Is 'cuffing season' a real thing? Relationship experts weigh in

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

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The leaves are falling, temperatures are dropping, and all you want to do is get cozy under a warm blanket.

For many singles, this means one thing: "Cuffing season" has officially begun.

If you haven't heard of this dating trend yet, we brought in some experts to explain the modern .

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

The concept has become so popular that SNL referenced it in their 2022 skit "Big Boys."

To cuff or not to cuff? That’s a question 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.

What happens during cuffing season?

There's no one way — or one reason — to cuff, but it often starts as a short-term commitment. Some singles are looking for someone to bring home for Thanksgiving, while others are simply hoping to snuggle away the winter blues.

"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.

Some people have mixed feelings about the 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.

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, then it’s cuffing season.

As the temperatures begin to drop, some singles start looking for another source of heat. After all, what could be cozier than snuggling up in front of the fire with your new boo, or binging the latest docuseries together at home?

Why does cuffing season happen?

We can trace the popularity of cuffing season to a number of things, but it mainly comes down to loneliness. Additionally, poor mental health and family expectations factor into the prevalence of cuffing season.

Seasonal depression kicks in

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 Dating.com 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. 

For those who don't get to visit their families during the holiday season, having a partner can provide some much-needed companionship.

How to navigate cuffing season

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

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.

“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.” 

It's equally important to maintain open lines of communication throughout the whole 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:

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

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 entering 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.