When it comes to seasonal romance, the summer fling has long enjoyed all the attention.
Lately, though, another weather-dependent liaison has quietly gained steam: cuffing season, or the annual dash of singles to “couple up” at the outset of autumn in an effort to stave off loneliness during the cold, dark months ahead.
Folks of a certain age might be unfamiliar with the concept, but for a sizable contingent of singles, it’s become a phenomenon so real that therapists are beginning to see patients harboring cuffing-induced stress, worried they’ll be left sipping pumpkin spice lattes by their lonesome.
“They’re afraid that they’ll become a statistic of cuffing season,” said Chamin Ajjan, a New York-based sex therapist.
Since the term first appeared in the Urban Dictionary in 2011 — defined as the time during the fall and winter months when “people who would normally rather be single or promiscuous find themselves along with the rest of the world desiring to be ‘cuffed’ or tied down by a serious relationship” — it has slowly seeped into the mainstream.
It’s been memorialized in song (in the form of Fabolous’s “Cuffin’ Season”) and shirt (the brand Tees in the Trap offers a “Cuffing Season” sweat shirt) and has spawned no shortage of memes and tweets, with many bemoaning — in wartime platitudes — their quickly dwindling contingent of single friends.
“I lost another best friend today,” read one recent tweet. “Cuffing season is upon us.”
Indeed, as the region begins its annual march toward autumn, there’s ample evidence that the cuffing process is already underway.
Take Daniel Fairclough, a 31-year-old writer from Dorchester, who in the last week alone has watched two friends enter into new relationships.
“I’m always the last man standing,” said Fairclough, who has grown used to becoming a third, fifth, or seventh wheel as the leaves begin to change each fall.
In Somerville, meanwhile, Taylor McPherson has found her phone suddenly aflutter with dating app pings from interested suitors.
“My phone will buzz multiple times a day,” said the 27-year-old copywriter. “Whereas it definitely was not doing that as much during the summer.”
Explanations for the phenomenon run the gamut — from loneliness to boredom to a desire to avoid spending the season watching Netflix alone.
But there’s no denying the data.
According to Jean-Marie McGrath, director of communications for the dating app Hinge, the rate at which phone numbers were exchanged on the app — “a good indicator that people met up for a date” — was higher at the beginning of fall last year than both the start of spring and summer.
“People are much more intentioned to get off the app and out on a date,” she said in an e-mail.
At Bumble, it’s been much of the same, said Priti Joshi, vice president of strategy for the popular dating app. “October, November is when we see a lot more of the interest in dates,” she said. “Which makes sense, right?”
Logically, it certainly seems to. The season, after all, is filled with activities and events often deemed more enjoyable with company. Apple picking. Corn mazes. Football Sundays.
And never underestimate the desire of a would-be single to avoid the prickly questions from family members during the holidays about why, exactly, they haven’t yet found a nice significant other.
Said Ajjan, the therapist: “A ton of it has to do with societal pressures to be in a relationship during the holiday season and just to avoid that awkward experience you have at family gatherings [or] the holiday party.”
But there’s some biological merit, too, to the idea of humans coupling up in the fall.
For one thing, as daylight becomes increasingly scarce, our bodies begin producing more melatonin, which makes us more sleepy or sluggish — inducing a nesting-type response.
Additionally, said Helen Fisher, a senior research fellow at Indiana University’s Kinsey Institute and author of the book “Anatomy of Love,” testosterone in men spikes to its highest levels in October and November.
“That, of course, makes men more eager to settle down,” she said. “Or eager to have a sex partner, anyway.”
Jared Freid, a comedian and cohost of the dating podcast “U Up?,” pointed to a much simpler explanation.
“There’s not as many excuses in the fall,” he said.
During summer months, he argued, single folks find themselves with a bevy of options preferable to a potentially awkward first date — summer vacations, trips to the Cape, weekends spent outdoors with friends.
But the equation begins to change, he said, when those activities dry up, and the idea of a first date starts to sound more appealing than, say, another night at home on the couch.
“So you end up giving something a shot that you might not have given a shot, because meeting up for a drink wasn’t as fun as going to the beach,” he said.
Of course, in New England — where fall’s arrival is usually marked by fits and starts — cuffing season’s official start remains open to some interpretation.
Last month, for example, Marisa Nieves, a 24-year-old from East Boston, felt fall’s arrival and took to Twitter to express her anticipation for the approaching romantic potential: “Today’s weather: cuffing season,” she wrote.
When the next day’s forecast called for temperatures in the high-80s, however, it was enough to temporarily suspend any romantic inklings.
“Tomorrow’s weather,” she added. “Independent woman who doesn’t need a man.”