Perhaps you have felt the chill in the air, hot girl summer abandoned for the warmth of relationship goals. As fall sets in, so do the soft launches and couples’ challenges. Cuffing season has begun.
The meme of its sports-like schedule has had iterations as early as 2012, and the timeline is always roughly the same:
Football and basketball have nothing on the extreme sport of dating. This cuffing season, BuzzFeed News is following four twentysomethings on their dating journeys, breaking down their season plays, and hearing from them directly about their road to the championships. Every month we’ll be checking with them to get a sense of what dating today truly looks like.
Which players will be in committed relationships by Valentine’s Day, crowning them champions of the annual cuffing season playoffs?
Data provided by Google shows that interest in online dating was surging as early as summer this year. Searches like “good openers for dating apps” increased 800% from the beginning of 2022 to the first week of August. A representative for Bumble told BuzzFeed News that last year October to early November was the app’s busiest time for messaging. A representative for Hinge said that they “receive the most downloads during October each fall.” Searches for “online dating applications” hit a peak in July, the start of this year’s scouting season.
So what makes a successful season, if the goal is to be cuffed? Laurel House, a relationship and dating coach at eHarmony, told BuzzFeed News that she thinks it’s dedicated time to figure out what you want. “Cuffing season has a predetermined expiration date,” she said.
The key, House said, is a principle of communication, clarity, and confidence — the three C’s.
“You can find true love during cuffing season,” House said. “But you need to define whether you’re dating ‘for now’ versus ‘forever.’”
Nick Rosenthal, New York City, 23
Aim: Date someone who has a secure attachment style.
Creator Nick Rosenthal regularly shares funny and often unfortunate dating stories to over 565,000 followers on TikTok. But this cuffing season, he told BuzzFeed News he’s starting from scratch.
“I feel like I’ve played the field long enough,” he said. “My desire to use dating apps has decreased. I’m kind of stepping back from that, just because it doesn’t necessarily bring me joy to have meaningless sex with someone who doesn’t care whether I live or die.”
Rosenthal said he’s waiting for a potential match who fulfills his criteria of ambition, banter, and attraction, but he’s begun opening himself up to the possibility of something new. This scouting season has brought in zero official dates, but it’s still early, and Rosenthal is optimizing his chances for the championships by attending plenty of parties and staying open to the process. “I think there needs to be a medium of putting yourself out there, and scheduling and making sure something happens,” he said. “But also not trying so hard, and allowing yourself to just be open to whatever comes your way.”
Polyamory has become more frequent on dating apps — but it’s just not what Rosenthal said he’s looking for. “I’ve met a lot of really great people who are in relationships and it’s great, but unfortunately they’re already with somebody else,” he said. “Especially on Grindr, everyone has a boyfriend, and I’m like, ‘It’s not fair! Like, can you stop being greedy? And like, share a little bit?’”
Analysis: This is a player experienced with first dates but not relationships. Still, he’s bringing enthusiasm, humor, and a mythos of oral sex skills to the table. Rosenthal’s renewed energy and reflection has shown a desire to share scoring responsibilities. No matter what happens throughout the season, he’ll remain a fan favorite.
Atharva, Seattle, 24
Aim: Redecorate a bathroom with someone.
This Pacific Northwest–based player has had a blowout start to cuffing season. He lined up two dates online, and had one house party meet-cute, which developed into further dates. As tryout season began, he told BuzzFeed News he’s still putting himself out there, just one suitor at a time.
“I’m the type of person where I don’t want to be talking to, like, 500 people at once,” he said. “I feel like if you talk to a lot of people at a time, you can be easily overwhelmed, and you can’t give anybody the chance that they need.”
Preparation has also been an event. With the help of three friends, Atharva said he planned an entire day’s photo shoot for him to revamp his dating profile. “We got brunch, and after, we went and walked around a bookstore I like, taking candid shots and finding funny book titles to take photos with,” he said. “My friends helped me come up with good angles, and good lighting, all that stuff. A lot of times I’m kind of uncomfortable in front of the camera for too long, but because I was with friends, we made it a fun day.”
The influx of social media content he sees from friends and influencers on his feeds has been another factor in his season. “I’ll see couples going on double-date trips and wearing matching shirts, or decorating their bathroom together,” he said. “And you’re like, Oh, I would love to decorate my bathroom or something, but I can’t.”
Analysis: Atharva is a player that knows how to both handle and share the ball. He’s aiming for an official relationship by the championships, but isn’t losing sight of his priorities — he wants someone who shares common ground and goals with him. And with a perfect setup for the season, what’s not to love?
Nikki, New York City, 25
Aim: Be cuffed by next winter.
Another New York–based player with one clear goal: Don’t be single next winter. With a drive to achieve said objective, she told BuzzFeed News that stating that intention has been the most effective hook for conversation on her dating profile.
“People would message asking, like, ‘Why can’t you be single next winter?’” she said. “And I was like, ‘I don’t know, why do you think?’ It’s cold, it’s miserable.”
Scouting season has been a bit frazzled for Nikki, who said she got overwhelmed by her own account and instead made a joint one with a fellow single friend for a minute. She’s been on and off Hinge for a few years, but doesn’t like having to figure out people’s intentions all the time. “I’ll get frustrated and just delete it for like four months at a time,” she said.
One weakness for Nikki has been the consistency. “[My friends are I are] trying to rewire our brains to just have more fun with it,” she said. “Whether that’s making sure we’re going out to more things to meet people organically, or just putting in a little bit more effort each day — however annoying coordinating things are to actually set up dates every now and then.”
The pandemic was the catalyst to her desire to date again. “I definitely felt a lot more closed off,” she said. “And I saw friends around me that seemed like they were maybe not as lonely or just seemed a lot happier with their situation. I looked at them and was like, I would like to have that.”
Analysis: Nikki has a clear vision for what she wants this season to look like. She’s a confident shooter, but the only aspect to watch will be her commitment to shooting throughout the season.
Michelle, Washington, DC, 25
Aim: Share fun stories with friends.
After a soft-fade situationship (where the two dated sans labels before beginning to communicate less frequently until it “faded out” completely) that ended in August, DC-based player Michelle is picking herself back up and taking the lessons with her.
“I’m not entertaining ambiguity anymore,” she told BuzzFeed News.
The stats don’t lie — Michelle’s scouting season featured eight first dates. But after a coffee shop date that ended in Michelle being quizzed about her ethnic heritage, she knows they haven’t all been perfect scores. “It would be nice to have someone to cuddle with and hold my hand,” she said. “Realistically, it would be interesting to see if someone from the fall makes it to post-spring. That’s my benchmark.”
Individually, Michelle is a player with focus and a strong sense of self when it comes to looking ahead. Making it to the championships isn’t even necessarily the goal for her. “Being single is so empowering,” she said. “I finally have healthy standards, and I’m not going to lower them to be with just anyone.”
This is another player with a strong support team. As part of her preparation, Michelle said she’s had her friends who work in marketing take a look at her dating profile from a professional standpoint. Moreover, she’s described most of her friends as being in relationships, and the regular parties they throw have opened possibilities for new prospects this season.
Currently, she’s looking at two serious matches who have made it to second and third dates. But she’s continuing to keep an eye on the field as “it’s still early on.”
Analysis: Michelle’s self-described strengths include upfront communication and a sense of adventure. Perhaps it might seem a risky choice in the short term, but she’s a player who understands the fundamentals and brings both confidence and consistent development.
We’ll be checking in with our athletes as the season progresses, until the championships on February 14, providing individual player analysis and post-game conferences. ●