Dear Annie, How can I choose a great gift for the woman I'm dating without getting in trouble? The last time I dated someone special, we'd been together for about six months before the holidays. I spent a lot of time and effort planning and shopping for her. I gave her a designer outfit, accessories and a couple of matching cashmere sweaters.
The next time I saw her, she gave everything back to me and broke up with me. She told me that my extravagant gifts indicated that I was too invested in our relationship and that she didn't want to lead me on. I told her that I didn't expect her to reciprocate and that I love buying clothes for the women in my life—even my mom––but there was no getting back together with her.
I really enjoy giving girlfriends thoughtful gifts. I've been dating Vivian for a few months. I really like her and the holidays are quickly approaching. I'm not sure what to get her. I don't want to blow it by giving her something too extravagant, but I don't want to look cheap, either. What should I do? Jerry
Managing gift giving while you're dating is fraught with possible landmines, especially early on. There are no hard and fast rules. However, it's important to match your gift-giving style to her personality and taste, along with the commitment level and duration of your relationship.
Giving an extravagant present too early in a relationship may seem like too much too soon. It may cause her to feel beholden to you. She might question whether you spend your money wisely. Or she could wonder whether you are insecure, needy or have ulterior motives. It also puts you at risk for being valued more for your money than for anything else.
Save extravagant gifts until you've been a solid couple for at least the better part of a year. This means that you've been talking about a possible future together, you've met each other's families and friends and that you're spending most of your free time together.
Women often express their personality through their choice of clothing. Before you give her something to wear, pay close attention to her sense of style and color. If you give her something that she wouldn't choose for herself, she may feel that your gift of clothing is a criticism of her taste. Also, the size of women's clothing tends to vary by manufacturer; an otherwise identical item could be labeled a size four by one brand and size ten by another. If you want to give her clothing, start with a great accessory that enhances what she already has in her wardrobe.
You're not likely to get in trouble if you follow the guidelines listed below:
- If you've been dating someone for a short time, and you're not sure whether you're exchanging gifts: Have a wrapped gift ready in the event that your date brings one for you. At this point, you don't know if your relationship is going anywhere, so it's best to give something casual. Choose a delicious edible gift, such as a good bottle of wine, tasty cookies—even better if they are homemade––or other holiday treats.
- If you've been dating regularly for three to six months without a long-term commitment: Provide a shared experience for your beau. Think concert tickets for a music aficionado, museum membership for an art lover, or a pair of Giants' tickets for a baseball fan. This is not the time to spruce up her wardrobe or replace her decrepit toaster with a sleek new one. Keep it fun and light.
- If you've made it past six months, but your future is uncertain: Keep gifts on the lighter side. By now, you should know her well enough so that you know what she likes. Costume jewelry or accessories, electronic gadgets, or books that she's expressed interest in are great gifts that don't imply a deeper meaning.
- If you've made it past six months and you're planning a likely future together: Take this opportunity to discuss how you plan to handle gift giving as a couple. Be honest, willing to talk about what is most important to you and prepared to reach a creative, win-win compromise with your partner if you don't agree. Don't get into a situation where one of you gets an iPad and the other receives a pair of socks!
Since you and Vivian have been dating for a while, introduce a conversation about gift-giving attitudes, traditions and budgets. It will be easier if you start by talking about how your family and friends handle gift giving and ask how her friends and boyfriends have handled this in past. That way you'll know that the gift you choose will be up to snuff.