In a COVID-19 world, is cuffing season still upon us in Toronto?

These Torontonians tell us how they're approaching tdating and the potential for 'cuffing' as the weather gets colder

Does the colder weather have you itching to run full tilt into the arms of another human? For 20 months now, human connection has been precarious, with countless closures and stay-at-home orders thanks to COVID-19, forcing singles to weather the changing seasons alone. Now that vaccinations have introduced some sense of normalcy in our day-to-day lives, casual dating is within arm’s reach again. And so begins the frantic search for a limited-time companion. That’s right, it’s officially cuffing season.

Beginning in October and lasting until about mid-February, cuffing season refers to the trend that sees single people start looking for short term partnerships to pass the colder months of the year. Looking to ride out the shared misery of winter with someone else? You’re in good company.

The pandemic expedited the cuffing process for some

After nearly two years of navigating a global pandemic, many people are feeling understandably isolated. Hillary*, a single woman in her 20s living in Toronto, describes a cuffing relationship she had last year, when the COVID-19 cases were edging toward an all-time high and government agencies, like B.C. health officials, were recommending glory holes in earnest. For her, the holidays were exceptionally hard and she found herself more willing to jump into something for a sense of comfort and camaraderie during a time that felt extremely uncertain.

“I knew this guy prior to COVID. He was just someone I would flirt with from time to time but we decided to spend more time together during the holidays when things were supposed to be locked down. We would cuddle, go on long walks and get gifts for each other,” she says.

“It only lasted a few months. We both knew what it was…just a way to get through the holidays and feel a little less lonely,” she explains.

The reason people tend to gravitate toward cuffing relationships is simple: the desire for connection is innately human. Of course, COVID-19 has put a wrench in this, with stay-at-home orders and lockdowns making casual sex and dating off limits for the better part of 2020 and into 2021.

“Especially during stressful or hard times, we have a need to be close, feel intimacy and experience connection,” says Toronto-based sex and pleasure edducator, Luna Matatas. Matatas has over 10 years of experience in sexual health and wellness internationally and locally.

With less daylight, colder weather and fewer opportunities for social interaction (pandemic notwithstanding), the long and bleak winter months can make people feel even more disconnected than usual. Many people also experience seasonal depression, so while that might not put you in a dating mood, it might increase your desire for emotional and physical closeness to regulate your mental health.

Now, with the majority of Torontonians having been vaccinated, people may feel more comfortable putting themselves out there in order to lock down a suitable cuffing partner before temperatures really start to plummet.

Cuffing may seem casual, but that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone

To cuff or not to cuff? That is the question. For Hillary, she’s open to doing it again. “I would absolutely jump into another cuffing relationship. If anything, COVID makes me want to do it more. Things are hard enough, and a friend with benefits you can hang out with, hook up and pass the time with just feels good.”

Considering locking down your own cuffing mate? Start with some self-care, advises Matatas.

“Casual doesn’t mean you get to treat people casually. Cuffing season is not an excuse to use people selfishly because you don’t feel like dealing with your own mental health, sexual or social needs by yourself,” she explains.

Once you’re in the right headspace for a cuffing relationship, be sure to enter into the experience with an open mind. Matatas adds that cuffing relationships can inspire a shift in priorities about pleasure and may even lead to a change in the type of dates or relationships someone pursues.

Take Theo*, for example. He found himself in a cuffing relationship right around Valentine’s Day. He and his partner went beyond just a physical relationship, doing nice things for one another during the holiday season.

“The guy was definitely not my type, but I thought it was extra sweet when he showed up to my apartment with frozen pizza and a box of chocolates,” he says. Shortly after Valentine’s Day, the relationship fizzled, mutually. The two didn’t have much in common but regardless, Theo looks back on the experience positively. “It was fun and it was new. And to be honest, it felt nice to have something with someone during a time [like Valentine’s Day] where you feel a bit left out if you’re single.”

Decide what you’re looking for in a relationship before settling for one

The conditions of cuffing season relationships need to meet both people’s needs and may need to be renegotiated if these needs change. Matatas advises regular check-ins with your partner to ensure your expectations haven’t shifted or feelings changed.

“Believe it or not, cuffing relationships can be an excellent way to practice your relationship communication skills. Make a point to have continuous check-ins with each other to ensure needs and desires are being met,” she says.

“I realized the relationship I’m currently in is a cuffing relationship, simply because we don’t currently view what we’re doing together as long term,” says Noah*, who has been casually seeing someone for a few months now. He finds himself even more interested in keeping the relationship going with winter on its way and thus, a more open social calendar.

As with Hillary, Noah noted that low-pressure companionship and consistent sex is one of the best parts of this kind of arrangement.

“Casual partners might limit their interactions to arranging sex or flirting, or they might enjoy non-sexual friendship too. You might not be sharing a bank account, but you can experience varying levels of intimacy depending on what both people want,” says Matatas.

So, as the weather begins to cool down and the days get shorter, you might be asking yourself if a cuffing relationship is right for you. Matatas advises being true to yourself, first and foremost.

“When thinking about what your sexual happiness looks like, think about the ways you want to feel and what you want to experience. Keep these in mind as you pursue cuffing season or not and check in with yourself to see if anything has changed.”