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Unraveling the Expectations of Cuffing Season

Trey Kennedy, Vine alumnus and now full-time comedian, just greeted the start of autumn with the release of the second video in his YouTube series titled: “Girls during fall be like….” Skipping through forests of golden trees, he makes humorous—and highly stereotyped—quips which speak to trends during cold weather seasons. 

“Not only are the leaves falling, but so are my standards,” he declares in one scene. “I’m not gonna be single during the holidays again.” For comedy like Kennedy’s to be successful, there must be some, if minimal, real-life evidence to his words. His comedy touches on the theory of “cuffing season,” a concept manifested by millennials in an effort to explain their desire for a relationship amidst colder weather.

“During the fall and winter months [sic],” writes Urban Dictionary, “people who would normally rather be single or promiscuous find themselves along with the rest of the world desiring to be ‘Cuffed’ [sic] or tied down by a serious relationship. The cold weather and prolonged indoor activity causes singles to become lonely and desperate to be cuffed.” 

The notion of cuffing season is frequently referenced by young adults—particularly those in college. Students are known to struggle in balancing their many responsibilities, and to burden themselves with the additional task of locking down a romantic partner may seem like self-sabotage. So why do so many students take part in cuffing season? The answer may lie in the fact that cuffing season is a biologically sound phenomenon.

Justin LehMiller, Ph.D., wrote for Vice in an effort to explore the legitimacy of the term. Citing research, he remarks, “Testosterone levels fluctuate seasonally in men, peaking in the winter months.” He also makes a nod to Seasonal Affective Disorder, writing, “People tend to produce less serotonin in the winter due to lower levels of sunlight exposure. This may lead people to feel the ‘winter blues,’ which they might try to compensate for by seeking out a relationship.”

With this research in mind, it seems natural that the body is prompted to crave physical connection at this time of the year. Colder weather gives reason to pursue activities that bring people closer together—often due to a mere lack of heat.

Falling in love is undoubtedly easier when two individuals are forced to hold hands and brush shoulders to keep themselves from becoming numb. Not to mention, many holidays conveniently fall around this chilly time of year. Movie nights, ice skating, even store-hopping for gifts… it is no wonder people feel as though they are missing a fundamental part of the season if they are unable to participate in such outings, ideally with someone they love. Increased testosterone levels are clearly not the only part of the cuffing season theory. 

Boston College professor, Kevin Ohi, Ph.D., of the English Department, teaches a class called “Unrequited Love.” His course delves into the revealing experience that comes with accepting the unfortunate, yet universal scenario of romantic misunderstanding.

When asked about whether he has seen any literary proof of cuffing season, he is reminded of scholar Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s work. With a salute to her, he says, “It has often occurred to me that Christmas is less (or only ancillarily) a celebration of families and togetherness than a machine for producing unhappiness, especially those on the outside of privileged forms of being: people without families, or without recognizable ones, or without the resources to join in the collective frenzy of consumerism, or those who experience desires not endorsed by the majority.”

In regard to relationships during the cold weather, he adds, “So the holidays enforce a normative picture of coupledness—as what you are supposed to want, or are supposed to be miserable without. That seems a more likely reason for ‘cuffing’; ascribing all of this to being indoors when it is cold turns that ideological mechanism into something natural.”

Seasonal propaganda touts the image of pairs: couples picking pumpkins, stringing lights, and strolling in parks side-by-side. Cold weather pastimes can just as easily be pursued solo, or with a platonic group of friends. The fact of the matter is, society doesn’t promote seasonal independence (or friendship).

Radio, television, and advertising have all pushed the notion that the holidays—and by extension, the cold—are meant for snuggling closer to those we love. This pattern has been reinforced for years, from Bing Crosby’s 1943 “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” to the 1990 film Home Alone and the 2003 drama Love, Actually. The entertainment industry frames anyone who tackles winter alone as a brave soul, and one worthy of the deepest sympathy.

Professor Ohi makes a thought-provoking statement in considering the societal context in which cuffing season has come about, and how this theory speaks to the generation credited with its invention.

“I'm often struck that people now seem happy to ascribe their behavior to transpersonal, social, or biological influences,” he notes. “Perhaps viewing them as preferable to facing what's imponderable or unfathomable in our own motivations and desires, and facing, too, the many forms of contingency that shape our existence.”

As a general rule, people tend to avoid discomfort whenever possible. Associating cold weather with the promise of love could be a scapegoat, a way to rationalize an otherwise daunting pursuit. A person who feels ready to open a relationship may find it more comfortable to defend their “desire” under the guise of cuffing season. This may seem less emotionally risky than asking the soul-searching question “Why am I single?” at any arbitrary time of the year.

The lack of a significant other in colder weather is seen as a symbol of loneliness, but as Professor Ohi suggests, this belief is likely rooted in society’s repeated messages. Could cuffing season be a coping mechanism to avoid the deeper connotations that come with the presence (or absence) of love in daily life? This autumn, keep in mind the difference between societal and personal goals. Maybe a relationship will naturally open, and maybe not. As exhibited by Home Alone’s Kevin McAllister, sometimes the best part of being alone for the holidays is just that—being alone.

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Next to writing, some of my favorite ways to spend time include designing Spotify playlists for friends and making grocery runs to Trader Joe's. I'm drinking coffee or tea almost constantly, and my mantra is the classic yet undeniably basic, "If it's meant to be, it will be!"