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Holiday gift-giving rules for new couples

Holiday gift-giving rules for new couples

By Margot Carmichael Lester

Gift-giving is challenging enough, but when you’ve just started dating someone, it’s even more vexing. How do you pick something that says “I like you” without making too large a gesture — or making the other person feel pressured? It’s enough to make you want to skip the holiday season altogether.

But fear not, intrepid holiday daters! Take this expert advice from a few of Santa’s little helpers and you’re unlikely to err.

Keep your holiday-driven emotions in check
First, gain control of your holiday emotions. There are two ways we go astray in the gift-giving department, says Patricia Covalt, Ph.D., Denver-based clinical psychologist and author of What Smart Couples Know: The Secret to a Happy Relationship. “We let our love for the holidays lead us into romanticism and expecting too much. This is potentially blinding us to reality. Or, we allow our dislike of and cynicism about the holidays to cause us to be defensive and suspicious.”

Take a personal inventory and utilize your emotional intelligence in either case. “If you love the holidays, manage your emotions so they don’t take you down a slippery slope you might regret,” she says. “If you dislike this season, work hard at being cautiously hopeful and optimistic so that you can enjoy a new dating experience.”
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Here are some more tips to follow:

1. Take the easy way out by donating to charity. When you’ve just started dating, you may not even know the person well enough to make a great gift-giving decision. “My girlfriend and I just started dating after Thanksgiving,” recalls Carlos Perez of Scottsdale, AZ. “I wanted to do something for the holidays, so I gave a gift in her honor to a local charity. The card didn’t have an amount on it, so there was no pressure and I didn’t have to worry about the size.” It’s hard for even the most materialistic person to begrudge you for helping others at the holidays.

2. Put some thought into any present you purchase. “The worst is the gift you know your partner just went out to buy out of a sense of obligation,” says Tom Gray of Suffern, NY. “Like a pair of socks or a box of candy. I’m not saying you have to break the bank, but show me you thought of me a little in the process.” Maybe you can replace that hardcover book he spilled wine on, or you can give her a big bottle of that olive oil she loves to cook with. All you really need to pay is a little attention.

3. Manage your gift-giving budget wisely. “Less is more,” counsels Lisa Cohen, president of Dating Designers in Woodland Hills, CA. “It doesn’t matter if you give him a card — if he’s fond of you, what you give him won’t change his mind. Just don’t go overboard. Men sometimes go a little crazy buying an expensive gift to impress someone. Now he has to keep up that image, and she’ll wind up expecting more and more.”

4. Get creative, if you’re so inclined. Put your effort into making something to share the spirit of the season, suggests Marc Charles, an artist in Richmond, VA. “You don’t have to be super-talented — in fact, sometimes that’s even more meaningful. A small, handmade card or gift shows you like the person enough to invest some time, even if you didn’t spend money.” There are craft classes galore available during the holidays, if you want some help. Or visit the local paint-your-own pottery place and make a fun ornament for his or her tree.

5. Put your apron on and bake up some holiday treats. In a similar vein, baking is a low-cost way to say, “Happy holidays, I like you,” notes Ann Sobeski of Cincinnati, OH. “I’m not a great cook, but baking is pretty easy, so I make several kinds of Christmas cookies every year and give them to friends and coworkers. This would be a great low-key gift for someone you’ve just started dating, too.”

Following this advice will help you acknowledge the season — and your budding relationship — in a simple way that won’t send the wrong signals.

Margot Carmichael Lester is a Carrboro, NC-based freelancer whose work also appears in Go magazine and The Los Angeles Business Journal.

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