Written by: Laura Oviedo-Guzmán
Maybe you’ve seen the memes. Perhaps you’ve heard the homonymous song by Fabolous. Whatever your medium, you’ve likely heard of the term “cuffing season.” “Cuffing season” is a term used to describe the period between late September and early April (i.e., the coldest portion of the year here in North America) during which single people are more likely to couple up. Seeing as we’re in the midst of Cuffing Season (and as an avid fan of etymology and romantic relationships), I sought to find the origins of the famous term, the contributing factors of the phenomenon, and some tips on how to help you navigate this time of year.
Although the term may evoke similar imagery as the idiom “old ball and chain,” “cuffing” refers to a link between two people. According to Merriam-Webster, “[t]he earliest recorded print uses of cuffing season date from college newspapers in 2011, with cuff preceding that as a verb with origins in African-American vernacular as something close in meaning to hook up.” It entered the mainstream consciousness thanks to our increasingly online world and Fabolous’ song, Cuffing Season. In this song, the rapper acknowledges the phenomenon as he raps about how now that it’s getting chilly and the fall is here, he will invite one of the girls he met to spend time at his house, “like a ho shelter.”
Why Does Cuffing Season Take Place During the Cold Months?
The short answer is: to stave off SADness. “Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that [is] triggered by a change in seasons and environmental stress,” says Susan Albers, PsyD, during an interview with Cleveland Clinic. Environmental stressors includes low temperatures and decreased daylight hours, both of which change the production of melatonin and serotonin in our bodies. These two chemicals affect our mood, and when they decrease, they contribute to feelings of loneliness. Regarding SAD and cuffing season, Albers says that “dating is often a healthier strategy of coping than pulling the covers over your head.”
It’s important to remember that SAD is a diagnosable disorder. What this means isthat someone with SAD will experience impaired daily functioning for an extended period. One of the ways this happens is by SAD usurping our motivation to participate in activities we would normally enjoy, affecting how connected we are with others and increasing our likelihood to withdraw socially.
While not everyone experiences SAD, most of us can experience a quick mood change with the change of seasons, colloquially known as “the winter blues.” Whether it’s SAD or “winter blues,” the shorter and colder days can have us wanting to cozy up to a special new someone. This behaviour naturally boosts serotonin and mood. After all, “[we evolved as] pack animals, and in the winter months, we had to spend time together literally for warmth,” says clinical sexologist Holly Richmond when interviewed by the lifestyle media brand Mindbodygreen.
Other factors that contribute to the phenomenon of Cuffing Season include holiday stress. Many of us will participate in holiday festivities like dinners and parties. Having someone to join us during social events can alleviate stress. I spoke about this piece with a counselor in my life, and they understood this in two ways. Firstly, the holidays are notorious for being a time when families ask their members about partners, marriage, and babies. Having a plus one may satiate their prying queries, getting your more inquisitive kinfolk off your back. From a different perspective, holidays are also a high-conflict time for families. Introducing a new person to the mix may help quell quarrels as your family aims to make their best impression on this new person.
Rules For Cuffing Season
Really, the only rules for this period are self-reflection and communication. Should you choose to participate in Cuffing Season, enacting these two behaviours will help you navigate and enjoy this time of the year.
Self-reflection helps us understand the qualities we’re looking for in a partner, what kind of relationship we want, and how much effort we’re willing to put into our relationship. Some questions to ask ourselves are:
- Why do I want to be in a relationship?
- What do I value in someone I’m attracted to? What don’t I care about?
- Am I hoping for a long-term relationship? Am I looking for someone with whom I can hook up? Where do I fall on being exclusive with someone?
- When we spend time together, will it be in public, like at holiday parties, or private, like at our houses, to watch movies? Do I want it to be a mix of both?
Asking ourselves these questions is no guarantee that we will experience precisely the kind of relationship we have imagined. The people we encounter are infinitely more complex than the blueprint we have set up in our minds. However, asking these questions–making a searching and fearless emotional inventory–is nevertheless important because it helps us participate in a potentially exciting time of the year responsibly. The answers to these questions help us set our standards and prevent us from lowering them to widen our candidate pool. Allowing ourselves to participate in a relationship that is out of alignment with what we value often leaves us feeling emotionally deflated. Answering the questions above can help prevent stress and dismay during our search.
Now that you’ve answered the above questions and found your seasonal honey, it’s time to DYR–define your relationship, as Dr. Albers puts it. To avoid hurt feelings from either party, it’s important to talk about your expectations in this relationship. Communicating this to your partner should be easier since you’ve already thought about it by completing the questions above. Additionally, discussing your expectations regarding how often you spend time together and how you spend that time together early on helps you weed out the people with whom you don’t want to share time. The days are shorter, and there’s no daylight to waste, so you might as well be perfectly honest with your potential interests to zero in on your SO–your Seasonal Other.
Also, if you’re choosing to involve sex this season, I strongly encourage you to practice safer sex. Barriers (such as condoms and dental dams) and lube can be found free of charge at the Campus Collective Centre, in SP 150. The Health Centre, located in SU 020, offers these items and STI and pregnancy testing.
Other Points to Keep In Mind
As days inevitably begin to grow longer and warmer with the onset of spring, many relationships that started during Cuffing Season conclude. Dr. Albers says these relationships often only last as long as the season itself. However, there are some exceptions to the rule, and it could be that your Seasonal Other becomes your Significant Other as your fling grows into something less seasonally-dependent. Here are some of the signs that things between you and the other person are on the path to a long term relationship:
- You both make plans for the future beyond the Winter season
- You spend time together around people that are important to either of you (e.g. friends and family)
- You both make time to see each other, like reserving weekends to do activities together
Cuffing Season, whether you’re looking for something serious or not, presents an exciting opportunity to meet new people and have new experiences. It is also a great chance to try out new relational patterns, says the counselor as mentioned earlier I spoke with. This means that if you got out of a relationship and took inventory of your readiness to get back on the horse; Cuffing Season can provide the stage for you to try a different approach to dating or communication. Knowing that it’s likely that your Cuffing Season relationship has an expiration date may remove some of the stress around doing things differently this time around. For example, knowing that it’s “a fling until spring” may decrease the stress of discussing boundaries and needs with your partner, laying solid groundwork for future relationships.
The last point to remember is that being single is another valid option. If you’re enjoying flying solo or don’t feel ready to have a relationship for whatever reason, honour that boundary. Staying connected with friends, family, and pets are great ways to weather the winter season. Seeing all this cozy couple propaganda may make you itch for a relationship. Still, if you’re not sure about your readiness; I encourage you to revisit the questions above to decide how to proceed.
8 Strategies For Dating During Cuffing Season. (2022). Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/cuffing-season/
Fabolous. (2013). Cuffin’ Season. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Opj-v1I11Gw
Regan, S. (2016). Is Cuffing Season A Real Thing? 5 Things Experts Want You To Know. Mindbodygreen. https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/what-is-cuffing-season
When Is “Cuffing Season?” (n.d.). Www.merriam-Webster.com. Retrieved October 26, 2022, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/cuffing-season-meaning-origin