I thought we had a bond, but then you gave me this scarf

Weekend Post

Friday, December 19, 2008

By Sarah Treleaven

So you’ve been dating for a couple of months and there are a lot of things you have yet to figure out. You’re still unsure about whether you should leave a toothbrush at his place, and the culmination of the two-month-long holiday season is forcing you to consider another element of panic-inducing complexity: Should you get him a Christmas, Hanukkah or non-denominational winter celebration gift, and if so, what should it be?

“It’s just terrifying, the idea of giving a gift to someone you’ve just started dating,” says Lisa Daily, dating expert and author of How to Date Like a Grown-Up. “If you give something too impersonal, you can lose that relationship momentum that you’ve got going. If you give something overly personal – especially to a guy – they get the impression that you have a marriage planner on retainer and you’re going to start sneaking Tampax into their medicine cabinet.”

“If you give too much, you seem like a stalker, and if you give too little, you seem like a creep,” agrees Kim Hughes, Lavalife’s singles and dating expert. The matchmaker has created a holiday gift microsite with tips based on how long you’ve been dating. For a budding young relationship, Hughes simply recommends dinner – and she also has advice on gifts to avoid.

“One thing we always say is never give anything to do with diet or fitness or weight or health. Even if the person is a total fitness nut, it’s bound to backfire,” says Hughes. “Even if he says, ”˜Honey, I’m giving you this gym membership because I know you love to work out,’ she’s bound to think, ”˜Oh god, he thinks I’m fat.’ ”

“Get them tickets to a show or something interesting that you can share together,” recommends dating coach David Wygant. But Daily counsels caution when it comes to gifts attached to a specific day on the calendar. “In the early stages it’s better to give them something they can do on their own. [They] might see that as manipulative if you give them concert tickets for seven months away,” she says.

Daily recommends an “experience gift,” like a gift certificate to learn how to rope a calf, master the trapeze or go skydiving – even if an invitation to jump out of a plane may sound more like a present you give to an ex.

The pressure to find the perfect gift for a gentleman friend can be high, but the less-fair sex would argue it’s even greater when you’re buying for the lady in your life. “I think women read gifts like [people] in turbans read crystal balls,” says Hughes. Daily agrees: “Men just enjoy the gift or don’t. With women, if a guy gives you a green plastic phone for Christmas, you’re going to analyze it: Does he want me to call him more or is this just the first thing he saw when he went into Best Buy?”

The consensus from this relationship brain trust is to go for a small, personal token of appreciation that costs less than $50. In general, avoid anything that smacks of a grandiose romantic gesture. “Don’t go overboard and buy a heart-shaped ring,” says Wygant, who instead recommends a gift certificate to iTunes for the music lover, or a nice bottle of wine for an imbiber. “If someone gets you something grand and romantic, and yet you’ve never even exchanged an ”˜I love you,’ it puts a lot of pressure on the relationship all of the sudden.”

Speaking of putting pressure on a relationship, why not introduce him to your entire extended family? This is the time of year when you’re called upon to drink all kinds of nogs with your nearest and dearest, so does that also make it the ideal time to attempt to induct your special lady friend into your social and familial circle?

Well, sort of. “You can introduce him to friends at parties, but you can’t just go, ”˜Here’s my family,’ and invite them over for Christmas,” says Wygant. Daily says it’s OK to use holiday parties as an excuse to introduce your new love to your friends or colleagues. But she advises caution when forcing a premature meeting with the parents.

“If you make a misstep and invite him to your family’s house before he’s really ready, it can freak him out,” she says. “With friends, there’s not so much of a high-pressure situation – unless your friends ask 500 questions to suss him out for marriage material.”

In any case, the underlying message should be that you care, and it’s up to you to decide whether to show that through a nifty new pair of socks or the opportunity to sample your great aunt’s Waldorf salad. But integrating your new girlfriend or boyfriend “is sort of a double-edged sword,” says Hughes. “On one hand, it’s good because it’s a very social time of the year. On the other hand, it’s sort of fraught with a lot of expectations and people tend to be very stressed out.”

But if you are considering both gifts and introductions, keep your chin up and consider one of the season’s saving graces: “Alcohol tends to be involved in a lot of social events this time of year,” she says.