Just got into a relationship? Beware of warm beds in winter… you might be being ‘cuffed’


Kissy sell-outs: cuffers couple up when it gets cold. (Photo: Julia Shashkina/Flickr)

Warning: dating scene shutdown. Singles are pairing off with that seasonal somebody ’til spring. And their friends aren’t cool with it, reckons UK Dating Awards founder Charly Lester

According to Twitter we’ve officially entered #CuffingSeason – a cynical expression to describe the rise in new relationships over the festive period. If you haven’t heard the phrase before, it comes from handcuffs and, simply put, means seasonal dating: the idea that people tie themselves down to another person when it gets cold before shaking off the shackles come spring.

This week I was asked to go on BBC Radio Four’s Woman’s Hour to discuss the phenomenon. Does it actually exist? Is it a bad thing? And are drunken Christmas parties really to blame?


Playing it cool: festive flings are a real thing. (Photo: Fermín RF/Flickr)

Whilst ‘cuffing season’ is an American expression – and one used predominantly by teens and those in their early twenties – it’s a pretty universal trend. It’s also nothing new. For various reasons, including tipsy staff dos, dark cold nights and nagging relatives, people tend to be quicker to settle down into new relationships in winter than they are in summer. It’s a harder time of year to date multiple people, and snuggling beneath a blanket in front of the TV is a lot more fun with a plus one.

January and February have always been the two busiest months for the online dating industry, with sign-ups leading up to Valentine’s Day at their annual peak. Once the Christmas party season ends, social calendars empty, lending the season to first, second and third dates in quick succession. Before you know it, you’re going out with someone you barely know. Thrown together by fate, booze, or just dreadful weather.

“These days websites and apps cater for every sexual and relationship predilection. As such, genuine cuffing is no worse than casually hooking up”

Whilst it might be easy to dismiss seasonal dating as shallow, or consumerist, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Often it’s a Christmas spent alone which motivates singles to get back out onto the dating scene. And whilst you might not necessarily be looking for a long-term relationship, the winter months could help you realise just how much you enjoy having someone around.

However, the problem arises in springtime when, apparently, setting up Tinder dates after work suddenly becomes appealing again. If you weren’t looking for a relationship, but ended up falling into one for seasonal reasons, you run the risk of harming someone, if you consciously decide to uncouple.

These days websites and apps cater for every sexual and relationship predilection. As such, genuine cuffing is no worse than casually hooking up. It’s just a more long-term arrangement. The key to ‘cuffing’ is to be very clear with the other person, and yourself, about your motives. If you’re genuinely cuffing, then you don’t want a long-term relationship, and anything you enter into is designed to be casual and short-term. That’s not a problem, you just need to make sure the person you bed down with over the chilly period is also cuffing.


The ploys of spring: for cuffers, breaking up when the sun returns is de rigueur. (Photo: Joe St Pierre/Flickr)

Difficulties materialise when one of you is very definitely only in it for the winter, and the other thinks they are getting into something more long-term. Like most relationship issues, it’s a problem solved by frank communication at an early stage. Decide whether you want a boyfriend or girlfriend for ‘life’ or just for Christmas, and then make sure you communicate as much at the start of the winter.

Interestingly, though, if the #CuffingSeason hashtag teaches us anything, it’s that the real victims appear to be the friends of would-be cuffers. The cynical tag is most often used by remaining singletons, who feel abandoned by their friends’ seasonal flings. As a result, they spit their virtual dummies and brand these new relationships as ‘cuffing’. So, if you find yourself in a pair this Christmas – for life, or just for a few months – spare a thought for your single friends. And make sure you don’t leave them out in the cold.

Read more about Charly Lester’s adventures in dating on her blog, 30 Dates.

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