Surviving the Holidays with Your Man: A Step by Step Guide

Here's everything you need to know to tackle four situations that might keep your new romance from surviving the holiday season:  

Exchanging Gifts

With gifts, it matters how long you’ve been dating, says Elena Brouwer, director of the International Etiquette Centre in Hollywood, Fla.: “If you spend a lot, you might make him think you’re more serious than you are.”

How to Handle: Choose something small that ties into an interest, such as a jersey if he’s a huge soccer fan or a gift card to a restaurant he likes. If he asks what you want, ask for something you can use, like a mani-pedi, or something sweet, like a DVD of the movie you saw on your first date.

The Bottom Line: Expensive and sexy gifts (hello, lingerie!) are no-nos—both can lead to forced intimacy and obligation. You don’t want to feel tied to him come January if you’re ready to move on.

Meeting the Parents

’Tis the season for family gatherings, so it might make sense to meet his parents (or vice versa) now. But don’t let the spirit of the season push you into something you’re not ready for. “For some, meeting the parents is a sign that the relationship is becoming serious; for others it has no importance whatsoever,” explains Juliana Neiman, who runs a marriage therapy practice in New York City.

How to Handle: If he invites you home, find out what it means. Ask if his siblings are bringing anyone, or if it’s tradition to invite friends to Christmas dinner. His answer will show what he’s thinking, so you can be on the same page. If you decide to go, Brouwer suggests playing it safe: Dress modestly with minimal makeup and perfume, stick to one or two drinks and eat a little before you go—it’s hard to make a good impression if your stomach is growling or you’re talking around mouthfuls of tamal. Bring an inexpensive gift, such as a mixed bouquet of flowers or quality chocolates.

The Bottom Line: Just do some recon before you go; he should tell you if they don’t drink, or if you’re expected to head to church after dinner.

Hitting the Road

Whether you’re skiing with friends or staying at Abuela’s house for the holidays, traveling together can raise tons of issues.

How to Handle: If you’re going to share a room and you haven’t had sex, lay out where you stand beforehand. If you’re staying with his family, ask about their habits: Do they gather for breakfast at dawn, or sleep in? You don’t want to be the only one in bed at noon. Once you’re there, volunteer to help every day—washing dishes, setting the table—even if his mami always says no, and send a thank you note when you get home. With a little luck, you’ll be invited back!

The Bottom Line: “Tell each other what you like and dislike and what kind of a traveler you are. If there are a lot of differences, take turns leading each day, so you both do what you enjoy,” Neiman says.

Going to Parties

Holidays are often synonymous with parties, but negotiating friend and office fiestas with your new guy can be nerve-racking.

How to Handle: Neiman suggests asking if he’s interested, rather than assuming he’ll go. If he’s game, proper introductions are key. If you’ve never called him your man before, don’t start now. A simple “This is my friend John” is good. But don’t stop there. “When you introduce him, give him something to talk about,” Brouwer says. So if your guy’s an artist, and your coworker Mariana just returned from a trip to the Prado Museum in Madrid, say so. Then go mingle. “I think it’s ridiculous when couples stick together all night. They go home and don’t have anything to talk about!” Brouwer says. Just watch to be sure he’s not stuck in a corner with the creepy guy from accounting. The same goes at his friends’ parties.

The Bottom Line: Nervous? Make a round together, then devise a rescue signal to call him to your side (a frowny-face text message works).