cuffing season

December is a beautiful month for many reasons. The colourful street lights gradually glisten and activate with festive fervour, accessorizing cities with a bold glowing charm. The frantic family dinners invite wafts of familiar flavours and soft-spoken speeches, charged with acceptance and appreciation. The subtle pitter-patter of rain joins in, hitting your windowsill as you snuggle with a sensational novel. If you're lucky, a sheet of snow will visit you, in all of its fleeting white-blue glory before browning on the streets. Weather patterns aside, December is the hallmark period of gifts: materially, emotionally, and spiritually. More on gift-giving soon!

If you look closely, December has another subtle gift hidden up its proverbial sleeve. Yup, it's the one timeless social phenomenon that dominates the minds and hearts of young people all over: cuffing season. As an Internet-native citizen, I know the thrills and troubles of this winter wonderland too well. The social media deluge of cute couple activity, the dating app swiping mania, the amplified human desire to be held, to be heard, to be wanted... For those who have the fortune of being single in a season that conspires in favour of those already taken, cuffing games can be an uphill undertaking. So let's rewind our time machine to the perils of my own past. To a story that begins with relentless optimism & intense emotion and ends not with closure, but with evolution.

This is a piece about falling in and out of love — with both a person and the idea of a person — and transformational lessons that emerge as an epilogue.

Two Decembers ago, I was fully influenced by the love bug, culminating from a long-played dynamic with this one girl. We'll call her C. After a fated encounter off the coast of a friendly Scandinavian country 9 months prior, I was hooked. Infected with the shapeless narrative of what we could be. In the back of my mind, I knew C and me were both going to end up at the same place after grad. Waiting was frustrating. I'm losing momentum, but I have to be patient. You can see where I was already off to a cold start, violating every cognitive distortion in the book — fortune-telling, catastrophizing, projecting, daydreaming. But that's the power of infatuation speaking, so you can't really blame me there, right?

What you can really blame me for was jumping into the rest of this cuffing season process without an intimate understanding of who I was. The pressure cooker of my undefined needs, wants, and values remained stewing and dormant, trapping my desperately-needed nourishment inside. That's how you go girl-crazy in the “wrong” way. Because then you start sacrificing what you stand for in total service of the other person. Blindly. Worst case, you stop considering and empathizing with their own POV, in the hunt to get cuffed.

I know I'm still speaking in vagaries here, but that vortex of bottled-up feelings is arguably just as important to visualize as the precise interactions that sculpted our relationship. When I was around her I felt like I was snorting adrenaline. Every conversation was electric, every laugh was narcotic, and every touch was hallucinogenic. I pulled out all the stops for our dates, uniquely curated and intimately experiential — everything from DIY succulent terrariums and beer batter cold process soap designs, to aesthetic underground speakeasy bars and pun-perfect holiday care package deliveries.

I'm being extra descriptive on purpose because that's probably how it looked in my mind at the time: romanticizing everything to the max, digging for a feeling. I'm also one of those people who tend to reminisce by associating impactful life periods with songs that happened to be on Spotify repeat at the time. For this specific chapter, Manila Killa's Everyday, Everyday was especially poignant:

"I don't wanna leave, you occupy my mind It's crazier each time I don't wanna be without you How did you know it?"

This started with a seed of hope, germinating into a budding relationship. But when the embers started their last dance around the Christmas fireplace, everything vanished in just a flash. That's rhythmic poetry speak for: to this day I don't really know what happened in those last December days. Where and why did it fall off? What could I have done differently? I was too fearful, too nervous to confront C directly about it — yup, that's entirely on me. The dots connected looking backwards, as they usually do: when the emotions dry and the music stops, there's nothing that can mask complete incompatibility. With the abrupt curtain call, it reoriented my compass to what I needed to do: work on myself.

I learned a lot. Among these truths, a few percolate to the top. As much as I try, I can’t control what I want. Similarly, we can’t force love where there is no love.

A healthy degree of persistence can be empowering, but an unhealthy obsession usually rears its ugly head if you let the idealistic thoughts and shadowy scenarios consume you. I guess I'm making love out to be a scary experience — unnamed monsters lurk at every corner, waiting for you to trip up. Joy and despair coalesce. Your heart feels like it's about to erupt. The thing is, you don't mind. You relish in the intoxicating tenderness. You can't discount the elevated sensations that no other drug on the planet could induce. Leaning into love is a true power play, even if it opens up the flood gates of pains and problems. And that's why the spirit of cuffing season continues to rear its lovey-dovey head!

Cuffing season reverses the power structure from day 1, where you start off on the backfoot — single and searching. Not so fun of a framing, eh? Just like many of my past pieces, I want to reform the narrative that has been artificially conjured for me over the years. I want to propose a new model: a shift from cuffing to caring season. A ceremonious corner of the year that is focused on celebrating and holding space for others, regardless of romantic afflictions. Offer a special quality of attention that only you can give. Care about something or someone, in the truest sense. Show up, show love. It's both the least and most you could do.

Yes, cuffing season is still in full force now. Yes, I'll still continue going on daily dates for the shared experience. Yes, I may still catch myself being sentimental. But by far the biggest win from all of these tender troubles is my stronger ability to be present: accepting where I am, who I am, why I am. What I am now: wistful without wanting. I care about things larger than just any one person or the idea of a person. The sweetest thing is, I do think the experience with C was one of the best things that have happened in my 20s. She'll never know or hear this, and that's completely okay. I'm just happy to have gone for it! :)

This season, I'm leaving you with a reflective question, packed with flavour, flair, and the utmost care:

What was the last thing, activity, person, etc. that you fell in love with?

Published by Sam (samwong) 5 months ago on Wednesday the 8th of December 2021.

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