Singles on why it’s hard to avoid ‘settling’ during ‘cuffing season’

Urban Dictionary has many definitions for “cuffing season”, but they all go along the lines of: “the cold season when everyone’s coupling up, so you settle for a new boyfriend or girlfriend way below your standards”. Katie admitted “settling” is what she did two years ago. “I didn’t have a lot going on in my personal life, and with friends in relationships it was really nice to have the company,” she said. “But I did feel like I wasn’t really being myself. I could tell we weren’t compatible, and that it was wrong.” The 28-year-old is still “the single friend”, but she values herself and her time much more than she used to. “I’m at a time in my life now where I have enough going on that I’m not interested in settling just to have someone,” she explained. However, that’s not to say she’s not looking – Katie is still on dating apps and will likely be searching for that special someone this evening. And she won’t be alone.

According to Tinder, Sundays in January are the most popular days for members of the app to edit their bios and add new photos. The first Sunday in January, coined “Dating Sunday” by the company, is one of the busiest days of the year for dating, with 10 percent more singletons on Tinder than usual.

There is, on average, 35 percent higher swipe activity and over 30 percent more matches than on a regular day. Last January’s Dating Sunday saw 12 Tinder bios per second being edited, as well as 25 new photos added every second, across the globe.

It’s not a surprise that the New Year brings more people to dating apps – eHarmony spokesperson Celia Venables told that January often “brings about a chance for people to focus on what they value as being of importance for the year ahead”.

“The increased sign-ups [to dating apps] suggest that love ranks high on the personal agenda,” she said. “In addition, many couples who’ve been weathering challenges in their relationships typically choose to call it quits just after Christmas and are looking to start afresh.”

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But it’s not lost on companies attempting to make money out of love that more people seek relationships in January because of the weather too. Cuffing season is associated with the winter months because people are more likely to want to be “cuffed” when it’s cold and dark outside. surveyed 2,000 Britons to find out their top reasons for wanting to find a partner ahead of – or during – winter. Twenty-five percent said it’s to have someone to cuddle, 21 percent confessed to wanting someone to spend nights in with, and 20 percent admitted that the romance of winter, and especially Christmas, makes them long for a little romance of their own. Meanwhile, nineteen percent revealed it’s to ensure they have a partner for Valentine’s Day.

Steffan*, 29, from North Wales, agreed that major celebrations, especially those that take place in winter, make him acutely aware of his singledom more than at any other time of the year.

“There are always so many photos on social media of partners together at Christmas,” he said. “It makes me feel low and alone. I’m scared I won’t ever have a family of my own.”

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Steffan confessed that he’d “do anything to have someone”, adding: “At the beginning of every year, I say to myself, ‘this will be my year’, but, no, the story is always the same.”

It’s normal that Steffan currently feels this way, creative director of dating app TapDat, Alice Leach, told “It’s cold, there are so many holiday events, days are short, and spirits can be low,” she said. “Having the comfort of someone to adore and be adored by can be really comforting.”

Psychologist Darren Stanton added: “In the winter months, longer periods of darkness can produce a more negative mindset or lower mood, with the brain producing more melatonin – the brain chemical that helps us sleep. Extra levels of melatonin impacts our mood, which could motivate a person’s desire to seek companionship. Cuffing season satisfies that need to not feel alone.”

Although Steffan finds being single in winter much more difficult than in summer, he admitted he isn’t looking for a cuffing season relationship – he wants something long term.

Hannah, 24, from North London, seeks the opposite. She told that she started searching for a short-term partner a couple of months ago – someone to “go on a nice Valentine’s Day date with in February and celebrate my birthday with in April”.

“Chucking” them in May, before the summer, would be ideal, except if strong feelings had developed on both sides.

“I think summer is associated with partying, holidaying, being all wild, free, and single with lots of possibilities on the horizon as days get longer and people are out more,” Hannah said. “In the winter, people are more keen to sit by the fire and cosy up with a hot chocolate, which is always more fun with someone special.

“People often experience lower moods during the colder, darker months, and having someone can feel reassuring,” the 24-year-old added.

Psychotherapist Chase Cassine agreed. He said: “While cuffing season may not have the same emotional depth as a long-term relationship, it can create a short-term bond to satisfy a basic human need of connection with another person, which can be comforting. Specifically, if a person is experiencing seasonal affective disorder, or holiday blues, it can help alleviate feelings of isolation and loneliness.”

Hannah hasn’t yet found the perfect person to spend the rest of winter with, revealing that she has been “barking up the wrong tree at someone who does not want to be cuffed”.

Others, like Adam*, have had more success. The 29-year-old from Surrey has had his fair share of cuffing season relationships. Like Hannah, he said he thinks it’s because of the stark differences between the seasons.

“In summer I find myself having fun and dating, but not really feeling like settling down,” he explained. “You’re out and about so much, you’re really busy – I never have this feeling of like, oh I should probably make a decision, because everything feels really opportunistic. In winter, you naturally lean into being more cosy and you look for someone you can hunker down with.”

Adam compared cuffing season to a national lockdown – in 2020, when Britons were only allowed to see one person at a time, there were fewer opportunities for dating. Adam felt that after a lockdown date, “there was this feeling of needing to make a decision quicker [about whether you liked them or not]”.

“You had fewer options so, you thought, oh maybe they’ll be fine. It’s the same in winter – maybe you think, this is as good as I’m going to get at the moment,” he added.

Adam is currently in a relationship that began in October. But, he said, “it’s coincidental that it’s happened in winter”.

Sometimes, a cuffing season relationship can turn into the real deal.

*Names have been changed.

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