Got A Date For The Holidays?

Warning: This season can have a strange impact on romance. Not convinced? Read on for some all-too-common pitfalls—and how to avoid them.

By Julie Taylor

he holidays are rapidly approaching, and if you’re seeing someone, it can suddenly feel like you’ve entered a pressure cooker: Are all those family gatherings and mistletoe tempting you two to fall for each other too fast? Or—on the opposite end of the spectrum—are you sticking with someone only so-so so you don’t have to fly solo? “The holidays can add a lot of stress to a relationship, because so many people feel the need to have a ‘perfect’ holiday experience,” says Elizabeth Hurchalla, author of Getting Over Him. “It’s important to manage your expectations around this time, or else your relationship will implode.” To that end, we’ve tackled the five biggest issues that plague relationships during this season, offering solutions that will keep your love life in good shape from now ‘til New Years.

Tricky issue #1: Should you invite your date to spend the holidays with your family?
Before you pop the question for your date to join you for Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas brunch, Hurchalla suggests asking yourself the following question: Is your desire motivated by you and your wish to share this special day with your date, or is it motivated by your family and their desire for you to be in a relationship? If your
“We fell into an InstaRelationship—everyone was treating us like we were going to get married any second.”
answer is the latter, don’t invite your date just yet. Remember: If your relationship does work out long-term, there will be lots of future holidays to spend together. It’s best not to rush things—in fact, if you’re stressing over the “Should I or shouldn’t I?” question, that’s probably an indicator that you’re not ready to make that leap.

Another tactic that can help you suss out your feelings is to imagine the holidays weren’t occurring at all, says Happen’s communications expert Laurie Puhn, author of Instant Persuasion: How to Change Your Words to Change Your Life. “Would you bring this person home to meet your parents if it wasn’t Thanksgiving, Hanukkah or Christmas?” she says. “If the answer is yes, go for it. But if it’s no, then don’t do it now.” Puhn warns that bringing someone who doesn’t mean much to you home can actually be disrespectful to your loved ones. “What happens two weeks later when you break up?” she asks. “Your whole family opened their hearts to this person, and it was all for naught. It’s a waste of your energy and theirs to focus on something that’s a dead end.”

Tricky issue #2: Are you getting too serious too soon?
With all the holiday cheer warming your hearts, it can be all too tempting to fall into the role of a cozy couple even if you barely know each other—which is exactly what happened to Jennifer Craig, 31, of Tulsa, Oklahoma. “I started dating Jeff at the end of November, and suddenly we were going out three or four times a week to office functions, tree-trimming parties, dinner at my parents,” she recalls. “We barely knew each other, but we fell into this InstaRelationship. Everyone was treating us like we were going to get married any second. We started believing it, too.” But their relationship fell apart right after New Years. “I felt like such a fool for getting so serious with someone I’d only just met,” she says.

To avoid this scenario, Puhn suggests giving yourself this reality check: “The holidays should be all about connecting with everyone you care about—not connecting with someone you barely know. So call old friends. Hang with family. Throw a dinner party for your gal pals. Remember what’s really important. If you spend all your time hanging with a near stranger around the holidays, you’re distracting yourself from the people you truly care about and love.”

Tricky issue #3: Should you spring for a big gift?
With Christmas just around the corner, you may feel obligated to buy your new flame a token of your affection. Do you buy something small, big, or somewhere in between? Or do you just skip the whole gift-buying stress mess and go with a card instead? As romantic as a lavish gifts sounds, Puhn says buying something small is the way to go. “One of the worst things you can do is give an expensive gift to someone you barely know,” she warns. “Suddenly, you’ve got that whole IOU thing going—the other person feels obligated to spend the same amount on you. Instead, write your date a personal card telling them what a wonderful time you’ve had getting to know her over these last few weeks. Then get her something small—like perfume or candy.”

Tricky issue #4: Are you dating the wrong person to avoid spending the holidays solo?
Fear of being single over the holidays can keep couples together for all the wrong reasons…but how can you tell if you’re one of them? Hurchalla suggests asking yourself this question and answering honestly: Do I enjoy being part of this couple, or do I just like the idea of being part of a couple? If it’s the latter,
The holidays can actually be a good time to break up with someone.
it’s best to come clean and make the break sooner rather than later. After all, as nasty as it may be to break up with someone over the holidays, it’s much worse (and bad karma) to use ‘em and dump ‘em in January!

If you’re feeling guilty or hesitant, Puhn suggests following this script to soften the blow: “First, say, ‘With the holidays coming up, it’s made me think a lot about our relationship—and I’d really like to talk.’” Puhn suggests then saying something like, “I love hanging out with you, but I don’t think we’re where we need to be to take it to the next level. The spark isn’t there for me like it was in the beginning. I just don’t think we’re the right fit for each other.”

Tricky issue #5: What if your date freaks out that you’re dumping them during the holidays?
Puhn suggests saying, “Look, the holidays are a wonderful time to spend with your friends and family—and I know there are tons of people around who really care about you.” She says that, contrary to popular belief, the holidays can actually be a good time to break up with someone. Since it’s such a social season, this will offer both you and your ex a strong (and much-needed) support system.

Once you’re solo, indulge your single status by throwing a Christmas Eve dinner party or going dancing with your fun-loving pals on New Year’s Eve. Toast to your newfound freedom. Ah, the possibilities!

Julie Taylor once turned down a date with Mr. Wrong to spend Thanksgiving alone volunteering at a soup kitchen—and doesn’t regret it one bit.
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