As more millennials delay marriage and children, quasi-relationship situations are becoming more frequent: friends with benefits, “dating partners,” a “Jeremy” (coined in a Modern Love column as “someone who remains in the netherworld between friend and boyfriend”), or the perplexing “be single with you.” The latter seems to be a relationship that just isn’t as clingy as those of early 2000s rom-coms but if calling it “being single—together” makes you feel better then soldier on, you quasi-singleton.
The relationship of the moment is the cuffing relationship.
Cuffing season is a budding annual tradition wherein people slide into temporary committed relationships when the cold weather sets in, parting ways when spring hits. Of course, neither person may know that’s the situation or call it that—it just feels better to cuddle with someone when it’s dreary outside. Alana R. Ogilvie, a marriage and family therapist of Portland Sex Therapy, says while it sounds strange, cold weather is definitely a factor. When the weather is nice people want to be outside. When it’s cold and gross, we don’t. But staying inside by yourself can be pretty disheartening. “If we’re alone in our house, that’s not a very psychologically comfortable place to be,” she says. Suddenly that botched Tinder date is looking pretty charming.
Or maybe you don’t want to go home without an S.O. to distract from your relatives. Nobody wants to go to creepy Uncle Jerry’s for Christmas Eve alone. But, says Ogilvie, if you know you don’t want to keep dating them after, “you should probably point that out.” You can’t non-consensually stick Jerry on them.
The question is how to hole up for three to six months with Netflix and a warm body without coming across like a lunatic. While it would be fabulous if you could, you probably can’t just ask the person to be in a September-March relationship with you. If you can be that honest with them, just up and marry them because that level of openness is hard to find. Most people cannot be that brutally honest with their partners or themselves. Instead, cities full of 20-somethings inexplicably find themselves in a serious relationship right around the first snowfall and just as coincidentally move on when it melts.
Cuffing season flings, like so many types of relationship, are often one-sided. The other person might think the relationship was meant to be but you like them for their central heating and their close proximity to your workplace. As a result, many people don’t realize they’re in a cuffing relationship until they’re out of it, sometimes years later.
Dana, 24, recalls “unbeknownst to me, I was in a cuffing relationship in college.” It was “cuddles and sweetness” until St. Patrick’s Day. Then he wanted to be “free for the summer.” The good news for Dana, at least, was “he couldn’t lock down a summer thing because he crawled back.”
Even Ogilvie says she might have experienced a surprise cuffing relationship. “If I was, it definitely wasn’t a part of the conversation,” she says. Only with the benefit of hindsight could she say for sure. “I would have to do some digging to say ‘oh yeah, I must have been in one.’ I think that’s often how it goes.”
I myself was in a cuffing situation once. We were in an official relationship for six months then broke up at the end of September before immediately continuing in everything but name. We even did Valentine’s day together—a super romantic schlep from Manhattan to New Jersey for Red Robin. Then March hit and I left the cuff life for online dating then a new official relationship.
But we’ll always have Red Robin.