J, 29, recently broke up with a long-term partner, and is looking for someone — anyone — to cozy up with before it gets cold.
"I'm not really concerned with finding the 'perfect person' to spend the rest of my life with right now," J tells Bustle. "I’m just looking for someone I can chat with when I feel lonely, who wants to hang out, cook, and go rollerskating before it snows." With no IRL meet-cutes in her future, J has been active on several different dating apps.
While cuffing season starts in late fall traditionally, this year all bets are off. With many states restricting social gatherings, singles may feel extra, well, single. And according to several daters, quarantine mixed with cold weather means higher stakes and different standards — earlier than usual.
According to Shula Melamed, MA, MPH, and relationship coach, traditional "cuffing season," or finding a date to shack up with through winter, is historically brought on by the threat of cold weather. "The cold affecting your emotions can make you less motivated to socialize and get out," Melamed tells Bustle. "You find yourself in hibernation mode and not focused on creating novelty or new experiences for yourselves. You might also settle for a less than thrilling relationship because you want to be snuggled down."
Meredith Golden, dating coach and dating app expert, says there's extra pressure for singles to find someone before the weather gets too cold this year — even if it's not their ideal partner. "In non-COVID times, a single who started out the winter thinking they were happy watching Netflix alone had the option to change their mind midseason," Golden tells Bustle. "COVID is taking this flexibility off the table for many." And for those who don't feel comfortable dining out, going on dates may not be an option until the spring.
Pre-pandemic, it wasn't uncommon to fantasize about dating someone with a cool-sounding job, fun friends who get along with yours, and a penchant for international travel. But Kim, 25, tells Bustle that coronavirus has changed who and what she's looking for in a cuffing season courtship — which makes her pre-season pickings more pressing than ever. "I used to only to date older men because they have nicer pads and more money, so we can travel and go out," she tells Bustle. "Now, I'm open to dating someone younger, even someone that's in school, because we're just going to be lying in bed."
I care less about how [we] look [on] social media.
For Kim, the number-one priority is comfort. She's swapping going-out dresses for staying-in sweats and Instagram for Instacart. At the end of the day, she needs someone she can relax with indoors. "I care less about how [we] look [on] social media," she says. "I just want someone to chill with."
Logan Ury, director of relationship science at Hinge, says that quarantine has led to self-reflection for many singles. "The pandemic has created an unprecedented opportunity for people to assess their dating patterns and behaviors and develop new ones," Ury tells Bustle. "After months of quarantining alone, people who used to feel unrushed about their love lives now want to find a relationship." According to Ury, 69% of Hinge users are more thoughtful about the type of people they're looking for.
Although J isn't prioritizing starting a serious relationship, she believes establishing a strong intellectual connection is more important than ever. "Vibing with someone was a big deal before, but it’s crucial now," J says. "The only new folks coming through my door are people whose personality makes me want to kiss them. We need to vibe when it's just the two of us, alone at home."
Although quarantine's emotional intensity may be inspiring singles to shack up, the cuffing pre-season training frenzy can also be sparked by the fear of contracting COVID. Kenna, 26, says social distancing has made her and her new hookup buddy “exclusive” by default. "This pandemic has forced us to be effectively 'monogamous' to ensure everyone says safe," Kenna tells Bustle. "We're not seeing other people for health and safety, not because we want to be in a 'serious, committed relationship.'"
While the pair enjoys watching movies and hooking up, Kenna says they have no intention of formally defining the relationship — ever.
"It's nice to have someone to hang out with during this bizarre time," Kenna says. "That's all we're both looking for."
Shula Melamed, MA, MPH, and relationship coach
Meredith Golden, dating coach and dating app expert