science of us

It’s Cuffing Season for Friendship, Too

Photo: Izabela Habur/Getty Images/iStockphoto

My friend Bebe is a self-described “summer baby” — she thrives during the warmer months of the year. Any given weekend between May and September, you can find her at a festival, on a boat in Lake Michigan, biking around Chicago, or generally just out and about, meeting new people.

Case in point: Bebe recently came to visit me in New York. When we met up for coffee, another friend of hers that I’d never met tagged along, so we did a round of introductions.

“How did you two meet?” I asked them.

“In line at a music festival,” replied Bebe.

“Just … standing there?”

“Yeah,” replied her friend, Roseanne, with a laugh. “Then we started going out.”

It was a pretty novel statement to me, someone who actively avoids the exact scenario they were describing. The only thing I do while waiting in line is regret ever leaving my apartment. But I’ve known Bebe long enough to know that with the onset of winter, we become a little more alike: Every year, as the temperatures begin to dip, she goes from starting parties to staying in with her roommate. “I feel like there are fewer opportunities to meet new friends, since fewer people go out in the winter,” she says.

That one I can relate to. In college, one of my favorite winter traditions was the aptly named “wine night,” when my friend and I would eschew the bar and stayed in together, just the two of us. She’d pick up fixings for vegetable soup, I’d bring wine to her house, and we’d feast.

If this sounds like the friendship version of cuffing season — the term for when single people, faced with the prospect of enjoying the hygge vibe and drinking hot toddies by themselves, suddenly couple up — you’re right. The romantic kind may get all the attention, but cuffing season doesn’t just apply to couples. Winter is also the time when people generally lose interest in making new friends and just get cozy with the ones they have.

“There’s a host of research studies showing that everything seems to slow down [in the winter],” says psychologist William Chopik, a professor and director of the Close Relationships Lab at Michigan State University. “People are less physically active, health problems are exacerbated, and people stay closer to home.”

It doesn’t take a detective to figure out why that may be. Does anyone really want to go outside when there’s a ten-degree wind chill? That’s exactly what stops my friend Kim. “The thought of begging a bouncer to cut the line through chattering teeth is enough to keep me in,” she tells me. “Also, the whole coat-check thing really stresses me out in the winter. Will the bar have a coat check? If not, I guess I’ll awkwardly hold my coat, or hang it on some random hook where 50 other jackets are already crammed and risk it getting stolen.” Know where you don’t need a coat check? Your best friend’s living room.

If the work of bundling up for the cold (and the thought of actually suffering through said cold) isn’t enough to keep you indoors, in other words, then dealing with the logistics — like where to stash your coat — just might do it. Unsurprisingly, “Cold weather is often a barrier to venturing far from home,” Chopik says. “Meeting new people in the winter months requires a lot of effort.” Most people don’t want to put in that effort, since it’s ten times easier to have a chill (and cozy) night with your friends in front of the Yule-log channel.

Still, it may be worth un-cuffing yourself once in a while — because we may not be giving other humans enough credit. According to Chopik, most of us underestimate how much fun it is to meet new people, regardless of the season. “It could be the case that we think we won’t enjoy meeting new people in the winter when it’s harder,” Chopik says. “However, we might be missing out on a lot of fun by keeping ourselves isolated.”

That’s not to say that you should force yourself to face the elements even when you’re really not feeling it. If your ideal December Saturday night is inviting a few friends over to watch The Handmaid’s Tale, that’s fine. But there’s also a middle ground to consider: If you begin to feel bored with your tight-knit group of friends and same old routine — but not quite bored enough to brave the sleet — try switching things up with a new movie, a funny board game, or even by starting a book club. Seriously. It’s a trope of couples’ therapists for a reason. “The best long-term friendships do this,” says Chopik. “They try new things that keep relationships exciting.” And it’ll be spring again before you know it.

It’s Cuffing Season for Friendship, Too