clarity about your true feelings and your relationship.

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