It may get dark at 4.30pm and be cold enough to wear your parka to bed, but please do believe me when I say that December is the most wonderful time of year to start dating.
With the magic of Christmas twinkling at you from doorways and the soul-warming sounds of carol singers drifting through the air, it’s a stunning setting for getting to know someone.
However, navigating the festive period with a partner for the first time – whether you’ve been dating for five minutes or five months – can be fraught with difficulty. How do you make time to see each other amid all those party invites? Do you gift each other or awkwardly ignore the subject of presents altogether and wonder if the person you’re with is secretly Scrooge? And whose friends will you be staggering around a dance floor with come New Year’s Eve?
These are all questions I will attempt to answer in my guide to dating over the festive period.
Making time for each other
What with Christmas parties, catch-ups with friends and still having to be sober enough to make it into work the next day, it’s hard to crowbar in the time to see a new squeeze during the festive period. Especially when you know that they will likely be as busy as you are.
How you prioritise your social calendar during this time should depend on how long you’ve been together. If you’ve been dating for a couple of weeks, I suggest thinking of one or two activities you might be able to do that don’t need booking in advance. Go ice skating, perhaps, see a movie somewhere, or head to a Christmas market on a free afternoon. That way, if either of you does have to cancel due to an epic hangover, it’s not a big deal.
You should also attempt to keep a fairly relaxed attitude to rearrangements during this period, as they are highly likely to occur and do not necessarily mean that your prospective partner is a massive flake. Simply that, like you, they are finding this whole thing hard to get through themselves, let alone with a second person to think about.
If you’ve been dating for three months or more however, don’t take any nonsense. You should have a general sense of who they are by now, and where things are heading. If you’ve agreed to keep it casual, you’ll know what to expect. If not? You should both be able to clear some space for each other somewhere, or even combine a few events.
Where to spend Christmas
I’ve only ever spent one Christmas away from my family and with an on-off boyfriend instead. I deeply regretted it. It was the first time I’d met his mum and dad, his inappropriately handsy granddad and his whisky-soaked uncle and aunt.
"So, how do your parents feel that you couldn’t be bothered to show up this year, eh?" his dad said in possibly the most passive-aggressive greeting I have ever received. The day didn’t get much better. I felt totally out of my depth, unable to relax, and I will never, ever do it again.
The moral of this story? Everyone has different Christmas traditions and places to go. Make your tradition an absolute priority if you’re in a fairly new relationship and do not – I repeat, DO NOT – use Christmas as the time to introduce your date to your family. If the gravity of the occasion doesn’t get to you, the booze and bad behaviour will.
You can start the conversation of who is going to whose for Christmas and Boxing Day further down the line. And even then – what’s a couple of days apart in the grand scheme of things?
The present dilemma
To buy or not to buy? That, my friends, is the ultimate Christmas dating question.
While you don’t want to appear stingy or uncaring, you also want to avoid going full-on Kanye West, lavishing your love with more flowers than she can fit in her house, matching leather onesies and a fluorescent pink Land Rover.
"It was all going really well, but he went overboard with presents and it really put me off," a friend told me recently. They’d been dating for a few weeks, and this particular lad, generous as he might have appeared, misread the situation a little.
"He bought me perfume, a Tiffany necklace, two bunches of flowers, chocolates… it went on. It just felt like he was trying to buy me somehow and was actually slightly creepy."
Equally, avoid what I did a few years ago and completely forget to get my date anything, thinking they "didn’t do Christmas". I arrived at their house a week before the big day to find him dressed as a reindeer with a thoughtful gift tucked under a tree laden with so many decorations, it had to be propped against a wall to stop it thundering to the ground.
If you have been dating for a couple of months, have a conversation with them and ask. Go on. You can do it.
A couple of weeks? You can get away with not gifting at all and playing it cool, but it’s a nice gesture to have a token £5 something in the bag just in case they really are quite into Christmas. Preferably something you can keep or regift if it doesn’t work out though.
Navigating the NYE party
How seriously to take New Year’s Eve? Is it an event that you deeply care about or, like me, an overly expensive evening of enforced fun that’s a nightmare to get home from? I tend to find the less I bother to try and have a good time, the better it actually is.
A traditional night for me would involve a group of friends, someone’s house and plenty of prosecco. It wouldn’t matter who I spent that time with, so long as they didn’t expect me to get too into it – or to end the night gracefully.
If this sounds like you, spending this evening – one of potentially very many – with the person you’re dating might not matter. In which case, you have nothing to fear.
If it doesn’t, and it is an important event for you, scroll back up to the section about Christmas Day and ask yourself: Is this a casual night for my date to meet my friends, or could it all be a bit too awkward? If the former, go ahead and invite them. The latter? You can manage an evening apart. Just get your text in before midnight so it doesn’t get stuck in the backlog. Or well beforehand so what you’ve sent isn’t the aubergine emoji and a question mark.