Holiday Dating Dos And Don’ts

Not sure if your sweetie is expecting to receive a gift or to meet your family this season? Let these etiquette rules for the yule season guide you.

By Amy Spencer

eing in a relationship is wonderful this time of year…that is, as long as you don’t buy too lavish (or cheap) a gift. Or introduce your date too soon to your freaky family. Or leave your honey stranded at the company Christmas party while you’re schmoozing the boss. What we’re trying to say is, being in a relationship can be wonderful this time of year, provided your actions are appropriate given the amount of time you’ve been together. So before you start planning your first kiss under the mistletoe, here are some rules to remember at all stages of your relationship. Whether you’re on your third date or in your third year of dating, these tips will help you avoid potential etiquette blunders so you can spread your holiday cheer as a couple all the way into the New Year.

Scenario #1: You’ve been dating a couple weeks…

What gift to get:
Don’t get your date a lavish present—no matter how well intentioned, it could send a budding relationship into a nosedive. “I had a nice first date with a guy a couple of weeks before Christmas,” remembers Alisx Edmondson. “On our second date, he handed me a
Casually dating? Introduce your sweetie with a simple “This is Sarah.”
Tiffany necklace. It was beautiful, but it was too much too soon. I never went out with him again because I was so freaked out.”

Do use this opportunity to show you’re deeply in like—and have been listening. “A guy I’d been dating on and off gave me these new Sour Skittles I’d wanted to try and a CD of a song I’d heard on the radio and liked,” says Reesa Toppel. “It was small but thoughtful.”

Family matters:
Don’t bring your date home for the holidays. “That’s like saying, ‘I want you to be a more permanent part of my life,’” points out Maria Shaw, author of Soul Mates and Cellmates. If that’s not what you’re thinking this early in the game, avoid home-based family functions.

Do arrange for drinks with one or two family members in a neutral location or on your date’s turf, suggests Catherine Cardinal, Ph.D., and author of A Cure for the Common Life. This way, your sweetie and your relatives can meet but not put a kink in your casual status.

Socializing strategy:
Do introduce your date with a simple “This is Sarah” or “This is Don” during company Christmas parties or tree-trimming galas. “If you introduce him or her by saying, ‘This is my friend,’ you risk insulting them,” says Laurie Puhn, author of Instant Persuasion: How to Change Your Words to Change Your Life.

Don’t dish any personal details about your darling to friends or coworkers who ask, “So, what’s up with you two?” Say, “It’s really too soon to tell, but I’m sure I’ll have a better sense soon.” Promising an update later will keep you from looking rude but also ward off any foot-in-mouth moments.

Scenario #2: You’ve been dating for a while but aren’t exclusive…

What gift to get:
Don’t ask “Should we get each other gifts?”—that’s a euphemism for asking, “Are we exclusive?” But you also don’t want to leave it up to chance, since one of you could end up with something gorgeous from Saks, the other with something garish from Wal-Mart.

Do inform your date, “I got you a small token for the holidays—it’s no big deal, it’s just something that’ll make you laugh.” That way, your sweetie will have a chance to reciprocate but won’t feel pressured to get something big.

Don’t put out feelers with “Should we get each other gifts?”
The family fix:
Do invite your date to a small part of your family’s celebration—i.e., just for pumpkin pie or appetizers. Puhn suggests telling your not-yet-significant other, “I’m going to my parent’s house for dinner, and I thought it might be nice if you came over for dessert. It would be a good way to meet them without getting stuck.” That way, you look like you’re being considerate of your date’s time rather than cagey.

Don’t get angry at family members for thinking you two are exclusive. “Taking someone to meet your family implies that,” points out Puhn. If Auntie Gayle asks, “So, tell me about the two of you…,” Puhn advises that you “comment on something obvious, like, ‘Well, we’re eating pumpkin pie and enjoying the holidays with you!’ They’ll get the message.”

Your socializing strategy:
Do keep your eye on your date at your pal’s tree-trimming fete or office party. Yes, they might know some people at this point, but since their status with you is still uncertain, they might feel uneasy. “It’s your job to walk around with your date and make introductions,” says Puhn, “and not leave his or her side until your sweetie’s feeling comfortable.”

Don’t fill your date in on certain friends’ histories, like the fact that Jack always tells weird stories about his ferret. “You never know how people are going to mix,” says Puhn, so don’t close doors of conversation for your date before he or she gets there. For all you know, an ice-breaking conversation with ferret-crazy Jack might be just what he or she needs.

Scenario #3: You’re exclusive…

What gift to get:
Don’t buy something for yourself disguised as gifts for your partner. Women, that means no tickets to a Broadway show, no gift certificates for a couple’s massage, and no trips to bed-and-breakfasts. Men, that means no gadgets you wish she had at home.

Do make your gift something personal that shows you’ve been paying attention. Case in point: When my friend Rachel Harrison received a crystal dolphin on her second Christmas with her honey, she was infuriated mostly because “I’d never once mentioned I liked dolphins,” she says. “I think he just thought that all girls like that sort of thing.”

Be sure you’re in the good graces of the most important person there: the mother.
The family fix:
Don’t hang out there non-stop. If your date will be spending a significant amount of time with your family (like overnight), devise an escape route so your significant other isn’t buried too long. Go for a walk around the neighborhood or skip out for hot chocolate to refresh away from the clan.

Do take pains to impress the mom. If you’re going to your date’s house, be sure you’re in the good graces of the most important person there: the mother. “The problem isn’t whether the family approves of you, it’s whether the mother does!” says Shaw. One easy tactic: Help set up and clean up. “It’s an amazing thing for parents to see someone offering to help,” says Puhn, “especially if you’re the man.”

Your socializing strategy:
Do team up with your date to bring something to any holiday fete. That way your date feels like your equal, not just your arm candy.

Do leave when your date wants to. Socializing is a lot more exhausting for the outsider, because no matter how long you’ve been seeing each other, these are still your friends. Exit when your honey looks tired, and he or she will be more enthused to head to your next fete—which, given this is the holidays, could happen tomorrow.

Amy Spencer writes for Glamour, Real Simple and Maxim. With the new knowledge she’s gained on the subject this year, she plans to make the smoothest holiday dating moves of the season. Or else drink enough spiked punch that she’ll have a good excuse for embarrassing everyone.
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