Dating? Use common sense in your holiday gift-giving


December 08, 2007|By MARYANN JAMES

A couple of years ago, as Christmas neared, Devan Carter and his friend sat down and talked about what they would give each other for the holiday. Though they did not call each other boyfriend and girlfriend, they had been dating for a while -- six months. And as a result, they decided to go all out, Carter says.

Or so he thought.

Carter, now 19, gave her a bracelet, some clothes and other gifts, $300 worth of stuff, he says. What did he get?

"She gave me a hat," he says.

With the holiday season in full swing, questions of whether to give, what to give and how much to give hang over people's heads like mistletoe in the doorway. How do you navigate the gift-giving season without hurting your relationship?

"Part of it is people have to use common sense," says Peter Post, author of Essential Manners for Couples and a great-grandson of the queen of etiquette herself, Emily Post. "Look at the relationship, and see how long you've been committed to the relationship."

He says you likely should take it easy if you've met your S.O. (or potential S.O.) recently.

"I think probably if you have one date with a person, a diamond is a mistake," he says laughing.

When it's new, Post says, it's better to approach the idea as if you're giving a gift to a good friend.

A CD of a band or music genre they really like, a book or poster are good beginning-relationship gift ideas, he says.

"Keep the romance or personal statement out of the gift," he says.

Thom Reznik, 28, of Hanover, did that when he and his wife of three years started dating, which was around the holidays. He gave her chocolates and a little teddy bear.

"Especially for Christmas, if they celebrate Christmas, you should give them something," he says. "Even if it's small."

Ronnie Pulley, 19, of East Baltimore, says it's not a matter of whether to give, but what to give.

One year, he gave a woman a bath set.

"She tried to play it off, but I knew she didn't like it," he says.

Post says you can avoid displeasing people if you try your best to think about what they would want, rather than what you want.

"I'm going to make a conscious effort about your interests, how you live your life," he says. "I'm not going to buy a French maid outfit for fun. That's for me."

And beyond the material goods, focus on the words, Post says. Give a card with your gift and write down how you feel.

"The word that underlies all that we're talking about is `sincerity,' " he says. "If you do it within your heart, it's going to be received well."

Nidhi Goel, 26, of downtown Baltimore, got more than she gave one year, for Valentine's Day. The guy she'd been dating for about four months gave her concert tickets. She gave him a cactus.

But he says her boyfriend didn't mind; it was the thought: "He always killed plants," she says. "... You can't kill a cactus."

Though it is a cliche, the adage is true: It's the thought that counts. Beyond price and relationship length, it's all about the feeling and intent behind the gift.

"The point of the gift is to give out of your heart," says Pulley, "not to expect something equal in return."

Carter of East Baltimore agrees. He says he broke up with his not-official-girlfriend not long after Christmas, but that the gift disparity was not a big deal. He has no regrets about giving her the gifts, he says.

"I give because I can," he says. "Not because I must."

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