You’re on date #4 with this sexy new person, and everything is going great. You’re just thinking about how gorgeous their eyes look reflecting those twinkling lights when you realize it’s a week before Christmas. Now the question of the ages arises: this early in a relationship, to gift or not to gift?
If you don’t “do” the winter holidays, the onslaught of “giving season” may fill you with dread. Or maybe Christmas, Yule, Hanukkah, or any excuse for gift-giving are totally your jam! Either way, you might be stressing out about what to do for the person currently lighting your candles. Here’s some guidelines to get you through the gifting-season gauntlet.
1. Talk About It.
Have the conversation in advance. It’s awkward when one of you is empty-handed and the other is wearing nothing but a Santa hat with a box of Godiva chocolates in one hand and opera tickets in the other. Bring it up casually over Netflix, before the chill. Tell them if you celebrate, how you celebrate, and whether you like exchanging presents. Communication, as always, is key.
2. Find Out Their “Love Language.”
According to the popular book The 5 Love Languages, giving and receiving gifts is one of the 5 ways that people feel loved. If your new winter snuggle friend has this language, then getting them a gift will show them you’re really checking their list twice. Get to know what makes them feel special and seen, and you’ll have a chance to think about Valentine’s Day next!
3. Don’t Worry That it’s Too Soon.
Too soon for presents? Oh sweetie, never! Think about it: some people bring little gifts to a first or second date, like flowers or a bottle of wine. Giving gifts is a lovely way to show affection even early in a relationship, and the right gift can show how thoughtful you are. If you love finding just the right gift for your boo, then the winter holidays are an excellent excuse.
4. Sometimes, Gender Matters.
Some research, collected by Jeremy Nicholson in Psychology Today, suggests that gift-giving has different meanings and motivations for hetero men and women. Men are more likely to give gifts to try and escalate a relationship. Women are more likely to use them to show affection and mark special occasions. Always treat your partner as a human first – find out what they, in particular, want out of gift-giving. But a good rule of thumb is not to go too big, too soon, in hopes of “winning their affection.” This can actually backfire and cause relationship anxiety.
5. Have a Budget.
At this early stage, thoughtfulness is much more important than expense. If you spend more than $100 for an early gift – say, still in the 1-3 months stage – it might freak some people out. If you’re someone with a lot of money and they know that, just keep your spending within something reasonable to you.
6. Pay Attention.
Maybe you’ve only gone out four or five times. Still, you’ve talked in-between makeouts, right? What music are they into? What books do they like to read? Do they have a favorite sports team? Do they keep a calendar or a paper journal? Find a book by their favorite author, or a beautiful writing journal, or a winter hat with their team’s logo on it. These gifts are low-pressure, and show that you’re listening.
7. Keep it Simple and Casual.
While giving presents early in a relationship is a-okay, avoid extravagant or overly meaningful gifts. If you’ve just started dating, an engagement ring is obviously a bit rushed. Jewelry can be okay – a pendant necklace or cute bracelet or earrings – but steer clear of rings to avoid misunderstandings. Other things can seem too big or too symbolic. Don’t get your new flame a teddy bear as big as them, an overly domestic item (like cookware), or Hamilton tickets. Going “big” early in a relationship can make a potential partner feel crowded, or creeped on, or obligated to you in an icky way. Keep it simple, and keep it small.
8. Give Consumables.
A great way to keep a gift light is to give something that they can use up, eat, or drink. If you get your special someone a scarf, they may feel obligated to wear it all winter to show how much they loved it. But they can drink a nice bottle of wine, or eat the special chocolates you bought, and then they’re gone.
9. Gift an Experience.
If you want to show how much you enjoy spending time together, gift an exciting activity for two. Try tickets to a museum, a ziplining adventure, a wine tasting, or whatever floats both of your boats. Sites like Groupon and Living Social are great for finding these kinds of things on a budget. A bonus: it makes automatic future date plans, which could take the relationship to the next level.
In short, if you give, give something sweet and thoughtful, that doesn’t demand anything in return. The holiday is a chance to show your new sweetie that they make your season bright – not to pretend your local snowman is Parson Brown. Have fun, and let your heart be light.
And if you’re not into that whole holidays thing, then a very merry bah, humbug to you! (You’re okay, too.)