Advice

How (New) Couples Can Avoid Holiday Gift-Giving Pitfalls

A dating expert breaks down holiday present etiquette.

Presents at any time of year are typically appreciated — but in a new relationship, how soon is too soon? And what the hell do you buy someone you just started dating ... if you’re getting them anything at all? The holiday season is stressful enough between traveling, spending time with relatives, and braving the cold. On top of it all, figuring out what to buy a special someone can be a taxing task.

Instead of losing sleep (or a relationship) over the anxiety of purchasing a present for your new love interest, Erika Ettin, Founder and CEO of A Little Nudge, has a few suggestions on how to navigate this potentially awkward exchange. Ettin works with clients nationwide, but if you want to chat with her in-person, you can find her at the office in Washington DC’s WeWork.

Luckily, we didn’t have to travel too far to receive her unparalleled advice. Here’s what the So We Met Online… podcast host had to say about gifting.

How soon after knowing, or dating, someone is it appropriate to buy them a gift?

Every relationship is different in terms of timing, so there is no one right answer as to when it's appropriate to buy a new significant other a gift. If there is a birthday or holiday around the corner, then it might expedite the gift-giving, so rather than worrying whether it's "too soon," it's better to think about what kind of gift would be appropriate at different points in the relationship. For example, after, say, a month, then something thoughtful, but not terribly expensive, would be perfect. In a previous relationship that started three weeks before the holidays, my partner bought me a season of my favorite show on DVD. This was in 2009, so don't knock the DVD choice. It was perfect.  But, a year into the relationship, a more meaningful or personal gift would be more appropriate.

What if one person purchases a present and the other doesn’t? How should each party react?

There is no should. Reactions come naturally, and you can't predict how you'll feel in any situation. If you're the gift giver, don't feel badly that you got your new partner something. Own it.  Be proud of it. You were thinking of the other person. And, if you are the receiver who did not get the other person a gift, rather than putting your partner on the defensive — "We didn't agree to this" — instead, simply be appreciative and know that it's important to communicate for next time.

What should each party do if someone's gift is much more expensive than the other’s?

Not everyone has the same idea of what a gift should cost, nor does everyone have the same amount of money to spend.  Also, there's no price tag on something personal, like a scrapbook or homemade photo album. As long as thought is put into it, the cost is secondary.

What if someone's present is more thoughtful, nostalgic or more meaningful than the other’s?

People have different ways of showing and receiving love. What may be "thoughtful, nostalgic, or meaningful" to one person may not be that way to the other. In this case, the best thing to do would be to either pick up on — or ask — your partner what he or she values in terms of gift giving. Two different women, for example, at the same point in the relationship, may want two different things. Does that mean a bracelet is less meaningful than a hand-knit scarf? Maybe. But, thoughtfulness is the in the eye of the beholder.

What are simple gifts people should buy each other if things are super new in the relationship?

Cute items with signs that you listen to your partner — a magnet with a special quote, a mug for the other to use when drinking coffee at your place, a board game you think would be fun to play together, a new cooking utensil that you know he or she wants. Things you can use together are always more enjoyable.

For long-term relationships, what kinds of gifts are appropriate or inappropriate?

For a long-term relationship, again, there is no "appropriate" or "inappropriate."  Every couple is different, so no advice I give could ever apply to everyone. For that reason, it's truly important to know your partner's tastes, in not just gifts, but in how they want to receive appreciation and affection. A desire to understand your partner and open communication/feedback are the keys to a successful relationship, no matter the gift.

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