Time to meet your match, or at least bunk up with one.
The arrival of fall usually ushers in cool breezes, the first few orange, red, and yellow leaves on stately oak trees, and chunky sweaters and wool coats (unless you live in the desert, which has its own, micro-level of seasonal ebbs and flows of course). For single folks, autumn also marks the peak of what’s commonly known as cuffing season. For the uninitiated, cuffing season is the zeitgeisty name for a span of time roughly between September and December when there’s pressure to calcify that hold-over summer fling or casual hook-up into a steady relationship before winter comes.
While the temptation to hole up in your living room with a blanket and a hot cup of tea in the winter instead of going out to meet potential suitors is strong enough as it is, quarantine has only exacerbated all of these seasonal romantic anxieties. Being single right now is like being immersed in a libidinal pressure cooker. Ask anyone who is actively dating around right now, whether by way of IRL socially-distanced hang outs or virtual Zoom dates, and they’ll tell it to you straight: we’re officially on the cusp of the biggest cuffing season of our lives.
Now that the ultimate cuffing time is upon us, we’re sorting through the matrix of psychic, social, and scientific forces that come together to create the perfect cuffing season storm. Does the time of year in which you meet someone actually influence your expectations for the relationship? Can casual summer flings and hasty winter relationships really be a result of the weather? Here are some guidelines to make it out alive (and potentially cuffed).
The whole notion of cuffing season is obviously socially constructed—humans, unlike other species, don’t have cyclical biological mating patterns—but there’s some scientific explanations for the seasonal pressure to couple up. In an evolutionary and historical sense, early humans had to seek out others to keep warm in the winter, and there was a better chance of survival if you faced those harsh months as a pair instead of solo. According to social psychologist Dr. Justin Lehmiller, the higher rates of online dating in the winter does have a biological underpinning, at least in part: men’s testoerone levels increase while their serotonin levels drop, which could explain an increase in sex drive and in the desire to counter loneliness. Then there’s the oft-cited statistic that more babies are conceived in the winter months, which dates all the way back to the 1800s. There is something innately human, then, in the autumnal rush to partner up.
Cuffing Season Timeline
So, if cuffing season does at least have some real scientific backing, how exactly does one navigate it? It might be a human tendency that can be traced back to the Paleolithic era, but the notion of cuffing season as we know it is a truly modern phenomenon. In 2017, Collins Dictionary shortlisted “cuffing season” as its word of the year. Though it lost out to “fake news,” there were now official parameters set around a nebulous mating trend: Collins defined it as “the period of autumn and winter, when single people are considered likely to seek settled relationships rather than engage in casual affairs.” According to some memes, cuffing season can be broken down into precise categories: there’s a scouting period in August, followed by tryouts and a pre-season in October and November, all of which culminates in the actual cuffing season itself, which takes place between December and January. There’s no real timeline, though, and it’s really a dating trend that you can take seriously or disregard—pressure can sometimes be productive, pushing people to take more initiative at the start of a budding relationship, but it can also be paralyzing.
Cuffing Under Quarantine
Usually cuffing season is the punchline to a joke or dating meme fodder, but the words carry a newfound sense of gravity this year. With the looming risk of a seasonal spike of COVID-19, the reality that most of us will have to soon forego socially-distanced outside hangs, and the fact that health officials are already asking people to limit their number of sexual partners for the sake of safety, cuffing season might become a much more sincere pursuit. This year’s intensified dating environment could push people comfortably out of their comfort zones—maybe you’ll finally ask out that one person that you’ve always wanted to. It might just usher in a whole new wave of relationships, ones that will be a wellspring of comfort and stability in otherwise uncertain times. Maybe it’s time to get cuffed after all.