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My First Cuffing Season

The goal may be simple, but actually achieving it is far more difficult

There’s a boy who sits across from me in library study rooms almost every night. He appears to do homework while I binge on chai lattes and Sour Patch Kids and type away frantically at my computer. He doesn’t complain when I accidentally hum along with the music streaming into my ear from a single earbud. We laugh and chat until it’s way too late and I complain that it’s his fault that I get no sleep — but we both know that it was my decision to stay up. I don’t mind that he constantly distracts me, mostly because I know I’m probably an even bigger distraction to him.

I’ve spent almost every night over the last few weeks in this same pattern with this boy. Each day a little more slips out about my quirks and weird habits and strange paranoias. Yet, for some reason, he still wants to spend time with me. I don’t really understand that, but I’m not about to question it, either.

In college, everyone wants a person, but very few are willing to define that person as their person. Everyone has a “thing,” but few people have a relationship. The general fear of admitting one’s feelings and committing isn’t surprising. I have those fears, too. In fact, I’m a bit concerned that when this boy eventually reads this article he’s going to ghost on me really quickly. More than anything else, I’m worried about breaking the generally accepted rule that you have to be chill and unattached at the start of a “thing” because no one wants to be that desperate, needy person.

It doesn’t help that I’m also at the beginning of this “thing” at the start of cuffing season. For those unfamiliar with the term, “cuffing season” refers to the race to tie down (or “cuff”) a significant other before the cold weather rolls in. Cuffing season has practically become a rite of passage in college since the idea was first introduced to mainstream culture in 2013 after sociologists and psychologists studied it in years prior. While many of us try to seem chill and fun during the start of the school year, and get involved in complicated relationship games, there seems to be some inherent, evolutionary drive that makes us eventually succumb to cuffing season by winter. And, of course, there’s always the draw of posting fall-themed, artsy, couple Instas; going pumpkin picking; and having a cuddle buddy with whom we can watch Netflix (and chill).

While the goal of cuffing season is simple — to find a person you want to spend time with during the long, cold winter months — the path to it is a lot more complicated. Cuffing season is filled to the brim with unspoken rules, social constructs, and stereotypes. I see it every weekend with my friends and with absolute strangers: Some of the smartest girls try to hide and avoid a guy at a party because they don’t want him to think they’re too interested — just by being in the same place. I’ve talked to guys who don’t really know how to express their feelings about girls and who are afraid to start a real relationship because they’re worried about being rejected or seeming too emotional.

To be totally honest, I came to college expecting to avoid cuffing season at all costs. My goal was to focus on myself and prioritize school (hi, Mom and Dad, are you proud of me?). The transition to college came with a lot of responsibilities and I expected I would have no free time to get involved with someone else, just like in high school. I figured that college would be rough enough without the added pressures of first dates, Tinder profiles, and Snap streaks. Don’t get me wrong, I planned on having fun, too, but the idea of starting any sort of “thing” with someone seemed like it would be too much. I decided to set my priorities and told myself, Try to wait a few months before getting into anything. You have to start clubs and pass classes and make friends and have fun — and that’s a lot to handle.

While I was right that cuffing season is a lot to handle, my recent foray into it seems manageable now that I have already established a balance between work, school, and clubs. If my horoscope happens to be right (and it rarely is), I’m in for some fun relationship stuff in the next few months. Since general college behavior is a more reliable basis of judgement, I’d say that study-room boy and I have a fun “thing” that works really well for the time being.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from the limited time I’ve spent involved in the ridiculous games and social expectations that make up cuffing season, it’s that you have to live in the moment. Too many people get caught up in “maybes” and “should haves” and end up harping on the past so much that they miss what’s going on right in front of them. Other people get caught up in the future potential of a person before they really know them, and ruin something before it even starts — a habit I used to partake in quite frequently, and now try to avoid. Clichéd thought it may sound, my first foray into cuffing season has taught me that you can’t worry too much about what you should do or how you should behave. Being genuine is the only way to find a person who actually wants to be with you.

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