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Is 'cuffing season' a real thing? Here's what relationship experts think

Coupling up may not cure your winter blues — but don't rule it out just yet.

The leaves are falling, and the grass is awaiting its first blanket of snow. For many singles, this means one thing: "Cuffing season" has officially begun.

Cuffing season takes on a different meaning for each and every person. If you asked most people how they'd define it, they'd likely say it's when you become “cuffed” or attached to someone romantically for a period of time.

As Saba Harouni Lurie, a licensed marriage and family therapist and founder of Take Root Therapy, told TODAY, it’s a “seasonal phenomenon of single people ramping up their efforts to enter into relationships during the fall and winter months.”  

There's no one way to cuff, but it often starts as a short-term commitment.

"Cuffing season falls in the category of ‘situationship,'" Kiana Shelton, a licensed clinical social worker and women’s health expert with Mindpath Health, told TODAY. For some people, it’s a serious relationship. For others, it’s merely someone to come over when you want company on cold winter nights. 

People tend to have mixed feelings towards the whole concept of cuffing season in the first place. “Some view cuffing season as just another attempt to market products that capitalize on consumer need and insecurity, while others see it as a genuine opportunity to build meaningful relationships with other like-minded individuals,” Katy Clark, lead matchmaker at Cinqe Matchmaking, said.

Meet the experts

  • Saba Harouni Lurie, a licensed marriage and family therapist and founder of Take Root Therapy.
  • Kiana Shelton, a licensed clinical social worker and women’s health expert with Mindpath Health.
  • Katy Clark, lead matchmaker at Cinqe Matchmaking.
  • Jessica Alderson, co-founder and relationship expert at So Syncd, a dating app matching people by personality type.

To cuff or not? That is the question that only you can answer. Keep reading to learn the ins and outs of cuffing season, along with some expert tips to keep the love going once the season wraps.

When is cuffing season?

When exactly is cuffing season? It starts in the mid to late fall and extends through winter. In other words, if there’s a chill in the air or snow on the ground, it’s cuffing season.

Why cuffing season exists

We can trace the popularity of cuffing season to a number of things, but it mainly comes down to loneliness. It’s the thread that weaves through the primary causes of cuffing season: poor mental health and family expectations. 

Mental health

Across the United States, about 5% of people experience seasonal depression each year, according to reports by Mental Health America. The winter months can be mentally taxing due to a lack of sunlight or the desire to venture out into the cold.

“We’re less prone to go outside or engage in activities that would typically produce feel-good hormones like serotonin and oxytocin during the colder months,” Lurie said. “Because of that, it’s not unusual for folks to seek out more physical touch from their partners or to consciously or subconsciously seek partners to make up for that deficit.”

A 2019 study from found that 60% of participants who experienced loneliness in the fall and winter used dating apps as a quick fix. 

Family expectations

If you celebrate holidays during the winter months, being alone can bring another source of worry to any stressful family gatherings.

Having someone to take home with you, even if you’re not in a serious relationship, can take a load off and give you someone to steal you away when your relative starts meddling with your love life — or lack thereof. “For some, showing up to a family gathering with a date is much easier and less stressful than fielding the seemingly endless, intrusive questions about their personal life or trying to establish boundaries during an already emotionally charged time of year,” Lurie said. 

In some cases, you may not see your family at all during the holidays because of distance or cut ties. A partner can reduce loneliness or sadness that you may otherwise experience, suggests Lurie. This companionship can be especially beneficial if your friends are away for the holidays. 

Tips for a successful cuffing season

If you plan to embrace cuffing season, you’re far from alone. The same study found user activity increased by 30% from November to February, compared to the rest of the year. 

That said, there is nothing wrong with intentionally entering a short-term relationship — as long as you’re straightforward with the other person. Trouble arises when each person enters the relationship with different goals but doesn’t share them, according to Shelton.

Related: Relationship red flags to look out for, according to experts

“The most important point to remember when navigating cuffing season is that you should check that you’re both on the same page,” Jessica Alderson, co-founder and relationship expert at So Syncd, a dating app matching people by personality type, told TODAY. “You can end up getting hurt if you are deeply invested in the relationship, but your partner just wants a companion for the winter months.” 

This open communication isn’t a one-time thing at the start of your relationship. As times goes on, one person may find themselves not wanting to end the relationship as soon as the flowers start to bloom come spring. Lurie stresses the importance of continually checking in and creating a safe space for communication during your time together. 

With that in mind, checking in with yourself is equally important. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What does cuffing season mean for you?
  2. Are you scared to broach the idea of continuing your relationship for fear of rejection?
  3. Are you going along with extending it because you don’t want to hurt the other person?

If you’re the one being cuffed, these questions can help you determine what you want the relationship to look like throughout the next few months. “Think about boundaries, especially physical boundaries, so that the level of intimacy that you engage in is something you feel comfortable with,” Shelton said.

It's OK to skip cuffing season altogether

There’s no obligation to enter a relationship simply because those around you are.

Clark expressed mixed feelings about the concept of cuffing season. “On one hand, I understand the impulse to seek out companionship or fill an emotional void at this time of year. But on the other hand, I am wary of succumbing to societal pressure or buying into unsustainable long-term commitments simply because everyone else is doing so,” she said.

At the end of the day, your “why” for trying to enter a relationship is crucial. Yes, if you’re on the same page, a short-term partner can be great for forgoing loneliness over the winter months. However, if you’re truly unhappy, depressed or experiencing intense mood changes, Alderson recommends seeking professional help and working to make long-term changes to help you feel better year-round. 

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