As temperatures drop, spiced drinks appear, and the chaos of seasonal family functions (even if just digital!) kicks into high gear, another calendar-sanctioned event begins: cuffing season. Cuffing season is the phenomena of singles seeking out a partner for October through February, basically for the express purpose of staying warm through winter and staving off loneliness. Along with cuddling and rom-com movie marathons, typical cuffing-season activities include Thanksgiving dinner, holiday events, New Year’s Eve revelry, and Valentine’s Day. That, however, was the pre-pandemic run-of-show; now, dating looks much different. So what does cuffing season 2020 look like?
The answer depends on your needs. Togetherness has always been a key theme during the winter months, but because of social distancing, “togetherness during these times can mean so many different things to singles,” says therapist Nedra Glover Tawwab, MSW, LSCW, founder of Kaleidoscope Counseling and a relationship expert for the dating site Eharmony. That said, as loneliness rates rise in this landscape, intimacy, physical touch, and comfort remain top items on many people’s human-connection wish list.
In late August, Eharmony conducted a survey of 1,000 single and dating adults (ages 18 to 64), and found that 40 percent of singles were actively trying to get into a relationship for the 2020 cuffing season. In fact, many respondents felt an urgency to do so. Furthermore, 64 percent of daters felt as though they had lost valuable time to meet someone over the course of the year, and 67 percent blamed the pandemic for delaying their entry into a serious relationship.
“Being at home has given many singles time to consider their short- and long-term relationship needs,” Tawwab says. To her point, 48 percent of daters surveyed by Eharmony said the pandemic led them to reevaluate what they prioritize in a relationship. Of them, 60 percent said compatibility was crucial, 62 percent placed an emphasis on shared values, and 65 percent said companionship was a driving factor. But, not everyone is in the mood for companionship this year.
Why some are opting out of cuffing season 2020
“I’m cuffing to myself this cuffing season,” says Carly*, 39. She adds that she loves being single and is taking time to work on “abandonment issues, boundaries, and receiving love”—things that have kept her from having healthy relationships in the past.
Another reason to opt out of cuffing season 2020 is a quarantine-induced aversion to dating in general right now. “People may be less inclined to start a relationship because the future of many things, such as jobs and finances, feels uncertain,” Tawwab says. Plus, many people feel anxious about the act of dating itself: How exactly are you supposed to do it successfully and safely during a pandemic?
“I just don’t have the energy to talk to people I don’t know this year,” says Stephanie*, 23. “The convo is either about the pandemic, meeting up during a pandemic, or something annoying. And people are oddly offended I don’t want to hook up in the middle of a pandemic, even when my bio says, ‘Here for Zoom/FaceTime dates until further notice.’” According to the Eharmony survey, she’s not alone in a desire to keep things virtual. Only 24 percent of women and 39 percent of men said they’re willing to have in-person dates with new people, without social distancing or wearing a mask.
Safety is the main reason Allyson*, 23, says she put dating on the back burner. Though she longs for companionship in quarantine, she doesn’t feel comfortable seeking it out, which makes her not want to participate at all. “This is the first time I’ve ever felt the draw of cuffing season. I’m happy being single and don’t even have time for a relationship right now—plus, it’s not safe to date in my area—but the pandemic makes me crave a partner,” she says.
What to expect from a 2020 cuffing season relationship
“This cuffing season is different than any other, but that doesn’t mean human desires have changed,” says Tawwab. “It’s about the connection more than anything, and that can still be achieved if you put yourself out there in safe and respectful ways.” With that in mind, consider virtual dates via FaceTime and Zoom as vetting tools to help you decipher whether you’d even want to “cuff” yourself to the person IRL.
“This cuffing season is different than any other, but that doesn’t mean human desires have changed. It’s about the connection more than anything.” —relationship expert Nedra Glover Tawwab, LSCW
If you feel that answer might be yes, work on building a foundation of strong communication. Ask questions like, “Are you seeking to date casually, or are you looking for a long-term relationship?” “How do you celebrate the holidays?” And, of course, “Will you be doing anything different this year?”
“Asking questions and becoming more acquainted with people before the first in-person date is more important than ever,” Tawwab says, suggesting you ask COVID-specific questions like, “Do you typically wear a mask in public places?” And “Outside of your home, what types of activities do you engage in with family or friends?” Open up a dialogue about your own potential interactions with questions like, “Would you feel comfortable with an outdoor socially-distanced date, or do you want to stick to virtual engagements?” “Do you feel comfortable wearing a mask if we meet in person? And, “Are you dating multiple people? If so, what are their COVID-19 safety practices?”
To protect your sense of safety, Natasha Bhuyan, MD, a physician for the concierge-style primary care practice One Medical, says to get really specific with your questions. “You can ask things like, ‘Are you an essential worker who often comes into contact with lots of people?’ Or, ‘Have you been out and about at bars and restaurants?’” she says. If you’re considering transition a digital relationship to real-life one, “a person with [a high] risk profile is very different from someone who works from home and has very limited physical contact with others.”
If you do decide you’re ready to ease back into in-person dating, Dr. Bhuyan suggests planning a hangout session that doesn’t involve eating or drinking, so you both can wear a mask for the entirety of the time.
To decide whether in-person dating or dating at all is something you’re willing to explore during cuffing season 2020, listen to your intuition. Assess the risks, both physical and emotional, and don’t be afraid to speak up about your intentions, boundaries, and desires.
*Last names were withheld for privacy reasons.
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