Did COVID Kill Cuffing Season?

Early forecasts predicted an unusually intense pandemic cuffing season, but did it really play out that way?

cuffing season
Are we cuffing this season or not?
Rinee Shah for InsideHook

In an ordinary year, we’d be hitting peak cuffing season right about now. But in case you haven’t noticed, this has been no ordinary year, and in addition to the myriad other ways COVID-19 has upended daily life, the annual cuffing tradition has undergone an inevitable pandemic-era makeover. What exactly that COVID update has entailed, however, is a matter of some debate.

Early forecasts predicted a particularly intense cuffing season, the period of time roughly between fall and early spring when, according to millennial dating lore, everyone and their mother settles into a relationship for the winter — or tries to, anyway. Traditionally, cuffing season is thought to begin sometime in the fall, when Instagram soft-launches of apple-picking dates and couples hiking in flannel and Bean boots fill timelines. The goal is to be officially cuffed in time for the holidays, with Valentine’s Day functioning as a final, Super Bowl-esque event of the season.

After spending months of lockdown alone last year and facing the possibility of another one, uncuffed singles were predicted to be more desperate than ever to settle down with a partner this cuffing season, lest they be left to weather the harsh realities of a cold pandemic winter alone. Back in August, Vice announced an unusually intense cuffing season had come early and was already a “bloodbath,” while over at Men’s Health, Zachary Zane likened this year’s cuffing season to the Hunger Games.

But as we approach what would normally be the grand finale of what was widely predicted to be a season of staggeringly high stakes, how has pandemic cuffing season really played out? While the idea that singles would be more wary than ever of spending the winter alone amid a pandemic is a solid one on which to stake a prediction, there’s also reason to believe that the opposite rings true. With fewer events (like weddings) demanding that you bring a date and many people spending less time with prying family members and their unrelenting relationship status inquiries, the pandemic has actually left many single people feeling less pressure to settle down.

“It definitely lowers the anxiety of being single when you don’t have to see these couple engagement pictures in Bangkok or Iceland,” says Harrison Forman, a 29-year-old producer and co-creator of the New York City-based comedy show UpDating. While he admits to some initial loneliness during the early part of cuffing season, Forman says he’s actually embraced being alone amid the pandemic.

“Almost to a fault, I’ve become extremely comfortable with my alone time,” he tells InsideHook. While he once considered himself “an extrovert mini-socialite,” Forman says the pandemic has shown him the value of spending time alone, something he thinks many of his single peers can relate to: “Forced to be alone because of the pandemic, many singles have adjusted their mindset to be comfortable being alone, to explore their own passions, hobbies, and not really needing a relationship to make them complete.”

Moreover, it’s not hard to appreciate being single while watching the pandemic’s often disastrous effect on relationships. While the grass is often greener on the other side of one’s own relationship status, it’s no secret that COVID has been hard on couples, and Forman says he’s heard enough stories of couple friends pushed to a breaking point in tiny apartments to dissolve the relationship envy he’d usually be feeling this time of year.

Christina, a 23-year-old in San Francisco who ended a relationship back in October, says she’s actually seen more breakups this cuffing season than new relationships. Some of this, she speculates, may be the fallout from couples who rushed into serious relationships at the beginning of the pandemic, which may have functioned as something of an off-season cuffing period that took the wind out of this season’s cuffing games.

“A lot of people already rushed into relationships that fell apart,” says Christina. “We already got the cuffing season thing out of our system at the beginning of COVID. People aren’t looking to settle down again yet, especially not with all the pandemic chaos still happening.”

Meanwhile, even those who are pursuing a relationship this year will likely break with cuffing season tradition in one major way, according to Tennesha Wood, dating coach and founder of matchmaking firm The Broom List. Traditionally, the end of cuffing season will find many couples uncuffing as the warm weather inspires people to break the chains of monogamy and enjoy what writer Dayna Evans has dubbed “The Horny Time.” But this year, Wood thinks cuffing season couples will be more likely to stay cuffed.

“The warm weather is usually the sign to get off the couch and reintegrate into the outside world, and perhaps even start the hunt for a summer fling. But the continued closure of the outside world [amid the pandemic] has driven cuffing partners to consider the possibility of a relationship that lasts beyond the winter thaw,” says Wood. “COVID has allowed singles to think beyond a reason or a season; they are now considering the importance of a partner — one they would want to stick through summer, a pandemic or even a lifetime.”

The pandemic has been a time of extremes, and it seems cuffing season has been no exception. This year, we’re either not cuffing at all or we’re cuffing for life — though that could all change when that post-COVID fuckfest finally comes around.

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