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Nicole is an on-screen relationship and mental health expert as well as a psychological consultant for TV shows.

Have you heard of cuffing season?

March 02 2017

By Nicole O'Brien

Temperatures may be rising to the double digits, but don’t kid yourself Canada: the winter season isn’t quite over, which means we are still in cuffing season. No, this isn’t a new S&M trend involving handcuffs.

The Urban Dictionary defines “cuffing” as a certain part of the year when “people who would rather be single or promiscuous find themselves, along with the rest of the world, desiring to be tied down by a serious relationship.”

Though Laurie Rudder, a second-year student at Durham College has been in a relationship for almost two years, she says her friends always talk about their desire to be tied down to a relationship when it is cold.

“A lot of my girlfriends say they find themselves wanting a boyfriend in the winter,” Rudder, who is 19, says.

So in plain terms, you find a mate for the fall and winter months because it is too cold to do anything other than stay inside and cuddle. The kicker is that it isn’t someone who’s intended to last beyond those months. This isn’t Valentine’s Day. This is cuffing season.

Many might want to call this a millennial phenomenon, but it has been around a lot longer than most think.

According to Charles Darwin’s survival of the fittest theory, individuals with maladaptive behaviours – like walking around alone in the dead of winter – were less likely to survive in the cold and have kids, so their genes didn’t pass on to the next generation.

If you extend Darwin’s theory, it points to an evolutionary history in which people who coupled up in the winter had better survival rates. And as a result, more babies. And though having babies isn’t the exact goal of cuffing season in today’s world, you get the point.

According to Nicole McCance, a Toronto-based psychologist and relationship expert, cuffing season comes around every year.

“I think it’s innately human to want to curl up and kind of hibernate with somebody,” says McCance, who has been working with clients for ten years. “Animals do it too, so it kind of makes sense to me why we do it.”

Although humans do not have a mating season like other species, the colder temperatures do affect how we mate. When the temperature drops, we attend fewer events, therefore we see fewer people.

This limits our dating and sex pools and, during those cold months, encourages the strong human desire to hook up with anything that moves.

Other than sex, cuffing season involves many indoor activities, like “Netflix and chill,” which became a prominent staple of cuffing season as of 2015.

Often associated with millennials, “Netflix and chill” is a date to watch a movie or television show in privacy. The subtext is sex. There is even an app for it.

TikiTalk was created in 2015. Users can click a button that will send a message reading “Netflix and chill?” to another user and if they accept, it opens up a chat.

Like cuffing season, “Netflix and chill” has become code for casual sex.

TikiTalk plays a role in cuffing season but so do dating apps like Tinder and Plenty of Fish.

According to a report on Tinder’s website, cold weather brings them the most business. During a bad snowstorm, the app can see up to 10 million matches in the areas badly affected. OkCupid, an online dating site, reported a 34 per cent increase in exchanged messages during bad weather.

Laurie Rudder says these dating apps may have a bigger part in this phenomenon than they thought.

“It’s a millennial trend because in a way maybe things like Tinder,” she says. “Young people think of relationships are more disposable sometimes, like they can easily find another.”

But how does this vary by gender?

In 2015, Hinge, a dating app that uses a “romance graph” to pair users with friends of friends who fit your style, polled 1,000 active users and asked which months they are most interested in a casual hookup, date or relationship.

The survey found men are 15 per cent more likely to be looking for something serious in the winter than in any other season. Women are only 5 per cent more interested in a relationship during those cold months.

In the spring and summer, men are 11 per cent less likely to want to settle down, whereas women are 5 per cent less likely. We’ve all heard of a summer fling.

Rudder says her female friends are more likely to stay away from commitment in the warmer months.

“They want to be single to party in the summer,” Rudder says.

So how does one cuff onto another? It’s as easy as hooking up, but simply requires a bit more maintenance.

McCance, who holds multiple degrees including an M.A in Counselling Psychology from the University of Toronto, says communication is vital when it comes to cuffing.

“It’s really key to share your expectations and be really clear that this is short term,” McCance says.

But not everyone agrees with this trend. Hayley Hertner, a first-year Emergency Services student, says she think this concept is ridiculous.

“I don’t understand why this is a thing,” Hertner says.

Though Hertner admits she has heard of this trend, she doesn’t believe in the cuff.

“I think it’s more of an aspiration or a joke,” she says.

Hertner may not be the only one who takes this as a joke.

The internet is filled with memes of cuffing season.

Game of Thrones character, Eddard Stark, warns us that “winter is coming” and he wants us to “brace ourselves, cuffing season is coming.” And then there’s the famous Liam Neeson scene from the 2008 film Taken that reads “I will look for you, I will find you, and I will cuff you!!!”

These memes are all over our Twitter, Instagram and Facebook just to remind us how serious the thirst is for human companionship around this time of year.

But like winter, soon that thirst will thaw out.

The big question at that point is: after the thaw, when you find yourself “stuck” with the person you’ve been with for a few months, what’s next?

McCance, whose relationship expertise has been featured on shows like The Social, Global News, and City TV, says it is important to keep in mind those looking for a cuff are often just suppressing their loneliness.

“These people are not looking for the one or their soul mate,” McCance says. “They are just looking for somebody who strictly makes sense for them right now.”

It is important both people are on the same page, especially when it comes to removing the cuffs. Maybe you’re both in this for the long haul or maybe you both want to end things before the summer season begins.

But with Valentine’s Day over, cuffing season is melting away as slowly as the stubborn pile of snow in your driveway. Whether you emerged victorious with a Tinder cuff in tow, or you kept warm this winter all on your own, the good news is soon you will be able to shed your heating blanket for your short-shorts.

With the warmer weather comes a new sex cycle: the summer fling.

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