This piece originally appeared on VICE Netherlands.
Ask VICE is a series where readers ask VICE to solve their problems, from dealing with unrequited love to handling annoying flatmates. Today we’re trying to help a reader who has found himself trapped in a romantic cycle ruled by the seasons.
I’m in a new relationship and things are going well. We went on a date and and a week later, we made it official. In fact, we’ve barely spent a day apart since. We talk about the dogs we want, and we’ve even made plans to spend the holidays together in a cabin in the woods: good food, long walks, and films in front of a log fire. That sort of thing.
Sounds great, right? Except this is exactly what happens to me every winter. As soon as the weather warms up and the sun starts to come out, I end the relationship. It’s actually becoming a recurring joke for my friends. The temperature drops and I disappear from the social circuit and nestle down with a new lover. Nearly every spring, I decide that I’m simply not made to be tied down. Until it gets colder again, and this whole song and dance starts all over.
I’ve begun wondering how long this cycle will go on for. I really do like the person I’m currently seeing, so I’m already dreading the sense of restlessness that will inevitably creep in early next year. We’ve begun thinking about booking a road trip round the US next summer and because of the way things usually work out, I’m not sure if I can or should look forward to that trip. How do I stop looking for someone else as soon as it’s spring? Is this an issue? Or is this just a part of my personality?
Bye now, O.
Hi there, O.,
What you’re describing is cuffing season. It has you yearning for someone to warm up with during the darkest days of the year – even if you only stay together just a few months.
It might be pretty commonplace these days but it is still worth thinking about how healthy your approach to relationships is. You’re not the only person in the partnership and your actions have consequences for others.
Relationship counsellor Kim Kromwijk-Lub, based in the Dutch town of Enkhuizen, says that your issue is one she comes across frequently at her practice Relatiepraktijk de Kim. “The seasons do things to our body and our moods,” she explains. “It is important to investigate those things.”
The fact that winter evidently has an emotional effect on you, and by extension impacts your relationships, isn’t so strange. Rates vary from country to country across Europe, but many people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). In fact, research has found that between two to eight percent of all Europeans have experienced SAD at some point. Unsurprisingly, the heavy feelings that come with it – SAD is a major depressive disorder – can make romantic relationships difficult.
That’s not to say you suffer from SAD, per se. Kromwijk-Lub suggests that spending more time at home during winter might give you time to sit with feelings of emptiness when you take stock of your life. You might then, understandably, look for someone to help fill that gap. You need someone to feel good around; someone to distract you from yourself.
“In summer it’s not so much of an issue because you’re surrounded by the people who serve as a distraction,” she says. “When winter comes around, we see two different trends: long relationships get challenged and single people start looking for a partner who can distract them and keep them warm.”
Kromwijk-Lub floated another, slightly more serious possibility: You might not actually know how a healthy relationship functions and that results in an inability to sustain one. She suggests asking yourself a few questions. What are you looking for in a relationship? What do you long for? How do you define affection and intimacy? And do you feel like you belong, or do you often feel lonely?
As cliché as it sounds, Kromwijk-Lub always asks people what life was like at home when they were growing up. “Did you experience love and closeness? Were feelings openly talked about? Or was your home life rather cold, and are you now looking for warmth in a partner?” Kromwijk-Lub said.
If the latter is the case, your short winter romances might be a form of escapism. The fact that you’re reaching for someone else to keep you warm during the colder months doesn’t solve the bigger issue. “Maybe you’ve never learned to talk about your feelings, so you simply don’t know how to do this in a relationship.” Which might also be the reason your feelings disappear so quickly once you’re no longer hiding away at home. “It’s important to face this kind of restlessness, and therapy can help you do that,” Kromwijk-Lub says.
“What I also see in my practice is the element of FOMO when it comes to love,” she adds. “Because of dating apps, we have the romantic world at our fingertips: You could meet someone new every single day. That can contribute to that same sense of restlessness; you’re always wondering if the person you’re with is good enough.”
Further questions you might ask are: What do you think a relationship consists of, and why do you think it’s at odds with what you’re looking for once the weather gets warmer? Maybe you feel like your summer-induced sense of adventure, which includes flirting and even dating other people, is not compatible with being in a relationship, without considering that your partner might be open to this. What’s your definition of a relationship? You could be adventurous together – a healthy relationship can provide value, affection and security, if you manage to stay in it. “It’s possible to feel uninhibited within a relationship. Exploring this sense of freedom you get in the summer months could be a really fun thing to do with someone else,” says Kromwijk-Lub.
Your search might lead you to conclude that relationships are simply not your thing, and that all you really want is to find someone to snuggle up with in front of the fire as the snow falls outside. Being honest about this spares you from having to break someone’s heart every year. On the plus side, you wouldn’t have to worry about making plans for next summer any more.