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'Tis the Cuffing Season

Dr. Chris and Alisa Grace pose for the cover of The Art of Relationships Podcast.

Are you settling for someone just to avoid loneliness? It's cuffing season, and sometimes that means feeling desperate for any human connection. In today's podcast, Dr. Chris and Alisa Grace discuss loneliness, finding friendship, and developing deeper emotional connections.

Mandy: Welcome to another Art of Relationships podcast. We are grateful for listeners like you. Let's get right into it.

Alisa Grace: Hey, everyone. We are so excited to be back with you here on our podcast. Mandy, thanks for that great introduction. We always love hearing her beautiful Scottish accent, really beautiful. But anyway, we have a really great show plan for you today. And Chris, we have a topic that we are going to address. It's kind of a new phrase in dating called cuffing, the cuffing season. So, [inaudible]. Let's unpack that a little bit and let's talk about some pros and cons.

And what I mean by the cuffing season is that now that the cold season is starting to come... Well, unless you live in Southern California where it's 90 degrees today still in October. But the cold season is starting to come. Everybody's coupling up. And so, cuffing season happens in the winter where you are willing to settle for a new boyfriend or girlfriend that maybe is way below your standards, but you just want someone to couple up with to get you through those long lonely winters.

Chris Grace: Yeah. And this isn't new. I mean, this is part of human behavior from the very beginning. We just come up with new words for it, and cultures change. But every... I think you can look back 50, 100, 200, even a thousand years ago, and people want to be around other people. They don't want to be lonely, and loneliness is hard. We don't want to be alone. And we want to connect with somebody. And I think what, I guess, kids, I don't know, young people are calling cuffing or whatever the season is, it's just part of human nature and human desire to want to be part of somebody to be connected.

Alisa Grace: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chris Grace: And I think that's deeply built into us. I think God created us this way. I think there's even biological reasons. When we start to feel maybe a little bit more isolated or lonely, some people talk about things like serotonin dropping and that, "Oh, we need to start to feel better. And by being around other people [crosstalk]."

Alisa Grace: Because we have less sunlight. It's colder in the winter.

Chris Grace: Sure.

Alisa Grace: And so, those hormone levels change.

Chris Grace: Yeah. And I think what ends up happening too is we start to find... Holidays start to come into play and breaks, where nobody wants to be alone. I remember, Alisa, man, having to be alone on Christmas or Christmas Eve. I used to work in graduate school as a security guard trying to get through a degree program. And it was... I had to be there on all major holidays. And it was lonely and hard and I'd be like, "Oh my gosh, everybody's out celebrating or with family." And here I am guarding a plant full of water picks and shower massages from nobody. Nobody wanted to break in and steal a water pick. Why would you break in one? I mean, it's like a water toothbrush.

Alisa Grace: I'm going to give me a new toothbrush.

Chris Grace: Or a shower massage. Who cares?

Alisa Grace: Okay. I might go for the shower massage.

Chris Grace: Yeah. But I guarded this entire warehouse on these vacation days that I wanted to be with people. So the desire and the want is pretty strong. That social aspect is strong, not just the biological, right?

Alisa Grace: Yeah. You also get the plus one pressure because you have holiday parties, you have Halloween parties, you have Christmas, you want somebody to take home for Christmas, you have, like you said, New Year's, you have Valentine's in February. And there's that social pressure of, "Hey, you're invited to a party," and it says at least a plus one.

Chris Grace: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Alisa Grace: So you have that pressure of, "Oh, I've got to find somebody. I've got to have somebody. I've got to be with somebody."

Chris Grace: Yeah. And so, a lot of people will write about this and talking about what does it do. All right, well, it is definitely a reaction to being alone. It's a reaction to loneliness. And you kind of go with this person and they're like, well, they're just comfortable and... Right?

Alisa Grace: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chris Grace: And soothing. And they're like, I just need somebody. They maybe below my standards or maybe somebody I wouldn't date, but there's not much else around.

Alisa Grace: Yeah. I think what we're saying is that it's probably... It's born out of a legitimate need to feel connected to...

Chris Grace: That's right.

Alisa Grace: ... other people.

Chris Grace: Yeah.

Alisa Grace: To feel connected to someone else. So a lot of times we interpret that need in terms of a romantic bent or romantic interest.

Chris Grace: Yeah. And so, what's wrong with that? Well, nothing really. You're following a natural inclination, desire, and whether it's social or whether it's biological or whether it's emotional or based upon...

Alisa Grace: Isn't it just casual dating?

Chris Grace: Yeah. And in fact, really what it is is taking something in and kind of turning a friendship into something more, let's say. Or even, maybe not even have a friendship with the person here. You're just wanting...

Alisa Grace: It's just the more.

Chris Grace: It's just the more, yeah. Now, I think anytime we start talking about emotional connections with people, Alisa, I think that is where the rub comes in.

Alisa Grace: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chris Grace: If it was just that, and everybody... Now, it's February or March, and we're all out of those seasons and we're back and you can say, "Okay, that was fun. Thanks." [inaudible], "Yeah, that was fun." That would be great. But the danger is emotional connections can happen with the wrong person, and doesn't... Even you can be at the wrong person, have an emotional connection.

In fact, one of the quickest ways to become emotionally connected to somebody is have sex with them. Having sex with somebody does something very powerful. We all think, "Oh, there are a lot of ways you can have sex. And there's nothing wrong with it. It's just a physical act and then you can separate from that person." Well, that's not the way sex works. Sex is a very bonding experience that was designed in our beliefs by God to connect two people in marriage to create oneness. And it's not just physical oneness, it's emotional oneness.

Alisa Grace: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chris Grace: Well, being close to somebody, even if it's just in a cuffing season, and somebody maybe... But there's some sort of maybe even physical involvement, hugging, kissing, whatever, leads to deeper emotional connections. And man, that's dangerous.

Alisa Grace: Especially if it's one sided.

Chris Grace: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Alisa Grace: I mean, you go into it thinking that it's nothing, that this is just going to be short term. But what you do if one of you starts to develop feelings and the other one doesn't? Then, you've really opened yourself up to some heartache.

Chris Grace: Yeah. What if this other person doesn't think that you're a step down? The other person thinks you're a step up and they start to really like you, like you said. Well, all of a sudden now, they're developing strong emotional feelings. And now, you got a problem on your hand because you are, in a sense, using another person, aren't you?

Alisa Grace: Exactly. Well, you're getting together physically. I would venture [inaudible] in most of American culture where there's the cuffing season is that it's going to result in sexual activity. And that unfortunate bonding in that way outside of the commitment. And what's too bad is that you have that physical bonding, but you don't have the emotional connection that really you're ultimately longing for deep down.

But you're missing that because you're holding back. You know that it's going to end at some point. And so, you protect your heart, you protect yourself, and you don't let people in to those deeper emotionally intimate places because you know it's going to end. They're not going to be there. The agreement is, "Hey, this is one and done in terms of the season. Come March, I know you're out of here. And so, I'm going to protect my heart."

Chris Grace: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. And that, Alisa, is where, in a sense...

Alisa Grace: That's the rub.

Chris Grace: Yeah, the rub. The emotional manipulation that you may be doing, not purposely, but unconsciously, as you are opening doors to a bond that you're going... It's going to affect you quite possibly for the rest of your life. That is these things go deep, right?

Alisa Grace: Yeah.

Chris Grace: First of all, it's legitimate. We all have that need to connect to somebody. But you're doing it outside of a committed relationship. And by committed, I mean you're either engaged or married. And when we step outside of those bounds and those boundaries, what happens is we risk becoming emotionally connected to somebody who we are not compatible with, who we'll never be with, and we shouldn't be with.

Alisa Grace: Exactly, exactly. So as Christians, what do you feel like if this is a legitimate need...

Chris Grace: It is.

Alisa Grace: ... but we're looking to meet that legitimate need in an illegitimate way? As believers, how do we respond to that? What's the answer then? How do we connect in the short term? Is it okay to think of it just in the short term?

Chris Grace: Well, okay. We are wired biblically to connect. And it's clear, right? I mean, from the very first statement about humans, it wasn't something... Alisa, you've talked about this before. It wasn't that God said sin is bad. That wasn't the first thing he said was not good.

Alisa Grace: That eating the apple wasn't the first problem.

Chris Grace: Yeah, it wasn't the first problem. The first problem of... Well, if you call it a problem, we would say, what wasn't good? In God's creation, all was good, except for one thing. It was not good for man to be alone.

Alisa Grace: Alone.

Chris Grace: For a woman to be alone. And so, that's why he created us, male and female. He took the rib out of the man, created it. So it's not good. So we are wired for this deep need of connection. God made it that way.

Alisa Grace: Mm-hmm (affirmative). But is the romantic relationship the only way to meet that need?

Chris Grace: Right.

Alisa Grace: I think we would both agree that no.

Chris Grace: It's not.

Alisa Grace: It's not.

Chris Grace: That's right. And we could spend a whole lot of time on that need being fulfilled in deep friendships. In fact, a lot of people would say it's best fulfilled in a deep intimate friendship that need, as much as it is in a sexual relationship in marriage. So you can meet that need even as a single person. You can feel deeply connected and meet those deep needs with somebody else that's just a friend in an intimate nonphysical relationship, so.

But the second thing is, Alisa, not only are we wired for this, but we're also, I think, biblically we're called to treat other people. And you've talked about a lot on Philippians 2:3-4, do nothing out of selfishness or empty conceit. But with humility, let us consider each one is more important than ourselves, right?

Alisa Grace: Yeah.

Chris Grace: And that...

Alisa Grace: I love that word, that idea of biblical humility, this whole Philippians 2:3-4 is the exact opposite of what, in my perspective, cuffing season means, where you're just cuffing and connecting with somebody short term to make you feel good.

Chris Grace: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Alisa Grace: Your interest is not in helping grow them as a person and meeting their needs in sacrificial love that we're called to do in friendship and in our romantic relationships and in marriage, right? We're not doing that. Cuffing is automatically just assuming I'm just here because I'm lonely, because I want somebody, and I want my needs met.

Chris Grace: Yeah.

Alisa Grace: Which is the exact opposite of Philippians 2:3-4. So there's this great story of... Well, when you look at biblical humility... I love this term because it's the idea of putting someone else first and of being able to say no to yourself of... It's the opposite of insisting on your own way your own needs. And it's being able to say, "No, beloved, you first. You first."

And it makes me think of this time whenever... You and I were married, and we went to a conference. You had a conference in Philadelphia. And so, I went with Chris to this conference. And while he was doing his business things and going to the different seminars, I went ahead and just took some of those little tours of Philadelphia through the historic sites because I love history. It's just one of my thing. I love history.

And so, I'm going and I'm seeing Betsy Ross' house. I'm looking at all these old places. And we actually went to Independence Hall where there's the Liberty Bell. And the people who work there, they're called docents, and they dress in that colonial dress. You know what I mean? They have the white-powdered wigs and the vest and the short breeches and the black shiny shoes with the yellow buckle on it.

And this docent was standing there. This man was dressed like this and he looked so regal and so fine. He was standing very tall against the wall with his hands behind his back and just very regal. And so, I went up to him and I said, "Excuse me, sir. Do you mind? Can I take your picture?" And he just kind of smiled at me and he looked at me and he says, "So this would make you happy?"

And I said, "Oh yes, this would make me very happy." And he just bowed very slightly, smiling and said, "Then, it is what I live for." And I was like, "Oh my gosh. That was awesome. Oh my gosh. Can I just invite my husband in here? And can you tell him what you just said?" And he just kind of chuckled and smiled, and he says, "That is what all the ladies say." And I just thought that was awesome. That was awesome.

Chris Grace: And I just thought that was stupid, man. I mean, he ruined it for everybody.

Alisa Grace: No way. It was great.

Chris Grace: [inaudible] your story's awesome. But his behavior is like, "Oh my gosh, it's hard to live up to that. This is what I live for."

Alisa Grace: He's setting the high bar. But that is the perfect example of biblical humility. Isn't it to be able to say, "No, beloved, you first."

Chris Grace: Yeah.

Alisa Grace: That is what... "This would make you happy? Then, it's what I live for," which is exactly opposite of what the cuffing season seems to represent.

Chris Grace: Yeah. And by opposite, it means... It reminds me of this girl that... When I went to college, I think we were in the dorms of my second year. She lived right across the hall. Yeah, [inaudible] roommate. But she really manipulated this in a very interesting way. I saw three to four of my friends that lived on the same floor, get to know her. They would go over there and she would listen to them and talk with them and touch them. And she was very touchy-feely and even hug them.

One time I walked in and my suitemate was lying there. They were both just on the bed. They were friends, fully clothed, but just kind of together, just like... And I remember thinking, "Are you guys... What's up, man? Are you dating?" And he's like, "No, she's just a friend." [inaudible]. "Oh no, she's fun to lay there and talk. And she's really good to talk to. And she's [inaudible] touchy and we just hug and all that." Okay, that's a little bit weird.

And then, the next guy. Like an hour or two later, here comes another guy. And then, the next day here's another guy. I'm like, "Are you... What is this girl doing?"

Alisa Grace: It's a form of friendship with benefits.

Chris Grace: Yeah.

Alisa Grace: Just maybe different benefits.

Chris Grace: Yeah. And so, I do think she could have probably listened to this podcast and gotten some ideas that, "Hold on, what I'm doing is I'm manipulating, using something, this physical touch, emotional connection. And I'm creating these strong bonds with these guys," who by the way, I mean, they would show up, they would want to be there. And in fact, some of them wanted to date her and she's like, "No, no, this is just... Whatever."

I'm like, "Okay. I don't know." That just seemed odd to me. Because I felt like what she was doing wasn't fair or wasn't playing by the rules. It was beginning to [inaudible]. And as a new Christian at the time I saw that this doesn't seem to be the way you should do this. And so, I guess, Alisa, there's some alternatives. If you find yourself there needing that kind of connection with another people, there are some other ways of doing this rather than cuffing. What do you think?

Alisa Grace: Yeah, I think so. And you mentioned just earlier, you talked about pouring yourself into your friendships and really concentrate on going deeper in your friendships. If you're really missing that intimacy, that intimate connection with somebody on emotional level, then a great place is to pour into your girl friends, your guy friends, whether it's a same sex friendship, opposite sex friendship, your family maybe. A great time to pour into there to get those emotional needs met.

Chris Grace: Yeah. And you do it in a way that still respects boundaries and doesn't take advantage of this whole idea of, "Oh, I don't know. We feel close and so therefore we can hug. And therefore, it could lead to even more." Instead, I think you still have to maintain those boundaries, and you set them. I mean, a physical and emotional boundary, it basically means really in this there's should be little to no physical conduct.

Alisa Grace: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chris Grace: It's this idea of you kind of take it nice and slow and hold that line. Otherwise, I think you risk that sense of what we are designed and created to do through the touch. By the way, of all the sensations and of all of the senses that we have, taste, smell, hearing, vision, touch, touch is by far the most intimate.

Alisa Grace: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chris Grace: And it's the one that is really the hardest. We have a lot of rules around it. Like who we can touch, how often we can touch, when and where, and who we allow to touch. And so, a lot of those rules about touching are because it's so powerful. It releases chemicals in us when we touched somebody else's hand. I remember the first time, Alisa, you and I held hands...

Alisa Grace: Ooh.

Chris Grace: ... and what that feeling was like. And I still remember that I wasn't holding your hand and you went and asked your mom what you should do. And she told you, "You should go hold his hand." And so, I remember the very first time we held hand is because your mom told you to grab my hand because he's too slow. You remember that?

Alisa Grace: Yeah.

Chris Grace: Good Lord.

Alisa Grace: We would come in from being together. My mom would be like, "Well, did he hold your hand?" And I was like, "No, mom, he didn't." And she's like, "Well, you just go ahead and hold his hand." That was so... It's like, "No, mom, there's no way. I can't do that. That's too embarrassing. I was not going to make the first move."

Chris Grace: Yeah. But you eventually... We kind of...

Alisa Grace: I kind of did. You said something witty or funny. And so I took the opportunity and just kind of haha, haha, slid my arm through yours and grabbed your hand and you didn't let go.

Chris Grace: No, I didn't [crosstalk].

Alisa Grace: You didn't pull away.

Chris Grace: No. And it's because I had known and we'd known each other for a while and we're talking. But there was a clear boundary I was going to hold and I was going to not have. But holding hands was okay in situations like that.

Alisa Grace: Well, we had really worked to establish our friendship first.

Chris Grace: That's right.

Alisa Grace: And really, that was going to be another point that I was going to make is that, if you focus on building a real platonic friendship first with a person, instead of starting with a romantic focus, then that relationship might actually end up being much more meaningful and much more satisfying ultimately in the long run.

Chris Grace: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Alisa Grace: Don't you think?

Chris Grace: I do. I think it is more satisfying, I think, because what you're doing is... It is one of these, I guess you call it a discipline, right? It's a way in which we can give... I remember purposely saying, "Lord, I want this to be a good friendship. I want to establish a friendship first." And I know that I can microwave this and fast forward this as I had in past by touching, by holding, by allowing somebody in more, and that creates a stronger emotional bond. And it just never worked out very well for me.

And I remember saying, "Lord, I think what you're calling me to do is establish a friendship first. Not to microwave this with this cuffing, holding and being careful. And so, I think, for us, at least, what happened is it established a very strong friendship first in which we gave that. And in fact, I remember telling you. Do you remember? We were sitting outside one day and I said this to you. I said, "Alisa..." Because we've been friends and dating, and started to date and be that special person with each other. And I said, "Alisa, you're probably wondering why I haven't kissed you yet."

Alisa Grace: Oh my gosh, yeah. And I'm like, yeah. Me and my mom and my sister and my best friend and the lady down the street. We're all wondering.

Chris Grace: Why haven't you kiss [crosstalk]?

Alisa Grace: What is going on here?

Chris Grace: Yeah. And I said... Yeah, I knew you would be. And I said, "Here's the thing." And I just told you I felt like there were standards that I felt like I needed to uphold that I hadn't done well in the past. And that kissing and holding and touching led to deeper connections and led hearts to go to places that I didn't want them to go to. I didn't realize that there was such power in that. But I had learned from my mistakes and I wanted this relationship to be based on something other than that.

Alisa Grace: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chris Grace: And so, we didn't kiss until we got engaged. Now, that was our story. Not everybody out there is going to be able to do that or want to do that. And that's fine. It was just for me. And Alisa, I know for you too, you appreciated that standard.

Alisa Grace: Oh yeah. Gosh, it made me feel very protected by you. And it made me feel very special to you because you were willing to put things aside that could possibly pose any danger to ruin our relationship. And so, I really felt like you were willing to sacrifice and put those desires on hold in order to protect our relationship. Because it made me feel like I was so precious to you. You did not want to mess it up.

Chris Grace: Yeah.

Alisa Grace: And that was really, really special.

Chris Grace: Yeah. No, I didn't want to mess it up. And I still can't believe that your neighbor really knew and asked and care like, "Who are you talking to? My goodness, the neighbor wants to know if I've kissed you?"

Alisa Grace: Remember the little boy that lived across the street, Peter? And we'd get going in and out of the car, and he'd be like, "Alisa and Chris sitting in the trees." Oh my gosh, no way.

Chris Grace: Yeah. "Have he kissed you yet?" "No. Shut up, Peter. You're only like 10 years old. What do you know about kissing?" No, that was funny. But anyway, I think if you get into a relationship, here's the bottom line, [inaudible] what would you recommend. If you're in this relationship, you really have to commit to these standards.

Alisa Grace: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chris Grace: If you're going to spend that know that hearts are easily connected...

Alisa Grace: And easily broken.

Chris Grace: ... and easily broken.

Alisa Grace: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And I think you really have to be honest with yourself.

Chris Grace: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Alisa Grace: I think you have to be really transparent with yourself. And if you are not able or willing to approach it from that biblical perspective of honoring the other person, that biblical love, respect, kindness, faithfulness. If you're not willing to do that, then you have to really understand that you're venturing into territory of using someone for selfish gain. And that is not okay. Even if they are willing to be used, it is not okay. And as Christians, we are called to more than that.

Chris Grace: Yeah, we really are. And you're heading into dangerous territory of not just using somebody, but also letting your heart get away from you in a way that all of a sudden now you become blinded to the differences that you really do have with this person that maybe isn't [inaudible]. Because you're not compatible. You're not... You don't agree on major issues. You just are interested [inaudible] connecting. And now, all of a sudden, you can feel an emotional bond to somebody that...

By the way, after you... Let's say, maybe you believe that and you carry that all the way through to marriage. Pretty soon, that's going to wear off that physical massive need for emotional bonding and connection. And all of a sudden, you wake up one day and you realize, "Wait a minute, I don't even like this person. We don't have any interest in common. We just got married because it felt good. And I thought we just took this and it would last forever." Well, guess what, finally, the passion, when it fades, you have to have a companionship and a friendship. And if that's not there, man, that passion's not going to keep that marriage going.

Alisa Grace: Yeah. And there's got to be that maturity too for that sense of delayed gratification of that really deep intimate relationship.

Chris Grace: Yeah.

Alisa Grace: And being willing to instead of just get through the season in a different way in order to preserve your testimony, in order to preserve your heart for the person and people that God has brought into your life.

Chris Grace: No, I think that's great, [inaudible]. Well, what a great topic. And it's been fun to talk about these kinds of things with you. I look forward to the next thing that we do.

Alisa Grace: Yeah, me too. And we just want to remind our listeners too, that if you are in a relationship and you feel like you're just stuck, or maybe have questions about a relationship that you're in or that you want to be in, we actually have free relationship advice hours that you can call. You can do it by Zoom. If you're in the Southern California area, you can come by and make an appointment in our office. But we have trained individuals, marriage and family therapist, spiritual director, and then Chris and myself to help answer those questions one-on-one, in a phone call, by Zoom, or in person. So just go to our website at, and look for those free relationship advice appointments. We'd love to talk with you.

Chris Grace: Yeah. And if you'd like this podcast, man, just click the like button and the thumbs up, the...

Alisa Grace: Give us five stars.

Chris Grace: ... [crosstalk] stars, five... Whatever it is. And tell people about it.

Alisa Grace: Yeah, baby.

Chris Grace: All right. Good talking with you.

Alisa Grace: Bye.

Chris Grace: Bye.

Mandy: Thanks for listening to the Art of Relationships. This podcast has only made possible through generous donations from listeners, just like you. If you like it and want to help keep the podcast going, visit our website at and make a donation today.