Covid-19 and Cuffing Season: When two worlds collide

It’s officially cuffing season: The time of year where singles couple up to keep warm during the cold winter months.

But unlike previous years, cuffing season and a global pandemic converge – and the pressure is on for people to lock down with a partner before the days darken and the temperature drops. 

Definition, please?

“But what is cuffing season,” I hear you ask. Well, according to Urban Dictionary (an undoubtedly reliable definition site on the internet), cuffing season is:

 “The cold season when everyone’s coupling up, so you settle for a new boyfriend/girlfriend way below your standards. Or you’re one of the smart ones who cozies up with Coors Light.” 

Perhaps that isn’t the best description, but the season entails singletons coupling up in order to prevent the heightening feeling of loneliness and isolation people feel during winter. 

However, with Covid-19 following closely on its tail, is cuffing season harmful to singletons this year? 

At the beginning of the pandemic, dates were strictly virtual. They later branched into social distancing dates as lockdown restrictions eased. These included picnics or walks, which were feasible due to the pleasant weather. But as the cold threshold of winter approaches, those in-person rendezvous will be difficult to come by. 

The latter months of the year also put an emphasis on ‘family time’ and spending time with those close to you, an external pressure which may involve family members comparing you to your happily married cousin and wondering why you haven’t got a companion. With winter also comes holidays, which may loom as unwelcome reminders: no one to pull a cracker with on Christmas Day and an empty diary come Valentine’s Day. 

All of these factors contribute to people’s desire to couple up, but will the pressure caused from cuffing season lead to people making a rash decision that may land them in a “meh” relationship for the sake of having someone to watch Love Actually with? 

The science behind cuffing season 

This desire goes beyond lust and loneliness – there is actually some science behind cuffing season. From an evolutionary perspective, we have sought warmth from others to aid in our survival, much like when animals hibernate, according to scientists. Also, studies have shown that testosterone production peaks around October and November, thus resulting in people wanting to engage in more sexual activity. A 2008 study from the University of Wroclaw, Poland, showed that men found women’s bodies most attractive in the winter and less so during the warmer months. Serotonin can also decrease in the winter, so becoming romantically involved can boost it. 

On top of this, the science of how our perceptions influence how we think and feel (known as Embodied Cognition) is another factor at play when it comes to cuffing season. Being socially excluded, for example, has been shown to literally feel cold, leading people to crave warmth in whatever form they can get their hands on. This was discovered in the same 2008 study as above.  

Social media and relationships

The bane and joy of one’s life. Social media also adds to the pressure of coupling up in winter, with hashtags such as #cuffingseason and #relationshipgoals making people long for something they do not have. The aesthetic of autumn and winter (think pumpkin spice lattes and kicking piles of orange leaves with gay abandon) will ultimately result in cutesy couple photographs, further rubbing love and happiness in the noses of singletons.

Social media tends to be a place where we post the best version of ourselves. This has been difficult to do this year. I for one did not want to post a picture of myself in my pyjamas watching Netflix whilst eating Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, which is what I did on weekends during lockdown. Some singletons may now be making up for lost time this year after being alone for an extensive period, which may have included the national lockdown. Social media can accentuate what single people do not have, encouraging them to find ‘the one’ that they are constantly told they need to look for. 

Social media, Instagram especially, lacks content which shows that happiness can be sought without being in a relationship. Relationships are great, but you don’t necessarily need one to be happy. Instagram often shows people shiny couple photos, anniversary Stories and dinner date Boomerangs, but not the reality of relationships and being single. Many single people are perfectly happy that way, but they don’t go about posting it online in the same way that ‘happy’ couples do. 

Admittedly, we, as a generation, are becoming a lot more open about topics such as relationships and single life (amongst other important topics such as racism and body positivity), but there is still a stigma around being single. Many people feel ashamed that they have never been or are not currently in a relationship, thus pointing them towards cuffing up with someone. Social media can create an unrealistic expectation of relationships and put further pressure on singletons towards cuffing season. 

Sore wrists

The pressure of wearing metaphorical handcuffs (or physical) may be painful for some, but ultimately, if you flip the coin, cuffing season can be beneficial. 

It encourages singletons to put themselves out there if they choose to, exploring the world of relationships during a typically challenging time of the year. They can see others do the same, whether that be online or in-person. Cuffing season can be a very positive thing for those looking for love.

Whether you want to get ‘cuffed’ this season or not, remember that there is no rush or pressure to be in a relationship with someone, so you can freely ignore that family member pestering you to find a significant other. My message to single people is that you have survived an unprecedented situation and periods of isolation, you can be alone again. Be sensible, be safe, and wear a damn mask. 

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