Tips For Mastering Cuffing Season

What's cuffing season? It's that spirited time of year when heating bills are up, vitamin D production is down, and single people are tempted to settle down –- well, sort of. It can get lonely perusing fall TV previews without a partner to poke fun at your favorite reality shows. For those looking to cuff someone in colder months, it's not so much about finding true love as it is about someone with whom to pass time.


It might sound a bit harsh, but the concept of cuffing season is pretty fixed in our collective consciousness. While the term "cuff" as a romantic verb emerged from use in African American vernacular, the phrase "cuffing season" has only been documented as recently as a decade ago, according to Merriam-Webster. Today, you don't have to look hard to find cuffing season memes, thought pieces, and even screen-printed apparel bearing the name of the annual event.

Jokes about the cold nature of cuffing season aside, there's clear evidence that it's here to stay. "There are more singles online during [cuffing] season," relationship expert Amie Leadingham tells Brides. Dating services experience an influx of users starting in late fall, and some of these casual couplings can prove to be long-lasting. There's nothing wrong with participating in the ritual to help beat winter blues, as long as you set clear boundaries with your partner. So, how can you ensure you're ahead of the game this cuffing season?


Understanding the nature of cuffing season

Although humans are complex, and not everyone responds the same way to their environment, there are some interesting biological events to take note of as cuffing season approaches. Curiously, testosterone levels peak in men around October, according to research published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. And low serotonin, commonly experienced during winter, can actually mess with sex hormones. "There's a close connection between estradiol, the main female sex hormone, and the serotonin transporter," psychiatry researcher Brenda McMahon tells The Guardian.


That said, the desire to partner up in the latter half of the year may be more than psychological after all. "When people are not feeling so great, they may seek relationships as a way to boost their mood," psychologist Gary Lewandowski tells Discover Magazine. What's more, feeling cold could cause us to view love stories differently. Who knew? Furthermore, a study in the Journal of Consumer Research found that participants' enjoyment of romance films increased when temperatures dipped — something researchers attribute to "psychological warmth."

Make sure you're both on the same page

There's nothing worse than being unclear about where you stand in a relationship. Similarly, once you first catch feelings for someone, asking for clarification on your status can feel awkward. When it comes to cuffing season, it's vital to know whether you both want a casual relationship or are looking for something more serious. "Being in an undefined situationship can prompt some individuals to doubt and second guess themselves, and this uncertainty can extend to other areas of life," Harouni Lurie, L.M.F.T., tells Women's Health. It's best to communicate your intentions and expectations early on, but if you're left with more questions than answers, there are certain signs to look out for.


While they're not foolproof, some clues can give context to your partner's plans and whether you're part of their cuffing season playbook. "The first sign is the time of year in which they reach out. The second is that they only want to spend time with you indoors," dating coach Benjamin Daly tells Bumble. For example, if your significant other always insists on ordering delivery instead of going out for dinner, it could indicate that they're not quite comfortable making things official.

Don't feel pressured by the cuffing season hype

Between the holidays, work deadlines, and social gatherings, the end of the year can cause a lot of tension in our otherwise-only-mildly-chaotic lives. And that's not including symptoms of seasonal depression, which can affect up to 10% of people, per research published in the medical journal Psychiatry. Your well-being should always come first, but it can be easy to fall into relationship patterns that put self-care on the back burner.


Recognize whether you genuinely want a relationship, for starters, or if the growing emphasis on cuffing season is influencing you. "It's almost as if that pressure that was really just once around Valentine's Day...we pretty much just moved so that it now starts as early as fall," relationship scientist Marisa T. Cohen tells The Guardian. Try to take into account how you feel before making major decisions pertaining to your love life. Some helpful ways to explore your true desires include journaling, meditating, and talking with close friends or a therapist you trust.

Be careful not to get too caught up

It's a problem that plagues (or has plagued) many of us: moving too fast with someone new. While it's natural to feel sparkles after a great first date, it can be hard to create distance once you enter the honeymoon period of your relationship. But whether it's cuffing season or any other time, you should approach things cautiously to avoid burning out or being taken advantage of.


Everyone's relationship style is different, but certain behaviors can spell trouble. You may have heard of, or experienced, something called love bombing. It's a form of affection that may seem harmless but can possess dark undertones. "One partner showers the other with attention, affection, compliments, flattery, and ... creates this context where [they] feel [they've] met [their] soul mate," psychology professor Dr. Chitra Raghavan tells The New York Times. While it sounds sweet at first, love bombing can signal a need for control from the offending partner and lead to volatile dynamics later on.

Love bombing is just one example of a red flag to steer clear of. "If it feels wrong, it probably is. Most of us ignore those red flags, the small signs that something isn't right," relationship expert Tammy Nelson tells Newsweek. Listen to your intuition if you feel anxious or uncomfortable in response to how your partner acts. Furthermore, if your friends or family members express concern over the relationship, hear them out.


Determining if your partner makes the cut

At some point, you'll have to decide whether or not to continue the romance. Although many cuffing season relationships fizzle out at the first sign of spring, there's no reason to end things if genuine feelings are involved. But if you're completely over the situation, be direct with your partner. "Your romantic relationships are supposed to be one of the fundamental sources of happiness and joy in your life. If a relationship isn't working, don't be afraid to break it off," psychologist Gary Lewandowski tells NPR.


Nevertheless, don't despair if the partnership comes to an end -– grieving a breakup can be hard on anyone. "Even if the relationship wasn't great, you're still starting at ground zero," marriage therapist Sheri Meyers tells HuffPost. Keep in mind that cuffing season comes and goes just like any other, and there will be other opportunities for love in your future.