Don’t freak out—it’s officially cuffing season. And whilst we’re sure you’re familiar with the meaning of cuffing season (and have maybe even participated in a few of them yourself) a refresher won’t do any harm. We spoke to qualified psychotherapist Gemma Grainger to get the professional low down on the science behind cuffing season, as well as her top tips for dating during this time of year.
- Firstly, what is cuffing season?
“Cuffing season is the time in which people would rather be cosied up with somebody else during the colder months than be alone,” explains Grainger. The phrase was first documented online over ten years ago, and has since become a part of our everyday dating dialogue thanks to, among other things, countless cuffing season memes. She continues: “People tend to look more actively for a short relationship during this time to meet these specific needs.”
- And why is it called cuffing season?
There are various, extensive explanations for this online, however, we think it’s pretty self explanatory—you are looking for someone to “(hand)cuff” up with, and then “uncuff” once the weather becomes warmer again. Ultimately, it serves as a useful shorthand phrase to describe a common human truth: that it can suck to be single in winter. As Grainger confirms: “Winter can feel lonely because staying at home on the sofa with a mug of tea and Netflix often feels more appealing than going out to a bar and bracing the cold.” Our advice—don’t worry too much about the
definition of cuffing season. As Elizabeth, 28, and regular Bumble dater says: “The best description is that it’s a cosy fling.”
- OK, and when is cuffing season?
“Typically, it runs from fall through to late winter, but can continue into early spring,” Grainger says. There’s no official start date, but the cuffing season schedule which went viral on social media in late 2019 states that ‘scouting’ should begin in August. However, whilst this meme might have been shared by everyone you know, there’s no need to take it seriously. “Cuffing season can bring to the surface some of our more human, maybe even primal needs which I would advise that you intellectually challenge,” says Grainger. It can be really difficult to not internalise our digital, FOMO-inducing culture—she suggests asking yourself: “Do I really want this, or is this just me worrying and feeling lonely or left out?” If you’re single, it’s important to keep your head above water during this time of year, especially when everyone will be talking or posting about cuffing season. As Sarah, 32, another Bumble dater tells us: “I don’t feel much about it [cuffing season], it isn’t that important. To me, it doesn’t depend on the weather or the season, but much more on my desire to be in a relationship or not.”
- So, are there cuffing season rules?
In short, no—probably worth reminding ourselves here that cuffing season is a term made up by the internet. However, as Grainger says, the general rules of dating etiquette should apply, regardless of the time of year. “Always consider the other person you are involved with. Be respectful, upfront, and honest. And, if you can be open minded to something longer should it work out, then great.” As always, clear communication and stating your intentions from the offset are crucial in order to avoid anybody getting hurt. Emily, a 26 year old avid Bumble dater, tells us that she thinks cuffing season is a “super positive thing”. She explains: “If it’s what both parties want, then perfect. It’s only negative if someone’s intention is for it to just be for the cold season and then end it for the summer, and the other person isn’t aware of this.” Elizabeth also echoes this sentiment. “If one person is looking for something more serious, and the other casual, it might end in heartbreak. So it’s important to discuss what you’re both looking for beforehand.”
However, we are only human, and sometimes you may find yourself cuffed up for much longer than you anticipated. Grainger points out that “One of the general issues with casual dating is that it can be easy for people to take things personally when they aren't personal. But people also don't like feeling used, and it can be very easy to use people now, even if not ill-intentioned.” Her best advice for an awkward uncuffing situation is to “Again, be gentle, kind, respectful and as honest as you can be.” Having clear conversations from the very beginning of your relationship, no matter how casual you think it is, will help to ensure both of you are on the same page.
What are some top cuffing season tips?
We think Emily puts it best when she says: “Mute cringey couples on Instagram. Be open to going on dates during colder months. Try and work out if you want a relationship or if you are just cold.” Grainger confirms that the change of weather causes a spike in anxiety from her clients. “A lot of people self-diagnose with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and whether the diagnosis is real or not, it does indicate a true experience of lower mood in these darker, colder months.” However, she believes that we often make it worse for ourselves by worrying prematurely. “Whether it arises or not, a lot of people are actively thinking about how tough winter might be or mentally preparing for it, when there’s usually no need!” Keeping a positive outlook and high optimism levels can make all the difference—it’s never as bad as we think it might be. Grainger reassures: “Don't panic. Focus on those who always ‘top you up’ and make you feel loved. Surround yourself with people who you can connect with in ways that fulfil you.”
If a temporary relationship is on your radar this cuffing season, Grainger’s advice is to “embrace it, but don’t put pressure on it.” This is important, as for single people at this time of year, the pressure is definitely on. As Sarah tells us: “It’s [cuffing season] definitely putting the pressure on singletons’ shoulders and I think it’s too much. Let people be single in peace!” This year especially, as she says “It’s giving ‘single people are a little desperate so they’re willing to take anyone to keep themselves warm and fight the gas crisis’ when actually you can find someone whenever you like or, shockingly, enjoy your own company.” Elizabeth makes a valid point when she says: “As single people, it’s bad because our year is basically split between cuffing season and hot girl summer.” We’re with Grainger—tune out the noise, focus on the important people in your life, and if you want to explore something casual romantically, then go for it (as long as the other person does, too).
So there we have it: cuffing season—the meaning, the schedule, the memes, the rules, the science. We hope we’ve brought you bang up to date in our refresher session. As with any dating trend, it won’t always be relevant to you and your personal situation. Casual dating, and especially seasonal dating, isn’t for everyone. And that’s more than OK. If you’re focussed on looking for the one, it makes sense to prioritise that. But as Grainger says: “Sometimes, it’s best to try and not be so black-and-white about relationships. Be open minded, and anything could happen. ”