Some cuffing season relationship coaching that might keep you from getting snowed in
Experts sound in on how to face winter dating with clear eyes and a warm heart.
The steadily dropping temperature is the perfect incentive to get under a cozy blanket and cuddle up with the one you love. But for those of us that are unattached, is there a greater impetus to find a cuddle buddy during the autumn and winter months? The phenomenon is well known as "cuffing season" - the increased desire to find a mate to keep us literally and figuratively warm. Though the term has no clear etymology (it seems to have organically sprung up through Twitter), it was definitely legitimized by the 2014 Fabulous song "Cuffin' Season". While the term may seem like a lighthearted myth, there actually may be more truth than fiction behind the cuff.
The cuffing truth
A collection of four studies published in 2012 found a significant connection between physical warmth and emotional well being. Firstly, those who reported higher levels of loneliness more frequently sought out warm baths and showers. Subsequently, increasing physical coldness correlated with feeling more lonely while conversely, increasing physical warmth remedied the need for social connection and emotional control. Furthermore, researchers found that these connections come about subconsciously, meaning we're unaware of how these circumstances are making us act. The season of the cuff seems statistically real too, according to Facebook, which found that the highest peaks of new relationships versus breakups (via "In A Relationship" and "Single" statuses) were around Christmas and Valentine's Day.
The pressure to cuff is real
While it does appear that a seasonal scientific could be at play, there are plenty of other contributing factors too. "Mainly, it's a season chock full of holidays, and holidays are socially oriented", says relationship and emotional fitness expert Dr. Natasha Sharma, creator of The Kindness Journal. "This means facing family members and friends who may be sources of pressure - either directly from the source, or self-inflicted through comparing and feeling as though one's not measuring up." Registered psychotherapist Lisa M. Kelly also believes that humans "are wired for connection. Yet we have reduced opportunity to socialize face-to-face in winter when snow and ice make it harder to get around. So how can we get our vital hits of oxytocin – a neurotransmitter dubbed the 'cuddle hormone'? Human touch is one answer. And that is something cuffing provides."
Dr. Sharma warns that if you're feeling antsy to get into a relationship after outside pressures like browsing social media or seeing family, "There's a decent chance that feeling is being spurred on superficially by being exposed to all of that. If you were fine on your own before those social activities, then don't be fooled."
Kelly believes it's important to you ask yourself if your time together might be "a distraction from personal concerns we don't know how to deal with – such as lack of self-worth, direction, meaning, belonging or purpose in life?", which would indicate cuffing, as opposed to sharing similar interests and values along with being emotionally responsive, communicative and connected.
How to proceed with caution
Scientifically, socially and otherwise, there are a host of viable reasons why we'd be tempted to seek out or stay in a romantic relationship during the colder months. With these pull forces acting on us (and subconsciously at that), how can we ensure we're going after something meaningful and beneficial and not just completely snow-blind?
One suggested way is to limit your interactions, so as to not move too fast. For example: "If true love is what you want, holding off on kissing will keep your head from becoming clouded with phenylethylamine, a kiss-released chemical that fools your brain into thinking you know everything you need to know about a prospective partner," says dating coach Chantal Heide. "Physical affection is still on the table, so you'll still benefit from the doses of oxytocin, dopamine, and endorphins that'll elevate your mood and give you the feel good rushes you're looking for." This may sound extreme but phenylethylamine, in combination with other released hormones and chemicals, is a natural amphetamine that can stimulate the nervous system in similar ways to the drug MDMA, influencing certain social and romantic behaviours.
While it's unrealistic to assume you can ward off all the internal and external pressures, awareness is key. Being mindful of the dynamics at work and your reaction to them is the perfect opportunity to ask yourself what you are ultimately looking for and if you're actually finding it. If you find yourself making concessions in a potential partner where you normally wouldn't or suddenly interested in people you had already passed on (and vice versa), it may be that the power of the cuff compels you.
But wait, what if I want to cuff?
It doesn't have to be all or nothing though. Dating during cuffing season can certainly have its benefits. The winter months and holiday activities can be a positive catalyst for meeting people in warm, intimate ways. Just as knowing others might be more game for commitment (at least for the immediate future) might be. So, how can we reap the benefits of this season?
If you are aware of the caveats and potential limitations, it is possible to engage in cuffing season with an open mind, like you would a summer fling. If you want to partake in cuffing season rationally, Kelly advises: "Consider saying something like, 'I could get into talking, watching movies, eating some nice meals, hanging out during the holidays, cuddling, cuffing etc. And my hopes aren't necessarily to get permanently cuffed up.'" Sharma agrees: "If you genuinely are good with yourself and are open to meeting someone to share all or part of life with, then by all means - go for it. Look for it. Just don't do it for validation of yourself or to stave off loneliness (or freezing to death - won't happen!)."
"Generally speaking", says Sharma, "if you experience emotions in 'highs' and 'lows' in any relationship that's usually not a good sign. Healthy relationships are made up of relatively stable, happy, content feelings much of the time, interspersed with healthy-negative emotions here and there where appropriate. High/low emotions are a good sign to re-evaluate things and what's going on inside of you."
Taking the cuffs off
Finally, what happens if the snow thaws and you realize you were cuffing or getting cuffed all along? It's important not just to cut bait and run, but to evaluate those feelings with your partner. "If your romance thaws, try to talk to each other about it", Kelly suggests, "Too often people just drift apart. Without a closure conversation, each person is likely left with mistaken assumptions and some hurt feelings which then carry over to the next relationship." Highlighting your likes and needs that were met will help you better clarify what you're looking for in the future. "When the wrong reasons bring us together we find someone who belongs more in the 'something I learned' folder than the 'future spouse' one", adds Heide, "Ask yourself what was the best takeaway from your experience, as well as what you've learned you never want to deal with again in future romantic partners. Then, take steps to heal your heart and purge your home to create a welcoming space for the next one to come along."