Even in a modern context, the colder months still pose unique challenges to well-being that make, well, cuffing up seem especially desirable. For just a couple examples, the dreary weather in most places puts plenty of outdoor activities off the table and limits your potential for mood-boosting exposure to sunlight, making it natural to look for other ways to get that serotonin hit—like a fresh relationship.
“We tend to seek new ways to make us feel good [when other options aren't available], and there are few things that make people feel better than falling in love or being in love,” says Dr. Hill. Not to mention, coupling up for the winter means you get to have someone with whom to enjoy all the romantic vibes of the holiday season.
The trouble with cuffing season traditionally comes with the "season" part, though: If you're just trying to get cuffed for the cold-weather season and enjoy a wintertime fling before returning to the single life post-Valentine's Day, you might wind up in a totally unfulfilling relationship, or one in which feelings get hurt. Not to mention, trying to "cuff" someone for a few months while planning to drop them when the temperature warms isn't exactly a kind dating practice—which is why singles are largely abandoning that old-school cuffing mentality for something more meaningful this cuffing season.
What to expect from cuffing season in 2023
Similar to how societal conditions of yore gave us cuffing season in the first place, the general state of the world has shaped modern daters' desires. The past several years have put us through a collective wringer, as we've reckoned with major social injustices, anxiety around climate change and the economy, and lest we forget, a pandemic. In May, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) released a report outlining the scope of what’s come to be called “the loneliness epidemic,” which found that Americans of all demographics are lonely. It only follows that many would be more intentional with dating.
"Daters are looking for the same thing they want in the summer, which is a mutual, logical, and gradual connection that is genuinely good, not just good for now."—Shan Boodram, sexologist
According to relationship experts from the dating apps Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge, daters are now prioritizing deeper connections than in years past, and this fall, they're increasingly open to finding something that lasts beyond the confines of cuffing season. Indeed, the novelty of cuffing season may have worn off a bit, according to sexologist Shan Boodram, sex and relationships expert at Bumble. She says that daters are really "looking for the same thing that they want in the summer [or in any season], which is a mutual, logical, and gradual connection that is genuinely good, not just good for now."
A September 2023 survey of more than 2,000 adults on the topic of cuffing season confirms as much: 57 percent of Gen Z respondents said they were looking for a serious relationship no matter the season, while nearly half of total respondents said that they do not participate in cuffing season because they "believe it is an outdated narrative."
Much of that narrative has come to be associated with finding an S.O. to bring home for the holidays. In order to avoid pressing questions from family members about their love life—something that a third of respondents to the above Bumble survey said they experience—daters in the past have been known to throw their own hopes and desires out the window with the goal of just ensuring they cuff someone for the season. But now, Boodram says more daters are prioritizing what she calls "positive intentionality" and seeking out something meaningful, rather than anything born out of pressure or convenience.
“Young singles are changing preconceived notions of cuffing season by tossing out timelines and pressure for conventional labels,” says matchmaker Devyn Simone, resident relationship expert at Tinder. “Instead, they are embracing a low-pressure approach to dating, which has cracked open a whole new world of meaningful relationship types.”
In turn, the qualities that daters are most seeking this cuffing season fall more in line with intentional, lasting partnerships than a fun time with an expiration date: In the Bumble survey, respondents were most often looking for kindness (53 percent), a sense of humor (53 percent), and similar interests and hobbies (50 percent) in a cuffing season partner. And an August 2023 survey of more than 2,000 Hinge users found that a whopping 93 percent are looking to date someone emotionally vulnerable.
Are cuffing season relationships healthy?
Where cuffing season has historically been detrimental is in implying that this is a time of year when everyone should get cuffed, thus pressuring people to enter into relationships that they wouldn't normally enter, just to avoid being alone.
Changing or eschewing your relationship standards altogether in the name of "cuffing" is problematic, says Dr. Hill, putting you at risk of being unhappy or hurt. "We might feel like we need to enact the script of having this really cozy, committed partner [during cuffing season], even if that's not really what we have," says Dr. Hill.
"We might feel like we need to enact the script of having this really cozy, committed partner, even if that's not really what we have." —Sarah Hill, PhD, research psychologist and consultant for Cougar Life
That said, Dr. Hill notes that it's certainly possible to begin a relationship during the months of cuffing season that is perfectly healthy—particularly if you approach it with the intentionality that more daters are leaning into this year, per above.
The dynamic of the relationship is always going to matter much more than the timing of when it started. "If you have a relationship that starts off with both of you taking things relatively gradually, and it progresses with the typical cadence, I think that this can be an indication that things are on the up and up [even if it started during cuffing season]," says Dr. Hill. "It's really the rapidly accelerating relationships or the recycled relationships that tend to raise the most red flags."
As a caveat, that's also not to say that all relationships during cuffing season need to involve a certain level of long-term commitment to work, either; there's nothing wrong with seeking out someone with whom to snuggle and spend time this winter season, and having a short-term relationship. What really matters, Dr. Hill says, is the quality of the connection—and aligning your desires with your actions so everyone involved is on the same page.
4 ways to know if someone is trying to "cuff" you
In a traditional sense, someone trying to cuff you means they're just looking to date you within the confines of cuffing season, or until the weather warms (but again, daters this year are expected to break the cuffing season mold, entering into relationships this fall that have no end in sight).
Because cool weather is fast-approaching, it's likely that someone trying to cuff you will work quickly to shift the both of you into relationship mode before sweater season arrives. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it's something to look out for if you're in search of a relationship that lasts beyond this coming season. Below, you'll find four hallmarks of a relationship that's being put on the fast track by someone who's looking to make you their cuffing season partner.
1. You're spending more (and more) time together
If a romantic prospect makes a swift effort to fit you into their schedule, they may have their sights set on you for cuffing season. Boodram says to watch for your together time to be integrated into both of your routines, as opposed to feeling like an interruption. "You might notice that in addition to more formal dates, you’re also knocking errands off your to-do lists together or being invited to spend time with this person’s friends in a casual setting," she says.
2. The pace of the relationship is accelerating
If you notice this person is trying to advance from one relationship milestone to the next in a compressed period—say, you go on your first date, and then three weeks later, you meet their parents—Dr. Hill says they're likely trying to cuff you.
Again, the quick pace isn't always a problem. To use the same example, for some couples, meeting family after three weeks of dating might feel appropriate, but for others, it may feel way too fast, says Dr. Hill. That's why it's important to check any attempts to accelerate the relationship against your own feelings, expectations, and boundaries.
3. Your sense of intimacy also progresses quickly
According to Boodram, you might notice that a person who is trying to cuff you will aim to get more intimate with you very quickly, as a means of fast-tracking your bond. "This can range from sexual intimacy to an uptick in caring gestures that demonstrate an intimate knowledge of your wants and needs," she says.
If the person seems to be much more interested in intimacy or sex than in any other activities, that may be an indication that their primary goal for a cuffing season relationship is physical, says Dr. Hill. That's not inherently a problem, but in this case, it's especially important to consider whether your intentions are aligned.
4. Someone from the past reappears
If an ex or previously missed connection emerges suddenly as the trees begin to lose their leaves, that's a strong sign that they're eager to cuff you, says Dr. Hill. In this case, however, it's possible that they're just going through their phone to see who might be amenable to dating them in a season when the pressure to date is traditionally on, she says. "It might be an indication that they're looking to bide their time with you and then bench you."
How to have fun this cuffing season without getting hurt
Just as in any other season of dating, in cuffing season, open communication is of the utmost importance. Some people may be looking to cuff up in the traditional sense—that is, have a wintertime fling that ends comes spring; others, however, may certainly want more than that, particularly as more daters seek a meaningful connection with staying power. In any case, being honest about what you're looking for upfront (and continuing to speak up if your intentions change) is paramount to having a fun and safe cuffing season, says Boodram.
To start that conversation, vocalize your intentions and desires, and ask exactly what the other person expects, in terms of timing and commitment. In particular, Dr. Hill suggests asking questions like, "How far do you see this going?" and "Is our relationship just convenient for you?" It's also important to ask about a would-be partner's short-term and long-term goals for the relationship, so you can be sure you're not rushing into something on different pages, says Simone.
"It's often more fun to just live in this world that we're creating where we fill in the blanks, but having the bravery to ask the questions you need answers to will get you a long way." —Dr. Hill
Though it might be scary to open yourself up to an answer you don't want, asking is the only way to get clarity—and protect yourself from heartbreak down the line. "It's often more fun to just live in this world that we're creating where we fill in the blanks, but having the bravery to ask the questions you need answers to will get you a long way," says Dr. Hill.
Once you've aligned on expectations, you can strengthen your bond with a new partner this cuffing season by exploring and trying new things together; one way to get ideas is by alphabet dating, where you come up with a new date for each letter of the alphabet. For "A," you might go apple picking, while "I" might stand for ice skating, and "M" could be a movie night at home. Perhaps counterintuitively, the more you focus on nurturing the relationship and the less you worry about the pressures of a cuffing season timeline, the more swiftly your intimacy and connection will grow.
A word of caution: It's also important not to ignore your physical safety in the name of cuffing up this season. Before meeting a new person, tell a trusted friend where you're going, and choose a public place, like a bar, coffee shop, or park. Boodram adds that if you're meeting someone from a dating app, you might consider setting up a voice or video call first. "This will help you assess the other person’s vibe and how comfortable you’ll feel on an IRL date," she says. And if you're planning on having sex with a new partner, also be sure to get tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and have a birth-control plan in place.
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