The pattern has existed for a long time, but only recently did it receive an actual name in social circles.

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New Jersey is smack dab in the middle of "cuffing season," when the desire to be single appears to take a back seat to the need for close companionship. This time of year, usually in the November-to-March range, people seek out a significant other so they don't have to ride out the winter months alone.

"The research suggests that at this time of year, people typically are more likely to forge intimate relationships with others than they are at other times of the year," said Stephen Kilianski, a psychology instructor at Rutgers University.

He wasn't familiar with the "cuffing" terminology until a student brought it to his attention, but says there may be a few scientific reasons as to why the phenomenon exists.

The first is biological. One's quest for a partner this time of year could be meant to combat the lack of warmth and sunlight experienced on a daily basis. Even those who aren't technically hit by Seasonal Affective Disorder can experience a state of dysphoria and fewer feelings of joy.

"One way to elevate mood is to pair bond with somebody else," Kilianski said. "That, of course, increases our sense of self worth and self esteem."

Hormones such as oxytocin are released, he said, in the event of intimate gestures. And that release can help fight off one's negative outlook in the darker, colder months.

Societal norms may also have an influence on one's desire to be "handcuffed" to another human being this time of year.

Kilianski noted romantic relationships are very much encouraged and expected in our society, and the pressure to be part of a couple may be no greater than around the holidays. One may not want to show up at Christmas dinner...single...once again.

"I think that the societal norms really become salient at this time of year and that's when people feel the need to find a significant other," Kilianski said.

Stacey Rose, a psychotherapist at the Rose Relationship Learning Center, said while "cuffing" is a phrase she hasn't heard until recently, the pattern is one she's well familiar with in her field.

"We actually even see more babies being born nine months from now," she said.

But, Rose said, relationships that are created just to battle winter are not very likely to last once the flowers start blooming and birds start chirping.

"If there's some substance to the relationship and the winter months just happen to bring two people together, obviously then they have a better chance of sustaining their relationship over time," she said. "I encourage people who are single, who are looking for a relationship, to really look for what their values are, so it's not just coming from a place of loneliness."

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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