Society pushes the notion that to find happiness we need to be in a committed relationship

Have you heard of the term “Cuffing Season”? Coined by Urban Dictionary in 2011, it’s defined as the period between autumn and winter when “people who would normally be single or promiscuous find themselves, along with the rest of the world, desiring to be ‘cuffed’ or tied down by a serious relationship”, writes Louise O'Neill.

Society pushes the notion that to find happiness we need to be in a committed relationship

Have you heard of the term “Cuffing Season”? Coined by Urban Dictionary in 2011, it’s defined as the period between autumn and winter when “people who would normally be single or promiscuous find themselves, along with the rest of the world, desiring to be ‘cuffed’ or tied down by a serious relationship”, writes Louise O'Neill.

Data from Facebook seems to support this thesis. The company looked at statistics from 2010 to 2011, focusing on changes to ‘relationship status’ (‘engaged’ and ‘ in a relationship’ turning to ‘single’ or ‘divorced’) and analysing it to see trends in what months couples were getting together. While not an exact science, they could see an increase in people changing their relationship status to ‘in a relationship’ between October and February, and then changing it back to ‘single’ in March. Apparently, “there’s a grand stretch in the evening,” now equals “it’s not you, it’s me”.

It’s December, so we’re in the middle of Cuffing Season. Winter is cold and miserable and damp, and all many of us want to do is sit in front of the fire in our pyjamas, carb-loading to give us extra energy to endure the coming months. After watching 20 consecutive Netflix movies set in fictional European countries ending in ‘via’ (Genovia, Aldovia, Belgravia etc) where the heir to the throne speaks with an eye-wateringly bad British accent and falls in love with the first American commoner he/she stumbles across, is it any wonder we might start to wonder when our own Prince/Princess will come? And while the origins of Christmas are probably linked to the pagan tradition of celebrating the Winter Solstice, an attempt to make midwinter less bleak by symbolically casting away the darkness, there can be no doubting that Christmas is often a difficult time for many.

There’s so much pressure to be happy 24/7, to enjoy spending an inordinate time with your family or childhood friends, to splash cash that you may not possess. There is an expectation that you will over-eat and over-drink, despite the impact both may have on your mental health, and of course, all the questions about your love life. “Have you met anyone yet?” your uncle Jerry asks. “Met anyone special this year?” your grandmother says, hopefully. “It’ll happen for you yet, don’t you worry!” your cousin trills, holding out her engagement ring for you to admire. Then there’s the countless photos on social media of Michael Kors bags under the tree, accompanied with the hashtags #BoyDoneGood and #BestGirlfriendEver and #LuckyMe. It’s enough to make anyone run out, shift the first suitable man/woman they find, and immediately declare themselves ‘cuffed’.

What I find fascinating about this whole phenomenon is how our society still pushes the notion that in order to find happiness, we need to be in a committed relationship. Monogamy is the cure-all for everything that ails us; if only we could find The One then all the other problems - the job we hate, the colleague who is bullying us, the friend who is always too busy to hang out - would magically disappear. Unfortunately, even though we know this makes no sense on an intellectual level, many of us secretly buy it. It’s hard to shake of decades of cultural conditioning that tells us it is only true love’s kiss that can save the princess.

I feel equipped to talk about this because I’ve been in a relationship with someone since March, having previously been single for over six years. He’s kind and very funny and absurdly clever - above all else, he’s my person. I’m not going to lie, it’s wonderful to have someone to share things with, the good and the bad, and I feel very lucky to have met him. But I didn’t feel incomplete when I was single, and I certainly didn’t need him to make me ‘whole’. I had amazing friends, my family, my beloved dog (RIP Jinky).

Of course there were times when I felt lonely, and thought I’d like to be with someone, but when I looked a little more closely I could see the loneliness often coincided with a time where I felt scared about something entirely different to my love life, times when I worried about my writing ability or when I felt as if I would never fully recover from my eating disorder. I spent those six years of being single, from 26 to 32 - pivotal years, in anyone’s life - figuring out my own shit, something I’m still doing today. The problems and insecurities I had before I met my boyfriend haven’t miraculously dissolved because we’re in love, and I never expected that to happen anyway. I’m not looking to him to ‘fix’ me. I know that I’m the only person who can do that, and that is, in itself, a lifetime’s work.

I’m not trying to dismiss anyone reading this who is yearning to find a person to spend the rest of their life with. There’s nothing wrong with the desire to get married and have children. But don’t rush into something that you’ll regret because you’re afraid of singledom. There are worse things than being alone, as anyone in an unhappy relationship will attest. Be your own best friend. “After years of searching,” Marci Shimoff wrote in Chicken Soup for the Soul, “I have found my soulmate, and it is myself.”

LOUISE SAYS

WATCH: The Princess Switch on Netflix. Set in the fictional land of Belgravia. Unexplained British accents? Check.

Precocious child who knows more than all the adults put together? Check. A twist on The Prince and the Pauper trope, it’s so terrible, it’s genuinely delightful.

READ: This Hostel Life by Melatu Uche Okorie. The slight collection of stories is beautifully written, and gives a devastating insight into the lives of migrant women in direct provision. It is an important book which deserves, no, needs to be widely read.

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