On Dating - Choosing a Gift for Your Semi-Significant Other

By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 19, 2008

Some day, maybe, the two of you will be comfortably settled into a sweat pants-and-shared-soap domesticity. The kind that inspires pronouncements beginning: "Here's what you can get me for Christmas . . . ."

Until that day, the season of giving is a relationship minefield.

"It's terrifying," says Whitney Casey, a relationship expert with Match.com. "It's a huge determiner of where you are in a relationship."

And if that weren't enough pressure, Casey would like to add: "You better not get it wrong" -- especially if it's your first meaningful gift -- "because [the recipient] is thinking, 'This is the kind of gift I'm going to be getting for the rest of my life.' "

So, with that stress-test in mind, we culled the wisdom of Casey and a couple of other dating/gift-giving gurus on how to shop for a semi-significant other.

If it's been less than a month. Don't go overboard! (No Journey pendants, please.) But don't just get a card -- think how awkward it will be to stand there watching her read it. Try to keep it in the $25 range, and pick something "small, but significant to the conversation that you've been having with this person," Casey says. Think: a book by an author he mentioned, a candle with one of her favorite scents.

If it's casual and not really going anywhere. Well, don't get them a keepsake, for crying out loud. "Some things are hard to part with," says Sherri Athay, a gift consultant. If you're gonna end it after New Year's, "don't give her something for her mantle, 'cause then what's she going to do with it?" Try something likely to have vanished by the time you do: a bouquet, a box of cupcakes.

If it's casual, and you really hope it will go somewhere. Say so with the gift of time together. Pick anything you can do as a pair, Athay suggests, and present it as a done deal. Her favorites: dancing lessons, cooking classes, a weekend adventure.

If you're completely lost (on what's happening and what to get). Make it funny. "Nobody wants to show their cards," says dating coach Patti Feinstein, who once got a new boyfriend a gefilte fish, in reference to an inside joke. "Make it silly, lighthearted -- it doesn't say anything except, 'I'm listening.' "

In hard times. Be mindful and creative. "Listen for verbal clues about fiscal situations," Casey warns. If things are tough for your SO, tailor your own giving. But work hard to be thoughtful and personal. An iTunes mix, perhaps, or a fully planned weekend of fun.

And relax -- unless you screw it up big time, there's always next year.

Got a holiday gifting strategy or deep thoughts about dating you'd like to share? We're all ears: dating@washpost.com.

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