Updated: 12/11/05 For new couples, the holidays can turn from a time of good cheer into one of major anxiety. The holidays bring about the classic December dilemma — and we're not talking about Hanukkah vs. Christmas.
Just ask Amy Napolitano, a 24-year-old sales assistant. She remembers her first Christmas with her boyfriend, Mike. "I didn't know him very well, and I didn't know what he would like," she said. Between choosing the perfect gift and deciding how much to spend, the most wonderful time of the year can become an emotional rollercoaster.
But that doesn't have to be the case. According to Jeff Cohen, the dating and relationship expert at About.com, following some simple guidelines can make gift buying much easier.
DO talk about it ahead of time. David Easton, a 26-year-old agent trainee, said his girlfriend, Amanda, dropped hints about her wish list around the holidays, even though they had only been dating a few months. "She tends to make it obvious about what she wants," he said. He ended up purchasing many of the smaller gifts she wanted, like a Disney snow globe and a DVD set instead of buying her one big present.
But don't be too serious or overly demanding, suggests Cohen. Keep it playful. "It's not meant to be a summit meeting when you're in a new relationship." Use a joke to start the conversation. It's one you want to have just once.
DON'T set a standard you can't live up to in the future. So you think you found the perfect gift for your special someone. The only problem is it costs about the same as your monthly rent. "It'll feel great right now … but you're not going to be able to keep up with this kind of gift giving budget," Cohen said. Don't get someone that flat screen TV if you can't afford to keep up with your own buying power. Decide on a budget you can afford now and in the future.
DO take the pressure off. Turn shopping into a game! Head to the stores together, then set a budget and a time limit and do your shopping for each other separately. You'll be sure that you both spend the same amount and have the same time to think about the gift, Cohen said. Just adhere to your rules.
DO stick to what you agreed to as a couple. If you get the urge to go beyond your set budget and splurge on an extravagant gift, duct tape your wallet to your pocket. "You might think it's a great thing to surprise the other person with something elaborate, but then in reality, you'll make them feel bad because they haven't done the same for you," Cohen said.
DON'T let the gift give the receiver any unintended ideas. If the relationship is casual, stay away from gifts like expensive jewelry and tickets to events that are taking place months ahead. "When you're new in a relationship, the gift is likely to get analyzed and overanalyzed by the receiver and their close friends," Cohen said. Keep it simple by purchasing something that coincides with the nature of your relationship now, not what you think it might be in the future. For example, buy the DVD of the movie you saw on one of your first dates, or if you met at Starbucks, purchase a gift card there.
DO put some thought into your gift. Some of the best gifts show that you pay attention to your partner's interests. Danielle Maybury, a 24-year-old marketing coordinator, was happy when her boyfriend of just a few months bought her an authentic plaque of the New York Yankees, her favorite baseball team. "He was afraid to get me anything else because he was afraid I wouldn't like it," she said. Incorporating hobbies or favorite things "shows already that you're a listener and a giver, and you're there for the other person," Cohen said.
If all else fails, simply ask your partner for a list or for suggestions. Even if you can't get the exact gift they want, you might be able to get some ideas from their wish list.
Still stuck? Here are a few suggestions:
1. Use the holidays as the opportunity to give that special someone a photo of yourself. RedEnvelope.com has a silver charm bracelet with a locket attached or a silver-plated locket keychain. They also offer engraving services for both pieces. If you can't find a photo small enough, write a special message or a quote and put it inside. Prices for the keychain begin at $35. Prices for the bracelet begin at $65. Both are available at www.redenvelope.com.
2. Think hobbies. Get your favorite sports fanatic a piece of memorabilia. Grandstandsports.com offers a variety — all discounted when bought online. For the cooking enthusiast, Williams-Sonoma.com sells personalized aprons in a variety of colors. For the music lover, skip the CDs. Get them the songs and artists they love in a way they haven't heard it before — on vinyl at www.saturnrecords.com.
3. Baby, it's cold outside. Everyone can use a set of winter essentials, like a scarf, hat and gloves set. Stores like Old Navy and Gap carry a wide variety of colors and styles. Those looking for luxury should head to their department stores to buy a set in cashmere. Prices for individual items at www.oldnavy.com begin at $7.50 and $14.50 at www.gap.com.
4. Inspect their DVD collection, then buy a set of their favorite TV show or movies at Best Buy or Circuit City. Include popcorn and candy and suggest you watch them together. Both stores have stock online at www.bestbuy.com and www.circuitcity.com.
5. Give the gift of relaxation. Plenty of spas offer massage packages designed specifically for couples especially around the holiday season. You may have to splurge a little, but it's also a present for yourself and a great way to have some quality quiet time with your partner.
To view Jeff Cohen's latest articles on meeting someone new, online dating and getting serious, go to www.dating.about.com.