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I’ve long resisted cuffing season—the unofficial period of coupling that begins with the first post-Labor Day chill and wraps up in the thaw of early spring. Urban Dictionary describes this ritual as when “cold weather and prolonged indoor activity causes singles to become lonely and desperate to be cuffed.” My therapist would refer to this as a coping mechanism. This year, amid constant chaos and government-mandated distance, I’ve have struggled to discern: Do I want a boyfriend or am I just cold?
It was a query I first posed last winter, while on a brisk walk with my roommate, each of us stuffing our hands into pockets and shielding our faces in scarves. While we immediately burst out laughing, it became clear that this wasn’t an isolated thought. That theory was confirmed whenever I pitched this story to a number of my friends and co-workers: Everyone inevitably felt attacked, as if I was calling out their particular methods of coping in the cold.
The inability to decipher whether we’re seeking a partner or a pashmina has only gotten stronger over a year of social distancing, existential doom, and too many nights rewatching When Harry Met Sally. I truly cannot make the distinction between wanting to spoon or be swaddled in a chunky sweater. When I rewatch Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal’s love story, I think, No wonder it took them the whole 90 minutes to finally end up together—they had plenty of layers to keep them warm at night!! Their leafy Central Park walks were non-distanced and they didn’t have to show negative COVID-19 test results to hook up in the heat of the moment!
In the warmer months, we proudly denounced underwires and real pants. We swiped through phases of quarantine like matches on Hinge—bread baking, then tie-dye, followed by Zoom cast reunions from that show you loved in 2003. But with the first sign of a chill and ongoing confusion about how to date safely, we’ve sobered up and realized none of those things filled the void like we’d hoped they would.
Inevitably, there’s a pang of regret—maybe I wouldn’t be padding around my apartment in a nap dress or Googling “Harry Styles Tiny Desk Concert” on rotation if I had coupled up pre-pandemic. Then again, my fleece jacket keeps me warm at night and won’t ghost me or make me listen to him play Foo Fighters on his acoustic guitar—hence why this is important to investigate. Do I want to be weighed down by a relationship or a weighted blanket? Am I craving a cuddle or just really good cashmere?
That brings me to my Amazon wishlist, which probably isn’t dissimilar from other pandemic parties of one. All of this time not shacked up with the love of my life has been spent seductively adding to cart—so many knits, so many candles, and enough slippers to last (heaven help us) another year of WFH. Who can remember that you haven’t been touched in months while cocooned in flannel, I ask myself alone on a Friday night, as I reach for Trader Joe’s wine and enter my credit card info from memory.
Whenever a promising new package arrives at my door (why, yes, I am having strange feelings about my UPS delivery person, and you?) all thoughts of a relationship fly out the window. Barricaded in my small apartment with someone I’ve known for less than a year? Hard pass. Texting an ex? Not in these fuzzy socks. The urge to message that Hinge match who labels himself politically “moderate”—it’s buried far beneath my oversized sweatshirt. Considering how anxiety-inducing 2020 feels, it’s astounding what a panic purchase can soothe.
Of course, the substitutes wear thin after a while. The requisite loneliness, panic, and urge to play Phoebe Bridgers sets in—whether you’re being held by a person or an overpriced throw blanket. After all, if fall’s cozied-up heroines have taught us anything, it’s that coping with cardigans has an expiration date. For a time, Diane Keaton masks her desire for emotional intimacy with turtlenecks in Something’s Gotta Give. Taylor Swift fixates on a forgotten scarf in her breakup ballad “All Too Well.” But they all succumb to the inevitable cuff. Keaton’s turtleneck is physically cut from her body and Swift is still waiting for an answer on that scarf, Gyllenhaal.
Perhaps we should aspire to Meg Ryan’s version of happiness at the end of When Harry Met Sally. She ends up with her true love, doesn’t sacrifice her collection of chic sweaters, and does it all while ringing in a new year. Maybe by this time 2021, I’ll have what she’s having.
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