The True Meaning Behind ‘Cuffing’ Season

Tradition tells us that spring is the time for love, right? All those warm breezes and flowers bursting to life – it’s enough to get anyone in the mood. But what about winter, with its long, cold, dark nights? Surely that’s when you need comfort (and somebody warm beside you) the most! That’s why there are lots of people out there looking to turn a hook-up into someone they can “cuff” for the hibernating season. But if you’re getting involved in cuffing up this winter, what might you be waking up to when the spring thaw comes? 

What Is Cuffing?

One-night stands, long-term relationships, friends with benefits – it’s pretty clear what these set-ups are, even if the emotions involved in them sometimes aren’t! But what does it mean if you’re looking to cuff someone, or if you find yourself all cuffed up? Well, the term itself comes from handcuffing someone or tying yourself down to that one person as a way to keep the cold and loneliness of winter at bay, even if you wouldn’t ordinarily be interested in a long-term commitment, either with that person or in general. 

two sets of feet in socks next to each other with a fire in the background
The cuffing zone is somewhere between an actual long-term relationship and a friends with benefits situation.

That means the cuffing zone seems to occupy a space somewhere between an actual long-term relationship and a friends with benefits situation. You might not be seeing anyone else, but there are certain expectations that might be missing from your arrangement, and the person you’re cuffed to might not even be someone you’d normally think of settling down with. 

These relationships are usually pretty short-term, as well; most people acknowledge that the “cuffing season” starts in October or November, with most couples starting to snap out of it by the time the more mushy romantic stuff surrounding Valentine’s Day has them rethinking things. That’s not to say that a cuff will never turn into a more serious relationship, but most don’t look like your typical long-term partnering, so you’ve got to go into it with your eyes open.

Why Get All Cuffed Up?

Well, why get into any relationship at all, right? Ok, maybe that’s a little unhelpful, so let’s look at why you might want to be tied to someone temporarily when you don’t really have a strong desire to be committed to them (or even to anyone). The answer really does seem to lie in the seasonal nature of it: we’re just naturally looking for comfort and connection, both physical and emotional, at this time of year. And, to be honest, jumping right into the cozy part of a relationship can seem pretty appealing as the potential for outdoor fun disappears!

According to certified sex therapist Holly Richmond, Ph.D., LMFT, CST, “The emotional side is we’ve got the holidays […] where people go home to their families, and some single people feel lonely or different or sad about not being coupled up. The physical side, I think, is more of an evolutionary biology piece. We’re pack animals, and in the winter months, we had to spend time together literally for warmth.”

Are They (or You!) A Cuff?

Now that we’re fully into cuffing season, you might just be falling prey to your natural instincts and biological urges (not to say that can’t be fun…) to keep warm and stave off seasonal depression – remember, seasonal affective disorder is a thing, after all. That means it’s time to take a good look at your winter crush or fling and figure out what’s really going on, so you know what you’re getting into, and so you can both get on the same page. You’re probably cuffed up (or your potential winter mate is probably looking to cuff) if:

two people standing far apart holding hands

  • You or they are not concerned about long-term compatibility. If you’ve got mismatched goals for the future, but it’s no big deal, you’re probably not going to be their plus one at any summer weddings.
  • You spend time together, but you and/or they are not interested in defining the relationship. Like we said, a cuffing situation can feel like a weird limbo between a casual and serious relationship, so you’re probably not meeting each other’s family, but you might be the only one for each other – for now.
  • You’re probably not heading out on a lot of dates. If you’re dating life mostly consists of Netflix and takeout, you’re probably just getting into hibernation mode with each other.
  • They might do a lot of hinting that they are looking to cuff, even saying things like they hate being alone on New Years or that they’re relieved they have a date for their holiday parties.
  • Some things about the relationship are just not quite “right.” For example, there might be some on-and-off ghosting, the connection might feel purely physical, the sex might only feel “good enough” for now, or you or your partner might be acting in emotionally unavailable ways. 

Some or all of the above starting to sound very familiar? Well, you might have been cuffed, or you might be on the hunt to do some cuffing, which is totally fine if that’s what you’re into! But you might want to keep a few things in mind this season.

Keeping Your Head During Cuffing Season

Again, we want to make it perfectly clear that there is absolutely nothing wrong with cuffing – hey, whatever gets you through the winter! You could end up spending a lovely season with someone and looking back on those long months with fondness as you move on, or you could even end up with someone you want to spend time with even when the snow melts – who knows? But what is clear is that you need to make sure you’re making healthy choices for yourself, so keep these things in mind if you find yourself on the hunt or being hunted this cuffing season:black and white picture of a woman with her hand on her chin thinking

  • Know what you want – Before you decide whether cuffing season is worth your time, and you start swiping up a storm on those dating apps, be honest with yourself about what you want and whether a temporary relationship will fulfill your needs. 
  • Communication is key – Anytime you add two human beings into a situation, there’s the potential for hurt feelings, so make sure you both know what page you’re on. You also need to know how to set boundaries (even if it’s something as simple as knowing whether giving gifts to each other is cool or not), and be open about how open you actually want to be. Tell them what you’re looking for, and if the other person says they’re not looking for anything serious, listen to them and take what they say at face value! 
  • Keep your standards – You might be feeling that winter itch, but don’t rush into anything, and don’t feel pressured by anyone else to have dates for holiday events – don’t end up acting out a relationship you’re not actually in! Dating out of loneliness or boredom could end up leading to unhealthy relationships, so you might be better off spending time with friends or family instead of hastily picking the wrong person to give your time to. And remember, always, always be safe when it comes to sex!
  • Be in the moment! – Don’t worry what the calendar says, and don’t worry what anyone else says about your relationship – if it’s right for you at that time, enjoy it for what it is. If you do find yourself catching feelings, and that’s not what you want, or you feel like your cuffing partner won’t be down to take things further, that’s when it’s time to reassess. 

The bottom line is that cuffing can be just the thing to get you through these long winter nights, as they stretch into long winter months. As with anything in life, though, go into it with open eyes, be present, know what you want – and then be safe, and honest with yourself and the person who’s warming you up on the couch. And if you find yourself dreaming together and getting eager to introduce each other to mom, well, you might be more than just cuffed, so watch out! 

Can Long-Distance Relationships Really Work?

Long-distance relationships require a lot of patience and work. Not being able to physically touch the person you love is not easy. Many times it can be extremely hard, but studies show that couples within these relationships are more likely to share meaningful thoughts and feelings because in place of physical time together, all they have is

Two caucasian hands trying to reach each other to grab onto.
Long-distance relationships require a lot of patience and work. Not being able to physically touch the person you love is not easy.

communication. I interviewed Toni, owner of her own nail business (P10 Nails) in Georgia, and Darius, a truck driver residing in Florida, who have been successfully making a long distance relationship work for 2 years. They helped me understand how they make it work, while keeping the relationship exciting.



It is not always easy to match each other’s schedules when you live close to your partner, let alone when you are miles away from them. Communication is pivotal in a long-distance relationship because at times it is all you have. Even though they are not physically there, a person can still “be there” for their partner and prioritizing their needs is just as important when living apart. 

“I make it a priority to call him on my lunch breaks even if I have other things to do during that time,” says Toni. “Because he drives trucks, his schedule is sporadic and he might have to be asleep during most of the day and drive through the early morning hours, so if I don’t call him on my break, I may not speak to him all day. If I really can’t find the time for a call I make sure to send a text telling him I miss him or I love him or just to ask what he ate that day. Being on a truck can get lonely and my job as a nail tech can keep my hands busy for 12 straight hours a day, so making time to talk is really important.”

Talk When You Can

When you are in a long-distance relationship, the only way to really learn about your loved one is by talking when you can. Days can be really busy, so finding the time to talk to your partner when you have time is key in making it work. Because they have a short window to talk, couples in long-distance relationships share a connection like no other couples. This is because they share more deep, and intimate feelings with each other when they have the time to talk. 

When I asked Toni how often she and Darius get to talk on the phone, her answer was interesting, because even if they were silent on the phone the whole time, she still feels connected. “Sometimes it’s once a day for 30 minutes, sometimes even 10 minutes, but when I’m off work and he’s up late driving, we’ll stay on the phone for 6 or 7 hours straight, just to keep each other company. A lot of the time we’re not even talking honestly, it’s just nice to have each other present for whatever is going on at that time. It kind of replaces actually being able to physically do everyday things together like grocery shopping or watching a movie. It helps add a sense of normalcy to the relationship. We got to learn each other’s habits and routines, in a way, even though we weren’t together just by spending extensive time on the phone and Skype/Facetime.”

Visit Each Other

Caucasian woman's torso sitting down in an orange sweater with a planner on her lap writing in it.
Set a rule of never going more than X amount of time without seeing each other physically.

A relationship needs more than just Facetime, and texting. If you can take the time to visit each other, for example, set a rule of never going more than X amount of time without seeing each other physically. Toni and Darius see each other “about once every 2 or 3 months for a few days. Sometimes a few hours if he only has time to stop the truck for a little while.”

Do Not Stay Angry

Disagreements are the worst in any relationship. It causes stress, and changes your dynamic as a couple, especially if you let it fester and build up. Communication is the only way to get through it. 

Toni stressed that talking about the issue is essential. “Talk, talk, talk. There’s no make-up sex or even a kiss to remind them that you still care, when you can’t find the words. You have to find the words, or you don’t speak at all. But, because I’m the weaker communicator in the relationship, sometimes the conversation ended with ‘I don’t want to talk about this right now, I’ll call you tomorrow.’ If you live together, you can’t just ignore it. So, long distance does give you more space to cool off.”

Digital Dates

Just because you aren’t physically close with your loved one does not mean you cannot go on dates. It can be a Netflix and chill date, or a Facetime dinner date. Toni mentioned that for Valentine’s Day, they both dressed up for their Facetime date. 

Trust & Respect

When you think of a long-distance relationship, you might wonder ‘how can you really trust that the person is faithful? You have no clue what they are doing at every moment.’ There must be some kind of boundaries that couples have within this type of relationship, right? When asked, Toni and Darius were united in their reply of “no.” 

Toni went on to explain that “We both understand that in this situation the truth is you don’t know at all what the other person is doing. We spend so much time apart, he travels a lot, and I work really late; we could lie about where we are all the time. We have to have an amplified level of trust. Both of us are pretty introverted anyway, so we don’t go out much. We stay open about things like that and check in to see what might make the other person uncomfortable. For instance, I don’t see an issue with having lunch with a male colleague, but I made sure to ask my boyfriend how he felt about it, even though he had never expressed any discomfort about it before.”

Twice The Work

Both Toni and Darius agreed that being in a long-distance relationship was harder compared to past, closer relationships. What helped them is the fact that they were friends for 14 years before they decided to be a couple. A strong foundation is important for a relationship, especially one that is long-distance.

Couple stanging next to each other with the man's hand out about to take a key from another hand that is giving it.
The couple are now licing together, and both Toni and Darius expressed that the transition has been a little challenging.

The End Goal

After dating for two years the couple has met one of their end goals, living together!  This can be a huge adjustment after dating someone long-distance for such a long period of time. There are new things that you learn about each other that you might not have been able to pick up on while being so far apart, some are cute, while others annoying. Toni and Darius have been living together a little over a month, and both shared their experience so far.

Both Toni and Darius expressed that the transition has been a little challenging. The hardest part? Learning each other’s quirks, and habits around the house. For Toni “I like to cook just about every night because that’s what my parents did when I was growing up, but for him it’s tedious. e got used to eating out a lot when he was living on his own… I’m more picky than he is, it’s small  things that I didn’t know he did, like eating out of containers instead of a bowl or plate, but that’s such a small thing. It wasn’t any kind of issue, but after I asked him why he did that once, he hasn’t done it as often since.”

Darius said it is a bit challenging because they were raised differently and little things he wouldn’t have thought twice about he now has to, for example, “she doesn’t like for me to use paper towels for anything but spills. That wasn’t a thing in my household growing up. We used paper towels and napkins for dinners, spills or just to wipe our hands but if I did that here all hell would break loose (lol).”

It was interesting to interview the two about living together, sometimes their answers were unanimous, while others were different. It made me realize just how differently two people view things. I asked the couple what is something new they learned about each other. Darius said “She swears she doesn’t know how to cook but she is very detailed in the little things she does when she cooks and everything I do cooking-wise is wrong according to her.” While Toni said “He likes to cook with garlic salt. I don’t like garlic salt at all.”

No matter how long you have known someone there is always the chance of learning something new from them, even if its small. For Toni it was “how to correctly turn off the playstation without losing all the saved game.” Darius took a different approach, stating that he has learned “to have more patience and to take our time and appreciate one another.”

Both stated that this transition has not been easy, but one thing is for certain, since living together, they both agree that their connection is stronger than ever. “Every little gesture and sacrifice made to make sure you’re comfortable,

Red heart balloon floating in a blue sky. long-distance
Relationships are a lot of work, especially long-distance ones. It is hard having the one you love so far away from your reach. There has to be a lot of trust and respect to make it work.

making meals for each other, having long conversations while cuddled up on the couch, encouraging one another and physically showing affection strengthens the connection we have.”  

Relationships are a lot of work, especially long-distance ones. They have their advantages and disadvantages. Some people cannot imagine being away from their loved one for over a week. In Toni’s case, she mentioned that their relationship was long-distance from day 1, making it a bit easier. 

In order to commit to a long-distance relationship, there has to be a huge level of respect and trust involved. It requires prioritizing, a lot of patience, and love for the person you are taking the journey with. It can lead to a deeper, more meaningful connection between the couple. The long-distance eventually comes to an end once goals are fulfilled, with the support of each other. If a couple can work together through long-distance relationships, they can work through almost any obstacle together.