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Hope You Like It: Gift-Giving Tips for a New Relationship

Once again, ‘tis the season for your annual quest to find the perfect Christmas gift for important people in your life. At the best of times, gift-giving can be a strange and stressful mixture of obligation and a genuine desire to show appreciation for the relationship. It’s hard enough to get it right with people you know well—close friends and family.

Where do you even start to select a gift for someone you only recently met? And not just “any someone,” but a person you think might turn out to be the romantic partner you’ve been looking for? The key word here is “might.” After only a few promising dates, it is still too soon to tell.

Suddenly you have a whole new set of things to consider as you shop, beginning with: “Should I give a gift at all? What will it communicate if I do? Should I give something special, to show my growing feelings? Or something ordinary to send the message I’m not moving too fast?”

Here are four tips that will help you hit the sweet spot when buying a gift for someone new in your life:

1. By all means, give. Honestly now, who doesn’t want to get a present at Christmas? Even as adults we can’t help but feel that delicious anticipation when handed a package with our name on it. To be remembered and valued in any relationship, whatever its nature or potential may be, is something we all crave and appreciate. Stop over-thinking the question—to give or not to give?—and just go with the spirit of the season.

2. Don’t overdo it. On the other hand, what you give really is important. There are two types of gifts that can backfire in the early stages of a relationship: one that is overly expensive and one that is overly intimate. In either case you run the risk that your potential partner will see the gift as a covert attempt to test the waters in the relationship, or to push it to a new level before he or she is ready. You want to choose a gift that simply says “I was thinking of you,” not “I was imagining our future life together.”

3. Customize it. It is equally important to avoid letting the pendulum swing too far the other way, with a commonplace gift that has no meaning at all. Now is your chance to have some fun and get to know your prospective partner better, to discover what he or she truly enjoys and values. Is he a rock-climbing enthusiast? Perhaps the latest book on the subject. Art lover? Tickets to the museum. A gift doesn’t have to be large or expensive to be personally meaningful. Resist buying the first typical trinket you see.

4. Leave your fingerprints. The best romantic gifts—even when the relationship is brand new—are ones that keep pointing to you long after the wrapping paper has been tossed. Example: A sampling of chocolates from places you’ve visited around the world; a copy of your favorite book, with a note about why it’s meaningful to you; a special meal you prepare from scratch. Put something of yourself in the gift—to let your dating partner know you better.

Dating and gift-giving go together like eggnog and Christmas cookies. Keep it simple and lighthearted—and enjoy another reason to celebrate.

Any gift ideas to share? Please do!