As if navigating the singles’ scene wasn’t effort enough, there’s now a never-ending list of strange dating terms to add to your vocab. And whilst it’s all well and good putting the phrases down to millennials’ need for novelty, remain unaware of them – and their implications – and you’ll risk reading the signs all wrong, making faux pas unrecoverable, or both. Especially during cuffing season.
Cuffing refers to being handcuffed to another person – nothing to do with bondage, but an analogy for those emotional and physical ties we seem to confuse with real relationships – and has been floating around the internet since the early 2010s. The reasoning behind it? Short days, long nights and cold weather. Much like our cave-dwelling forefathers, the winter months naturally cause us to spend more time indoors, and it makes evolutionary sense – move less, conserve more heat; hide away from the elements and, well, not freeze to death.
Plus, having another body next to you isn’t only ideal from a temperature perspective (if you don’t have double glazing, cuffing up is practically a requisite – buy a second duvet), the bonus of regular sex makes those endless nights in watching Netflix seem altogether less awful. And they really can seem awful – studies have found even feeling temporarily cold is enough to induce feelings of isolation and loneliness, and vice versa.
Then there’s Christmas. US-based matchmaker Alessandra Conti – who splits her winters between freezing New York and far more temperate LA (which averages 13°C at its coolest) – says cuffing is a phenomenon occurring coast to coast: something she can only put down to the holiday season. Winter walks, ice skating, mulled wine, the crushing dread of turning up to parties without a plus one… It’s a time for romance.
Conti’s theory also ties in with the cuffing season schedule, which went viral last year. According to this handy fact-sheet, which we can only assume was made by an American football fan, we’re currently in the midst of ‘tryouts’ – a month-long phase of auditioning potential winter partners before deciding whether to introduce them to our nearest and dearest in December or toss them back into the sea of swipers.
This winter-specific bonding appears to largely be driven by men’s cold, sad brains. And we’re not being sexist – it’s science. Not only are men around 15% more likely to seek out relationships in the winter months than in the salad days of summer (women are only 5% more likely to), and 11% less likely to couple up in summer (equally, women were 5% less likely to), men are more sexually attracted to women in cold weather too. Researchers have theorised this is likely due to the fact women wear more clothes in winter, meaning men can’t suss out their real body shape and subsequently brand them unf*ckable (again, take it up with science, not us).
As for why women willingly put on the ‘cuffs’, Heather Ebert, relationship expert for online dating bidding site WhatsYourPrice.com (yes, where you can bid on actual people like a Black Mirror eBay), believes it’s down to societal pressure on women to settle down at a younger age; confounded at Christmastime by family members straight out of Bridget Jones and all those loved-up couples around; a constant Fair Isle-clad reminder of what’s ‘missing’ from their lives. Or, more realistically, their next two weeks.
Because, as Ebert says, rushing into romance for the sake of it means it’s “unlikely to outlast the cold”. It’s called cuffing season, not cuffing year for a reason, folks – and statistics back it up. Facebook data suggests there are two peak times for breakups each year: one being the start of March – the end of cuffing season, when the insatiable urge to be free and out in the sunlight begins, and we can throw off the comfort of our now-obsolete human meat blankets – and the second, two weeks before Christmas, when the risk of dying alone is one worth taking if it means not having to buy someone you don’t even like a decent present.
But it’s not all doom and gloom for cuffed up couples this winter… Should you make it past certain checkpoints, that is. Facebook data also found that there are 34% more new relationships than breakups on Christmas Day, and 49% more on Valentine’s Day: the ‘championship game’ of cuffing season, if you're going by the schedule. Succeed at this stage, and you’ve got a good chance of going the distance long-term.
A final word of advice? Couples who have made it through former seasons unscathed tend to have mutual friends or family members in common on Facebook – so if you’re after an excuse to slide into your BFF’s brother’s DMs against all logic, reason and everyone’s wishes, consider this it.
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