It’s officially that time of the year—cuffing season—where single people begin looking for short term partnerships to pass the colder months of the year. Pre-COVID, summers were the best time to be single. We’re outside, making new friends, getting drunk, and living our best lives. Having a partner during this time can sometimes feel like a drag. But once the cold weather hits, all you want to do is cozy up with a warm body and watch Netflix until the snow melts. That’s why come autumn, right before it gets cold, some folks cuff (or shack up) with a partner to weather the winter months. Come March, these couples often un-cuff, and return to single life right in time for spring revelry.
Cuffing isn’t a new phenomenon. It entered the cultural zeitgeist roughly a decade ago. But in 2020, cuffing is a much more urgent matter due to COVID-19. Seven months into the pandemic, and there are still thousands of new daily cases across the United States, and experts worry that we may see another spike in cases during winter months, as people will be less likely to congregate outdoors due to the incremental weather. That’s why so many singles say they’re scrambling to find a partner before more stringent lockdown measures go into place.
“After the last quarantine, I refuse to be alone again,” Maria, 29, says. She lives alone in a studio and her family doesn’t live nearby, so she spent the first lockdown completely isolated for months. “Honestly, I never thought I’d be into cuffing but winter and another possible quarantine just sounds lonely and scary as fuck.”
But it’s never been harder to find a cuff than it is right now. You can’t just line up five dates in a row and pick the one with whom you had the best connection. The whole point of a COVID cuff is to reduce your risk of contracting COVID. You want one person in your life that you trust and are monogamous with. You don’t want to see strangers daily, increasing your risk of acquiring the virus.
“I get such anxiety when I do something a bit out of my comfort zone that puts me at COVID risk,” Maria says. It’s a catch 22. In order to no longer meet new people, she has to start by meeting new people. Still, she perseveres, making it very clear what her COVID protocols are to gauge whether their lifestyle and choices are within her comfort level before moving forward. “Finding someone with similar values (on COVID) but also on the same page sexually has been a challenge,” she says.
Brian, 28, is no stranger to cuffing. He lives in Chicago, where there’s always a seasonal change in everyone’s dating attitudes due to the harsh winter months, he says. While Brian is less strict on meeting potential cuffing candidates during COVID than Maria, he’s finding it difficult because of local COVID restrictions. Most restaurants in Chicago require reservations and have time limits, “which can place unnecessary stress of a fun evening,” he says. Not to mention that there’s no such thing as casually meeting or running into each other. It makes the dating process very formal and intense, he explains.
Still, remaining single isn’t an option for Brian—or at least, he’s going to do everything in his power to have that special someone to cuddle up with come December. “This is the new normal,” he says, noting that the pandemic has lasted significantly longer than anyone envisioned. “Being in the prime ages of dating, I don’t want to sit on the sidelines for potentially over a year.” So he’s on the apps, having dinner at open, time-restricted establishments, and praying he’ll meet his COVID cuff before he gets frostbite.
Britney, 30, calls herself a “big slut,” “but also a safe slut.” She’s worried that as it gets colder, she won’t be able to meet at outdoor bars, and she doesn’t feel comfortable meeting a stranger indoors. “We’re all working under a timer to cuff up before we turn into icicles trying to get laid.” While she says she could stay celibate, “This year has been hard enough—sex and intimacy are beautiful distractions. Besides, a vibrator can only do so much.”
Britney tries to be upfront and lets the people she’s dating—all of whom she’s met on apps—know that she’s interested in something COVID safe. Therefore, she’s looking for exclusivity early on.
There’s another reason this year’s cuffing season is a little different: singles say they’re open to the relationship lasting well beyond winter. It’s partly because no one has an idea of when we will be able to return to regular dating, and partly because consistency sounds appealing during such chaotic and uncertain times. “Still, it’s impossible to think long-term,” Britney says. “The world changes every day and nothing feels stable right now.”
Having a partner, for however long, might contribute to a sense of stability. Even if they don’t love each other and are just doing this to have someone to snuggle with during COVID.
“At this point, I’m just looking for a warm body essentially,” Maria says.
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