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Surviving cuffing season as a single person can be challenging. What’s cuffing season? Cuffing season is described as the period covering the coldest season of the year starting in October, well I would consider from the moment that Christmas ads hit television, to Valentine’s Day. It’s the seasonal period when the media puts pressure on people to be romantic with their significant other. Of course, the holiday season puts a special type of pressure on those already in committed relationships. Additionally, it is also important to be mindful that the cuffing season does not negatively affect all single people. Some people are 100% satisfied by their lifestyle and are not necessarily impacted by social and family pressures to be in a romantic relationship during the holidays. However, cuffing season can become a time of guilt, shame, contempt, and anxiety for many single people. 

The endless commercials, Hallmark rom-coms, and holiday love songs are redundant reminders of what a person may be missing during the holiday season. If one is already naturally turning toward self-judgment and contempt the season is challenging as each reminder is another way to harm one’s self with thoughts. If one is navigating the season with this innate state of being any slight reference to romance can feel like a microaggression. Additionally, having family members make comments about one’s relationship status adds to the wounding that is already caused by social stigma, reminding one day in and day out that they do not fit within the social norm. 

As a means to avoid the pain of shame, some may dive into relationships quickly. At this point, the new romantic partnership becomes a means to fill a void and avoid pain. While this may temporarily satiate desire and shame, it can oftentimes open the door to relationship strain and harm if the partnership is rushed into. Other singles may behave oppositely, hunkering down and digging their heels into their misery until the season is over. However, this may feel like martyrdom, sacrificing one’s self to depression, shame, self-loathing, as well as fuming in contempt toward any other “happy” appearing couple. Regardless, buying into the social messages incessantly transmitted during the winter season can set single people up for additional harm. 

Over the years of navigating cuffing season as a single person, I have been trying to figure out how to be okay with whom I am while resisting the natural urge to use social messages for harm. It is challenging encountering holiday reminders that spotlight feelings of loneliness and shame. Rather than continue to spend every holiday in misery why not modify thoughts and behavior to create a season of self-satisfaction? Reframing thoughts help to take the pressure off of you. For example, I would always absorb media messages as a judgment of my singleness, implying that who I am is abnormal to society. However, over time and practice, I now see social messages as a pressure to buy products, that it is not a direct judgment of me, and that songs are written in a certain place in time and context. Additionally, before diving into a relationship that may be headed toward disaster, ask yourself what is the real reason for getting into the relationship. Is the relationship a balm to wounds, a temporary self-esteem boost? Consider if there is an ulterior motive to entering a relationship, other than desiring and feeling authentic connection with another. Finally, instead of taking this season as a period of self-judgment or throwing yourself into meaningless short-term relationships, how about making this season about self-care and becoming comfortable with who you are as a person? Please remember, the romantic underpinnings of the winter season are socially constructed. I hope future winter seasons will bring greater authentic self-esteem and self-compassion, rather than the misery that comes with cuffing.  

About the author – Rachel Zeller is a therapist at Pacific Mental Health, Seattle. They help clients with depression, anxiety, substance abuse, trauma and grief. They also specialize in working with LGBTQIA+ adolescents and adults, treating the challenges that come with identity.

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