Survive The Holidays — Without Breaking Up

So, it’s the holidays and you’re dating someone. Maybe this swells your heart with joy at the promise of cozy fires and some tender canoodling ‘neath a seasonal frond. Or maybe it fills you with dread at the thought of the pummeling stress test your relationship will endure on an overpriced flight to Peoria.
Group one: Go wait in the car — this article is for group two.
The lead-up to the holidays is one of the most common times for relationships to end, mostly because everything is nuts: You've got less than a month to buy and ship a zillion gifts, get ugly sweaters and wear them to parties, procure a conifer, and then jet home to hang out with your big crazy family — all while the poor sap you date tries to do the same.
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So, you can give up — part with a handshake and promise not to call ‘til the new year — or you can soldier bravely forth. And we think we can help. Here’s what you need to know to make it sanely to 2014.
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Illustrated By Sydney Hass.
We are baffled when we hear people wonder if they’re supposed to exchange gifts. There are many times in life when you can skip gift-giving: Crashing a stranger’s wedding, for example, or Arbor Day.

This is not one of those instances. The holidays are gift-giving festivals with vague overtones of religion. If you’re sleeping with someone and it’s December, get a present.
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Illustrated By Sydney Hass.
The bigger question, of course, is what. Let’s visualize:

It’s a snow-kissed morning. The object of your affection sits up in bed. You slip a brown-paper package from under the bed. There’s sound of paper ripping, a gasp, then joyous laughter at the sight of a shiny, new…. ?

What’s that? You got nothing? Well, worth a shot.

Now you’ve got to research. Email their friends, call their parents, and start making lists. It’s a lot easier to pick a thing or two you’d like to get and then head out to find it than it is to just start roaming around stores.
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Illustrated By Sydney Hass.
Here’s a good rule of thumb when figuring out price range: Take what you spent on your last date and double it. If you guys are rocking get-burritos-and-sit-in the-park dates, lovingly pick out a used book. If your last date-spot asked if you’d prefer “still or sparkling,” shoot a little higher.

If you’re dating someone with wildly more or less money than you (or just live in fear of being out-gifted) set an arbitrary price limit. Under $20, under $50 -- or even zero dollars. (And if you don’t think that can be done, re-watch the 30 Rock where Liz gets Jack a bomb-threat.)
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Illustrated By Sydney Hass.
A bunch of studies have shown that spending money on experiences (trips, dinners, tango class) is more fulfilling than spending it on things. So, give an activity gift: Reservations to seaweed foam at some temple of culinary gastronomy or any kind of tickets.

This works extra well for new relationships, since if your gift misses the mark a bit, at least the play is over in two hours… whereas he’ll have to keep that weird, ugly vase on his bedside table forever. Plus, there’s nothing like an hour in knife-skills class to teach you about the tenacity and anger-management skills of your partner.
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Illustrated By Sydney Hass.
This is the biggest question of all: is one of you tagging along to the other’s home?

Assuming you’re not married or just three weeks in, it can be a bit tricky. But, let’s assume you’re both doing some sort of “go home for the holidays” thing, and that neither of you has a iron-clad “This could be Bubby’s last Kwanzaa” excuse. If that’s the case: just go together.

Will it be a little scary and stressful? Yup. You’ll have to see the “Buffy” posters of the person you’re sleeping with, and a red-faced aunt will ask about your relationship with The Lord. But fortune favors the bold – and so does a sexually fulfilled adulthood.

And anyway, dodging a big step like this can put just as much stress on your relationship as a crazy ‘Meet the Parents’-sitch will. At least the latter makes good anecdotes.
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Illustrated By Sydney Hass.
Since you started reading this, ticket prices doubled. If somehow you haven’t yet secured passage on the plane, train or steamboat that takes you home, do it now. (Seriously, we’ll wait).
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Illustrated By Sydney Hass.
All booked? Great. Now some bad news: Airports are harder on relationships than assembling Ikea furniture. Holiday airports are like trying to assemble Ikea furniture on a crowded bus full of chubby Midwesterners and crying babies.

Step one is to keep expectations low. Enter your holiday travels imagining that you’ve just spent $400 to get stranded halfway home in a snowy airport hotel with no phone charger until mid-January. That way, one missed connection seems like no big deal.

Step two is tolerance. We know people who both are so tall/afraid of being trapped by their seatmates in the event of a horrific crash that they need to sit in the window seat. When they fly, they often sit separately, and… this is A-OK. Your goal here is not romance or bonding. It’s getting there.

Oh, and whoever who wants to arrive at the airport earlier is right.
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Illustrated By Sydney Hass.
The number-one rule of families is that we can criticize our own families -- but you can’t. We are allowed to say “Mom is such a dingbat!” and then get mad when you agree.

So remember a variant on what Thumper taught us: If you don’t have anything nice to say, lie a bit. There’s not a lot of value in pointing out what you don’t like or what your family does differently – you’re not dating their parents and you can’t change it.
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Illustrated By Sydney Hass.
Wait, what? You printed this article out weeks ago, and accidentally used it in origami class and now we’re two days out and you’ve got nothing? Two words: fancy accessories: Nice sunglasses, a cheap handsome watch, or a real umbrella. You’re welcome.
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Illustrated By Sydney Hass
Once, at a boyfriend’s holiday party, we fell asleep (long week!) on the couch (the fire was so warm) holding a glass of wine (just our second). Fortunately the wine didn’t spill, but someone did take a picture… now pretty much the entire extended family remembers us as either an alcoholic or a probable hobo.

Everyone is going to be in full-blown memory mode: taking pictures and cementing moments into cherished Christmas memories. And you’re probably meeting some people you won’t see again for a long time -- which means a lone act of impropriety could be remembered for a long time.

So while it sounds obvious, it’s worth repeating: be on your best behavior. Wear something nice, bring a little host gift for everyone who invites you into their home, have two fewer drinks than the college-aged nephews, and say you like the food.

With that and a little luck, you’ll be fine. Oh, and seriously: book that plane ticket.
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