I felt the change in atmosphere before I even looked at his face.
“What kind of what?”
“Handcuffs?” I giggled. “Mine are fuzzy but good quality so no one gets hurt. How about you?”
“Wait what?” He laughed. “I mean that’s great baby, but that’s not what I was talking about!”
I tilted my head inquisitively thinking perhaps something even more fabulous was about to come out of his mouth. But instead he asked “Haven’t you ever heard of cuffing season?”
And just like that, a beautiful evening with a new beau turned into the modern day adult version of scary bedtime stories.
Cuffing Season, for those of you as clueless as I was, typically happens during the winter months when days are shorter, nights in many places are dark and cold, and life may seem a bit too solitary for those who are single without regular interaction.
Pressure from families, holiday get togethers, and office events suddenly become minefields for singles. Especially when forced to witness (often not so typically) happy couples gallivanting about sharing extravagantly PDA-filled cheer and generally reveling in showing off the “WE” in a world all too often obsessed with the “ME”.
So although most people aren’t so boldly forward about it as my date, it has become an accepted custom to hook up with someone to spend the winter months with, attend events, have some (hopefully) decent sex, and stave off boredom and loneliness. The unspoken idea being that sometime after Valentine’s Day either drama will ensue, or you will split amicably and go off to find your next partner.
Unless by some miracle you discover that you are indeed compatible, and decide to stay together.
My date explained all of this to me with a sense of glee perhaps enhanced by his third whiskey drink since we had arrived at this venue. By this point I was backed as far away from him as possible, practically tipping the bar stool over, in my horror at the story he was telling me.
Because surely this was an urban legend, a contemporary myth. Like the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, or monsters under the bed. No one could possibly believe this was a good idea…right?
On paper, this guy started out as a gem of date. We met at an event that I had been brought to by a promoter, both for my appearance, and for the knack I had for bringing people together and putting them at ease.
The gentleman in question had been with a large group, but halfway through the night we ended up chatting away. We had lots in common - a love of travel, great taste in clothes, avid readers, ambitious souls. We laughed a lot. So when I was slipping out of the party to head to another event, he asked for my number. And in the spirit of “why not”, I gave it.
Now a week later I was staring at a man I had kissed once (it was nice), flirted with on text, seen twice, and who was propositioning me to what? Kill time with him until the spring?
I would have been less appalled had he simply offered me money for sex. At least that would have been a straightforward business proposal. This sounded, well, dirty somehow. Actually I was downright repulsed.
In hindsight he probably had no idea that I was unaware of this quite common practice. So I am sure he was using that line as a flirtatious silly way to say he liked me. (He confirmed this when I ran into him a few months later. By that point, the possibility of an “us” was moot.) But at the time, I TOTALLY missed that. I ended the date less than an hour later, and practically ran home, locked the door and wondered “has the world gone mad?”
I am all about AUTHENTIC relationships. Mine have come in all sizes, flavors, shapes, and levels of interactions. From the most intimate to the casual. Monogamous to polyamorous. Soulmate to sugar baby. In fact, I see absolutely nothing wrong with companionship set up as a “business transaction” (sugar lifestyle advocates would agree) where boundaries are set and everyone’s needs are met. But cuffing season is a whole other breed of connection. In my mind, it comes across as dangerous.
Because I can’t seem to find a way to separate out the fact that people go into it feigning it’s a real relationship while having one foot out the door. Like “hey I’m bored, you’re bored, we’ve got nothing better to do so let’s hang out until something better comes along or the weather improves. But don’t worry we will make it look real.” Come again?
Perhaps I am overthinking this too much. But the more I’ve talked about this with people, the more set against the idea I become. Someone likened it to a “friends with benefits” situation, but I never liked those either. Because I have yet to hear of a single one in which someone doesn’t secretly like the other much more and HOPE that the other will change their mind and want a REAL relationship.
I much prefer casual sex in that case, with very open communication. As in “I like you, but am not interested in a relationship, so if you want to safely have sex when we are both free and available, I might give you a call”. While it has mutual respect in these cases, the difference is no one is pretending and we don’t have to worry about dates (unless we feel like going out together for fun). Friends with benefits always seems to imply that you are “my buddy” who occasionally takes your clothes off with me. For the record, if you are my buddy, keep your clothes on.
Another person told me that these cuffing partnerships at least gave them someone to take to family gatherings. Yet that idea too has it’s flaws. Because what if your family likes that season’s partner? You’ve forever doomed yourself to be questioned about whatever happened to that nice guy John? And why didn’t it work out with him? (Heaven help you if your family doesn’t end up liking the partner you do end up with. He will forever be compared to your cuffing flavor of the previous years.)
One of my acquaintances used the “everyone’s doing it” reasoning. (Obviously not, as I had never heard about it until recently.) And while I get that it is socially acceptable, so is pot and I thinking smoking it is a terrible idea. (For my 420 peeps, I support your right to do so, as well my right not to do so. Therefore don’t get up in arms. I am just tired of trying to figure out if people are stoned all the time. It makes for boring interactions. And the smell of pot is a major turnoff for me.)
The one that broke my heart was the loneliness reason. A guy friend brought up that he had several cuffing experiences because he just couldn’t take the thought of having no one special at the most festive time of year. And I get it. Holidays are hard for many - myself included for reasons other than loneliness though as I rarely feel that emotion. However I do get why, for some, even a superficial relationship may seem more attractive than the thought of walking into a room of mistletoe alone.
For me however, cuffing season sounds like a nightmare. Maybe it’s because I am rarely lonely in the sense of yearning for a partner. And I’ve never thought of myself as feeling bored in my life because there always something to do or learn. So while I can empathize with other viewpoints, it’s hard for me to relate to the logic behind it.
Although when you really get down to it, the truth as to why I just don’t get it, is even more basic than that. It’s about my perspective on others. It simply would never occur to me to view a connection in the “cuffing” mentality. Because if you are looking at someone as a stopgap for your boredom, loneliness, or sadness, then you are NOT seeing that person. You’re seeing a temporary fix for your problems, or a way to keep yourself entertained. And the last I checked, I’m not a bandaid, nor am I the new Netflix.
So for any future paramours out there, please note:
Handcuffs are a yes.
Cuffing is a no.
And to those who indulge in the practice, happy hunting. May the cuffing gods be with you. And the odds always in your favor.
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Tink, world traveler, positivity muse, and adult entertainer, has also freelance written for a number of companies as their ghostwriter. Now talking directly to YOU on this platform, she is also writing two books at her community's request.