This article originally appeared on VICE UK. Listen, we fucked up. We guided you gently through cuffing season—like your first boyfriend gingerly taking your hand and placing it on his crotch—but we got it wrong. We, like everyone else who has written about cuffing season, thought it went from late September and October to "spring." In fact, it comes in two parts (stick with us).
When the gentle, even wistful autumnal vibe gives way to the primal and desperate urges of January; when your vibrator churns out a low death rattle before finally quitting of exhaustion; when you find yourself not even craving sex anymore, just someone to breathe near you until you remember how to be a person, cuffing season is over. Clearing season has begun.
Clearing season is a system used by modern humans as a last ditch attempt to fill time before the start of the summer. When those single people who—whether by circumstance or choice—did not successfully cuff before the end of the year begin to twitch. There’s only so much time you can spend alone before you deaden all your nerve endings and start looking at anyone who performs a basic act of kindness with fresh eyes. "How was your weekend?" someone who's worked in your office for years asks, and you think: Maybe… I like… them??
While cuffing season is vague, impulsive, and exciting—driven by the spiritual and elemental—clearing season is definitive, urgent, and dark. It’s DM or die. Plough or perish. Grab someone from the universe and start layering lasagna with them immediately, or spend January through March on (alleged) self-imposed abstinence watching many, many documentaries about serial killers.
The Post-Christmas Drive
You’re doing dry January and Veganuary and Gratituduary, or whatever the fuck else, to feel useful. You’ve given up literally everything that gives you joy and you've taken up other activities, like "running," or watching the IMDB Top 250 because it’s a fun, cultural thing to do. But before you reach The Green Mile, you realize the "fun" has gone. And if you make it to Das Boot, something primal skewers you in the gut.
Staying in and staring at a laptop shifts from being the very essence of coziness to hurling you into an existential hole. One minute you’re in a warm meditative state; the next, you're trying to remember if you ever saw your dad kiss your mom, or distilling your past relationships down to real feeling and ranking them, or maybe asking yourself that eternal question: Will I ever love again? Will I though?
The most sexually experienced breeze through Sept-Dec evading what they thought was cuffing season, only to come face to face with clearing season, which in turn feels a lot like facing their very humanity. Natalie from your WhatsApp group has gone from the one most likely to say "finger me there" to the one most likely to plead "can you stroke my hair?"
Unlike cuffing season—or life generally—clearing season rarely involves necking the best of a bottle of Southern Comfort, waking up the next day in a friend-of-a-friend’s bed, maybe with cum in your hair, and then spending the next eight to 12 weeks in a pseudo-relationship built exclusively on wholesome memes and butt stuff. January is a dark month. Everyone who can has fucked off to Melbourne for an extra long Christmas break; everyone else is too busy lying to themselves to go out drinking or socializing.
So don't expect to find any potential clearing partners until about the third week of January, when millions of pairs of adidas Boosts have been retired for yet another year.
There’s something a little fresh about September to November hook-ups. There’s a Love Actually synchronicity to the December hook-up. But unless you’ve met a new person full of hope and promise, there’s something inherently cynical about the clearing season hook-up. If it’s an ex, someone you’ve flirted with for ages or a previous hook-up, therein lies a very likely problem: a lack of honest passion. You both know the proper and righteous thing would have been to have sex in time for Christmas, but someone couldn’t be bothered.
Your pairing almost certainly fits one of these two classifications: 1. One person knows or suspects it’s clearing and the other has secretly been waiting for this moment for three years. 2. Both of you know deep down it’s a load of shit.
If you're having trouble deciding, never fear: Saint Valentine will coax out the truth. Nothing brings clarity to your intentions like a day dedicated to contemplating the feelings you supposedly have for the person you’re dating.
The main driving factor in all of this is, of course, free time—fucking loads of it. There are plenty of afternoons from January through March to eat lukewarm soup at your desk, browse weekend hotel breaks that "actually wouldn’t be too much if there were two of you," and contemplate everyone you blew off over the last six months. You think you want it, the relationship, but you don’t really, you fickle little prick; all you'll end up doing is shacking up, feeling instantly trapped, leveraging a minor political disagreement as a reason to break it off, and then getting a full STI check-in time for summer.
There is something Biblical about all of this, almost. Lent begins in February and concludes at the end of March, with Easter soon to follow. Historically, it is the season of declining anything that may bring you a hint of pleasure, whether it be unsaturated fats or fucking anything that moves.
As Christians are freed from their period of abstinence to go absolutely buck wild on a short stack, we too are released from our impulse to cling for dear life to the closest available person, and freed to go buck wild between the legs of others. It’s ingrained in us. It's a part of our vile DNA. It's a part of the wider movements of Earth.
From badlands to holy ground, with God’s help you will be free from the shackles of a convenience relationship once again. That is, until the following September and every September after that, until you find someone decent or grow up or die. Follow Hannah Ewens and Emma Garland on Twitter.