Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Holiday Romance

In spite of my rant last week about the insipid Heartwarming Holiday Movies, I'm actually a big fan of holiday-themed movies, especially romantic comedies that don't involve struggling single parents and adorable moppets. Going back to the classics, there's Christmas in Connecticut, Holiday, The Shop Around the Corner, Miracle on 34th Street and It's a Wonderful Life (I know that one gets snarked on as being sappy, but aside from the ending, most of the movie is actually pretty dark -- it is about someone driven to attempt suicide, after all). More recently, there's About a Boy, Love Actually, The Sure Thing, While You Were Sleeping and last year's The Holiday. There are also crucial Christmas moments in When Harry Met Sally and Bridget Jones's Diary. Not to mention all the many variations on A Christmas Carol (the Muppet one is actually my favorite). They even occasionally do a good TV holiday movie. There's one from about ten years ago called The Christmas List that keeps popping up on the Family Channel, with Mimi Rogers as a department store perfume expert who, on a whim, writes out a fantasy Christmas list and sticks it in the mailbox of the store's Santa display, and then finds her wishes coming true in surprising ways. I don't recall any adorable moppets. At least, she wasn't a single parent.

There's a common theme through most of these movies, and that's that the Christmas season is romantic. There's all the stuff about wishes coming true, love and joy, walking in a winter wonderland, snuggling by the fire and all those other images. But in case you are currently single, before you go looking for someone right now to have a honey for the holidays, I have a public service message for you: Think of the gift issue!

Buying gifts can be a challenge at the best of times, even when you know someone well -- thinking of what they might like, if they already have it, and knowing the appropriate amount of money to spend. It gets even trickier in a new relationship. There's the issue of whether or not you're even at a gift-giving stage yet -- and if you both agree on that. Then if you are at a gift-giving stage, there's the tricky balance of giving something personal and potentially meaningful as your very first gift to each other, while not being so personal that it's presumptive or scares the other person away.

It's a little easier for men because women are easy to buy the personal/impersonal gifts for. When all else fails, there are candles. It's generally easy enough to figure out someone's favorite color or the color that matches her decor, and there's the implication of warmth and romance, but it's still not too terribly personal. A man can also get away with giving the cute stuffed animal. It's trickier for women giving gifts to men. I can't think of the candle equivalent, and giving a man you've just started dating a stuffed animal can make you look desperate, depending on the circumstances. I'm even a bit leery of giving baked goods because that can send the "see, I'm good wife material!" message that can freak some men out. Books, CDs or DVDs can be good options, but you not only have to figure out what they'd like, but also what they already have. It's only really safe if you've had the "have you read/seen/heard?" conversation and there's something you recommend that he's not familiar with -- and even then, there's the chance that he went right away and bought it (that's another problem in shopping for men -- if they want something, they generally buy it as soon as they decide they want it, or as soon as it becomes available).

I realized just how tricky this could be one year when I started dating someone the weekend after Thanksgiving. We'd been introduced by a mutual friend and hit it off pretty well. We went to a movie that first weekend, then went dancing the following weekend, and then the next weekend we met at a theater on a Sunday afternoon for a matinee. After the movie, he said he had something for me, and we had to go to my place so I could open it. I'd been baking, so my place was a mess, and besides, I didn't have anything for him since we'd only just met and I didn't think we were really at a gift-giving phase, so I begged off. We made plans to get together for dinner the next week, so I went into frantic shopping mode. I didn't have much to go on, based on two movies and a night of dancing, and I'd never been to his place. I think I ended up settling on one of those page-a-day desk calendars that I thought fit his sense of humor and some of the cookies I'd baked, to prove that I really had been baking.

The night for dinner came, and he kept a wrapped package on the table the whole evening, but insisted we go out to his car to open it (that, along with the fact that he'd refused to give it to me in a movie theater parking lot, should have been a red flag). It was this thing from Frederick's of Hollywood, something with green faux velvet, lots of black lace and lots of boning. It was the kind of garment you wear for one purpose: to pose in it for a moment or two and then take it off. There was no way it could have worked as pajamas or something to wear under a suit and feel sexy about, so it wasn't actually a gift for me to enjoy. It was a gift for him. In case you were wondering, that's not a good personal/impersonal gift for someone you've known only a few weeks. It got really awkward when he opened my gift and found a calendar and cookies. Apparently, we were on different pages about the status of our relationship. When I was quite obviously shocked and a little horrified by his gift, he said he'd given it just to see my reaction, which I took as a very bad sign, and the relationship pretty much sputtered out from that point. The sad thing was, during that dinner I'd found myself thinking that I might really start to like him, and I let myself feel hopeful about the relationship, so it was a huge crash for him to essentially play a practical joke on me. Not that I believed that he really just wanted to get a reaction out of me. That was a lame attempt at getting himself out of trouble when I was so horrified.

Since then, I've been leery of starting relationships too close to the holiday season. I guess that makes me what one magazine called a "Halloweenie," which is someone who avoids starting a new relationship between Halloween and Christmas, so as to avoid potentially awkward situations like being expected to meet families too early in the relationship or having to figure out an appropriate gift for someone you don't know well (though in the magazine's use of the term, they were talking about men who broke up with women right after Halloween because they were too cheap to buy gifts and who didn't want to have to deal with the girlfriend's family). Come to think of it, the guy I'd been dating for most of the year of Lingerie Man dumped me around Halloween, though by "dumped" I mean "fell off the face of the earth without a word," but the last contact I had with him was in October. So, alien abduction, or Halloweenie?

But I didn't learn my lesson about trying to find love during the holiday season. Tune in later this week for that story.

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