Cuffing season is upon us, and with COVID still looming, it’s coming at us extra hard this year. (In fact, according to a Tagged survey, 61% of respondents said they are looking to cuff with someone this winter versus only 48% last fall.) If you haven’t yet heard of this phenomenon, cuffing season is that time of year—fueled by the magic of fall and the holidays—when the pressure to couple up and settle down is at its strongest and most potent.You may be asking yourself, ”Wait, is wanting a serious relationship a bad thing?” No, not at all! There’s a huge difference between seeking it because you’re ready, and seeking it because of societal pressures and mounting loneliness. Find out how to discern the difference and thrive—solo or coupled—during this year’s cuffing season.
Simply speaking, we often fall prey because the holidays bring out the loneliest sides of us. It’s not a cliché to say that seeing couples in love under the mistletoe can be difficult sometimes when you’re single.Capitalism also plays a part in this phenomenon. Companies constantly target their ads and products—from vacation resorts to jewelry to restaurants to streaming services—to couples. Ads for soda and batteries show loving families curled up on the couch, smiling as Santa hands them a Coke, or the Duracell bunny dancing around a Christmas tree while a smiling couple looks on. Chloe, an author from Portsmouth, has succumbed to the pressures of cuffing season, too. “I proposed to my boyfriend of six months a couple of years ago on Christmas Eve,” Chloe shares. “I didn’t have a ring and I was fresh from a crying fit [over] family problems, and he calmed me down. My response? Not to thank him for being so understanding, but to ask him to marry me. It didn’t seem crazy at the time, but looking back, I suspect it was to assimilate into that family life that everyone wanted me to get on with already.”Everyone gets lonely at times, and many people want to find that special person who makes them glow. But there’s a worrisome aspect to cuffing season that can lead people to make commitments in the colder months that they wouldn’t in the peak of summer. This time of year can make us feel like we need to commit to anybody, rather than the one we’re meant to be with. The key? It’s all about finding balance.
According to The Meet Group, which conducted the Tagged survey referenced above, there’s a biological aspect to why we’re so drawn to cuffing.“Truth be told, there is biological evidence that we produce higher levels of testosterone in the cooler months (both men and women) encouraging us to ‘couple.’ Serotonin (the ‘happy’ brain chemical) levels seem to be lower during the fall months, which can leave some singles feeling lonely as winter approaches, further emphasizing the urge to find a companion.”In fact, 67% of survey respondents said that, given the option, they would prefer to be in a long-term relationship during the fall and winter months compared to spring and summer.But entering a relationship isn't the only way to boost your serotonin. Serotonin can be regained in numerous ways—from SSRIs to natural light therapy to foods that encourage the production of the chemical (such as salmon or pineapple). You can also generally lift your mood by practicing mindfulness, engaging in hobbies that you love, and increasing how often you see family and friends. Physical touch also releases the neurochemical oxytocin, which promotes the feeling of being connected to others, as well as physical and emotional security. Getting regular physical contact is great for your health, but it can also somewhat trick your mind into thinking it’s all you need.“I’d just gotten out of a short-lived relationship with my best friend,” shares Aanya of Ellensburg, Washington. "We felt like we were practically dating anyway without the sex, cuddling up on the couch and just being as close as we are. So we figured it just made sense and would fix all our problems. Well, it didn't; she still wanted to see other people, and my mood swings weren't magically fixed. I spent the whole time wondering why our relationship wasn't like the fairytales I saw around me. We're still friends, but the breakup lifted a weight from both our shoulders."
Time alone can be scary, especially if you’ve been knee-deep in loneliness for a while or are fresh out of a relationship. If you miss that feeling of being someone’s whole world, without wanting to actually get into a serious relationship, make yourself your world during cuffing season.“It is important to be able to be at peace with yourself when you are not in a relationship, but that does not necessarily mean that you have to feel lonely,” says Heather Browne, LMFT, creator of The Healing Heart. “Feeling lonely happens when you don’t enjoy how you spend your time or the person whom you are with. There are many ways to engage yourself and feel more excited about your life.”Filling your time with activities you love, no matter how small, is the way to accomplish this—whether it’s binge-watching your favorite movies, painting, writing, participating in group meetups, or spending time with friends and family. Physical exercise is another great way to get the serotonin flowing and keep the loneliness at bay. Browne adds that volunteering for causes you care about can also alleviate feelings of emptiness. “Feeling lonely often results from not feeling wanted or important,” says Browne. “Helping and caring for others is a huge factor in [averting] loneliness. Not only do we often long to feel needed, but the happiness we gain from seeing others happy is unmatched.”At the end of the day, there’s nothing wrong with settling down during the holiday season—as long as you do it for you and not out of a sense of obligation or scarcity. So sit down with a pumpkin spice latte, and give yourself the space and time to figure out what will really fill you up this cuffing season.