A few weeks ago, a man friend wrote to tell me that, after a long dry spell, his dating apps had suddenly exploded with new messages. He was a regular on Bumble, the Tinder-like site where men swipe right, often in vain, and women are the only ones who can initiate a ‘match’ or a conversation. I wondered if he’d posted new photos or claimed in his personal statement that he was ‘happily enjoying travel through Europe now that I no longer have to work for the rest of my fortunate life. Join me?’
Nope. This lovely suburban, work from home dad, had done nothing new to his profile. But a few days later he heard a story on National Public Radio that may have been the answer to his precipitous rise in popularity. He had shown up in the crosshairs of what many attribute to the long-established, perhaps evolutionary predisposition for people to look for a mate to shag over the long, dark days of winter. A few thousand years ago it would have been called survival. Today, it’s called The Cuffing Season.
Cuffing is, quite obscenely, the term used when we metaphorically handcuff ourselves to another for the purpose of being partnered during a time of year when being single may feel unbearable. Commencing with Halloween in October, the Cuffing Season carries on through Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and is brought to its ridiculously commercial crescendo on Valentine’s Day in February, where all our Hallmark images of the winter season revolve around the putative happiness of being coupled. People, otherwise contented to be single and playing the field for much of the year, often seek a steady partner between the months of October to March. And if you’re a man on a dating app, you may now feel like you’re trying to sip water from a fire hose.
As a woman, cuffing may be a response to the ubiquitous cultural cues that holidays are for families, family gatherings, and be accompanied by high hopes that a winter romance may result in spring nuptials. And babies! I, for one, have had to curb my enthusiasm for attending holiday parties as a single woman, repeatedly queried if I’m seeing someone, encouraged to ‘settle down’ or more often now, simply not getting invited to the social events of my partnered friends. Community ostracism is indeed an incentive to ‘cuff’. Do I hold out for good love or seek a warm body for the sake of appearing companionably acceptable?
Do men seek to cuff as much as women are cuffing? Those mountain bike rides are shorter this time of year and appropriate mate radar may be skewed by the extra pints of beer consumed in the pub afterwards. But apparently testosterone levels (and sperm counts) are highest during the fall and winter months. This is supported in at least one small study of seasonal testosterone variation, carried out on the poor chaps of northern Norway, deprived of sun most of the winter and blinded by it all summer long, who were found to have testosterone spikes in December, which gradually hit a low point during the hottest and sunniest months of the year. If copulation is a result of higher testosterone rather than longer hours of darkness, this finding is supported by the statistical spike in live births between July and October, August being the month more babies are born in the US, nine months after December. The Norwegians, by the way, pop out the most babies in June, likely because the temperatures have already plummeted in October. Here’s a fascinating look at conception and birth as it relates to a country’s latitude.
As is so often the case, we seem to be driven by our biological imperative to procreate, particularly in the winter. But what if you are, as I am, looking for a long-term meeting of the minds for many years of mutual good will, wary of hooking up with a mate who might likely run off once spring arrives and his hormone levels begin to level off (and the surfing gets good). According to Cosmopolitan magazine, as good at relationship advice as any of us, people into cuffing, rather than doing the grown up work of relationship building, will likely exhibit one of the following traits: they have an urgency to meet, like in two hours, or at least a week before the office holiday party; they make plans with you, but nothing beyond March; all their friends are in relationships, regardless of the quality of those relationships; you find them leaving a toothbrush or articles of clothing at your place because it’s ‘really convenient’. And be alert for platonic friends who, as soon as the Salvation Army bells start ringing, confess a previously unacknowledged interest in ‘getting to know you better’.
I’m not against having a fun winter, humping away through the sleet and snow. I’ve got it pretty good myself this season, having met a man who is delightfully warming my bed and reving up my body several nights a week. Am I being cuffed or being the cuffer? Hard to say. We’re both beyond fifty, which naturally gives a world-weary person pause when it comes to evaluating the longer term potential of a relationship. He’s invited me to his New Year’s Eve party but we’ve made no plans beyond that. However, if he’s indeed cuffing me, he won’t have the opportunity to redeem his Christmas present come spring.
Have a wonderful and loving holiday season, dear readers. Even if it’s only temporary.
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