As the weather gets colder and the days get darker, people look for comfort in a lot of ways. One way is to "cuff" a new hookup, to help keep you warm. Depending on how you look at it and what you're looking for, cuffing season can be a blessing—or your worst nightmare. Here's everything you need to know about this time of year, plus how to tell if your new relationship is for real, or just an instance of cuffing.
What is cuffing?
"Cuffing" is a term based on the idea of getting "handcuffed" or tied down to one partner. It refers to when people get into relationships during the colder months of the year, even though they ordinarily wouldn't be interested in a commitment. Relationships formed during so-called "cuffing season" are usually short-term in nature and end once spring rolls around. The cold weather simply encourages people to look for a more steady and consistent partner to spend time with until the warmer seasons return, psychoanalyst Babita Spinelli, L.P. explains.
According to certified sex therapist Holly Richmond, Ph.D., LMFT, CST, cuffing can be as simple as consistently hooking up with someone you know isn't going to be a long-term partner, sometimes even "going below what your typical standards might be in the summer." Not to say a "cuff" can never turn into something long-term, but typically, it doesn't look like your usual committed relationship.
When is cuffing season?
Cuffing seasons begins as soon as it starts getting cold, sometime around the start of fall, and lasts until it starts to get warm once again in early spring. Richmond and Spinelli say most people will start feeling the urge to cuff up around October or November, with cuffing season usually coming to an end around around Valentine's Day.
Why people couple up during cuffing season.
People seek relationships during cuffing season for both emotional and physical reasons, Richmond explains. "The emotional side is we've got the holidays [...] where people go home to their families, and some single people feel lonely or different or sad about not being coupled up," she says. "The physical side, I think, is more of an evolutionary biology piece. We're pack animals, and in the winter months, we had to spend time together literally for warmth."
Some research suggests people feel more lonely when the weather is cold1 in general, and interestingly enough, being cold makes people more interested in romantic movies. "Individuals are literally and psychologically seeking warmth during the colder months," Spinelli explains, "and those months elicit a longing to ensure they are not alone."
Plus, Richmond adds, with shorter days, less light, and the reality of seasonal affective disorder and depression being more prominent in the wintertime, "looking to other people for comfort and connection makes total sense."
Are you cuffed up?
If you're wondering whether your latest fling is just a cuff, here are some signs to watch out for, according to Spinelli and Richmond.
- Any future plans do not go beyond the winter months.
- You don't go on many (or any) dates.
- There is a lot of excitement about holiday plans, but it stays there.
- You are contacted out of the blue before holiday events, and it feels like there's a sense of urgency to get together.
- The intimacy tends to be physical, and there is a lack of deeper conversations or desire for emotional connection.
- There may be on-and-off ghosting.
- This person's relationships have a pattern of only lasting during the winter months.
- Most plans are about staying in bed, rather than other activities, and any other plans are very low-key.
- The sex feels "good enough" for now.
- The person is emotionally unavailable.
Things to keep in mind during cuffing season.
Communication is key.
Cuffing season can get messy when people aren't on the same page. "Too often," Richmond notes, "one person is more invested than the other, and then feelings end up getting hurt." Be sure that both of you have aligned expectations and intentions around the relationship.
If they say they're only looking for something temporary or don't want to commit, don't assume you'll eventually change their mind. "This really commands open, transparent communication within the first couple weeks or month, for the expectations or projections for the relationship," Richmond says.
Be discerning—don't rush.
Spinelli notes that while it's normal to want a companion during the winter months, it's important to be aware of that tendency. "Try not to rush into a relationship if you notice an elevation of longing during the winter season," she says. Remember you can always lean on friends and family, and do activities you enjoy, to help with some of that loneliness and boredom.
"Dating out of loneliness or boredom leads to unhealthy relationships," she adds. Overall, be sure to figure out whether you really like the person, "or if you are longing for love and companionship during a season where we search to hibernate with someone."
Know when to set boundaries.
Many people are uncomfortable with setting healthy boundaries. If you're starting to get the sense that you're caught up in a cuffing relationship, and you're not on board with that, it's on you to say so. "Pay attention to what's actually happening in the relationship, and not what you want to happen," Richmond says, adding to hold that boundary yourself when necessary.
And those boundaries go for family and friends, too. "If there is noise from family about bringing a date to an event, keep in mind that you don’t need to meet their expectations," Spinelli notes. "Prepare proactively and set boundaries for triggers as the season begins."
Enjoy it for what it is.
Now, if the two of you are on the same page about this being a temporary thing, and you're both OK with that, let it be and enjoy it for what it is. "It's almost like imagining a beautiful container around those four to five months, of the relationship," Richmond explains, "but knowing it has its time and place."
If you can accept that and settle into it for what it is, that's a wonderful thing, she adds. And if you feel yourself catching feelings or getting too attached, she suggests asking yourself if the fallout will be worse than the loneliness.
And of course, take safer sex precautions.
Just in case you needed the reminder, Richmond says taking safer sex precautions is always important—whether it's a hookup for the night or cuffing for four or five months. It's also not a bad idea to establish whether you're only seeing each other or if there are other hookups happening on the side.
How to know if your relationship will last after cuffing season.
Just because you got together during cuffing season doesn't mean the two of you have no shot at a long-term relationship. It's entirely possible, and there are definitely indicators that you're headed in a good direction. If your relationship doesn't have the typical signs of cuffing listed above and instead features a lot more emotional availability and intimacy, fun dates and affection, long-term plans, and so on, there's a good chance your relationship has staying power.
On top of that, Richmond says some questions worth asking yourself include:
- Is this someone you're excited to bring home to your family or introduce to your friends?
- Are you dreaming together?
- Do you have the same goals and aspirations? The same intentions for a year from now—five years from now?
- Are your morals values ethics matched?
- Can you see yourself spending your life with this person?
And of course, how does this person treat you? Are they loving and warm? Do they respect and admire you? Importantly, do they go out of their way for you, and put effort into your relationship? "Usually a 'cuffer' will not invest beyond the minimum," Spinelli says. If someone is clearly investing in you, that's a good sign.
But at the end of the day, the best way to know if your relationship will last after cuffing season is to address it. Remember, communication is key. Being transparent about what you both want out of the relationship is really the best way to honor each other and enjoy each other's company—whether only for cuffing season or for the long haul.
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Writer, as well as a registered yoga instructor. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.