Monday, November 30, 2009

Naughty or Nice?

The holidays are right around the corner. As if it isn’t hard enough trying to figure what to give your father who has everything he could possibly want (otherwise, he’d buy it himself…) or what the going rate is for NYC doormen in a recession, now add to that the question “what gift is appropriate for someone you’ve only been dating a few weeks or a couple of months?” No gift? A card? A Starbucks gift card? (I do not recommend that one).

For couples who have just started dating this time of year is particularly difficult to navigate. Everywhere you go, you are reminded that the holidays are right around the corner (I kid you not, I was hearing “Jingle Bells” in Bed Bath & Beyond before Halloween). If only the three wise men were on hand to let you know what gift would put you in good standing and what gifts will result in charcoal in your stocking next year.

Yes, we know it’s not about the gift per se. As cliché as it may sound, whatever you give, it truly is the thought that counts. Especially now when the poor economy has made people take stock of what really matters. Still … there’s no denying that there are inherent expectations this time of year that, if not met, lead to disappointment, resentment and a notable lack of holiday cheer. And these expectations go well beyond the gift giving but also to plan-making (Geez, is New Year’s just 4 and ½ weeks away?) and staying in close phone/email contact when holiday travels take you to different time zones.

But let’s stick with the gift giving for the purposes of this blog which in some ways is the easiest part of the equation (knowing when it’s time to spend the holidays together, meet family, etc. now that can be a doozey). Obviously, if you’ve only had two or three dates, you’re safe with a “have a great holiday” sign off via email or phone and “let’s get together when you get back into town.” Past the token first few dates, though, things can get tricky. Of course, you can never go wrong with a nice card – even if it says a most generic “Happy Holidays – looking forward to spending more time together in the New Year.” Guys, this would do wonders for the new woman in your lives and it only costs $4.99. Even sending an e-card is better than nothing.

But what about the actual gift giving? What should one get? As any jaded dater can figure out, if you pick out a gift that is too lavish too soon you run the risk of scaring off your new paramour. On the other hand, if you refrain from placing anything under the tree (or near the menorah), then you also send a message which you hope is appropriately timed (e.g. “it’s too soon for this gift giving thing” – that’s fine if it’s three weeks, probably not going to fly with the ladies after three months).
[1] Ok, ok, so, yes Guys, for purposes of this blog there has already been some level of intimacy (I know the guys are thinking when contemplating theoretically what would be an appropriate gift: "have I seen her naked? Have we slept together?" Girls are wondering "is he calling every day?" These things do factor into the equation). Continuing with the questions… what gifts show thoughtfulness and appreciation for the other person, what gift might send the wrong message?

If you are in the beginning stages of a relationship, the gift should most likely be relatively small – as we all know, you could very well be broken up next week and here you are having given a pricey Tiffany’s bracelet to someone you may very well never talk to again. In my opinion, books are a perfect small gift (as least for guys) in a new relationship assuming the object of your affection likes to read as they are something someone can potentially have forever. And you never forget the person who gave you a book that really impacted you. In addition, if you give your new romantic interest a book that you really love, it can also be a way for that person to get a better sense of who you are as well as provide a way for you two to connect even more. Other good gift items for guys could be cigars, a good bottle of wine or liquor, boxers, cool cufflinks, a gift certificate for a hard core Swedish massage at his gym, CDs to learn Italian if he’s been talking about wanting to get in touch with his Latin heritage … or any gift that shows you’ve been paying attention and were thinking of him.

For women, you could also try books (Guys, if you’re not sure where her interests lie, casually check out what’s on her bookshelf next time you’re over) though I think some women would find this gift not to be romantic enough (if there are no books in her apartment that might be a good clue not to do your shopping at Barnes and Noble). Maybe consider nice gloves and a matching scarf so she can wear them and tell people you picked them out for her. Even a quality picture frame might also work (it has the hidden message that she might fill it with a picture of the two of you someday) … or you might really impress her if you notice that she is in need of something and fill the void before she gets the opportunity (i.e. noticing that she is running low on her perfume, etc.). Most women I know are always in need of good body lotions (ask a good girlfriend what a desirable brand is – Dove is probably not going to earn you any points). This is a gift that has a dual impact – it’s slightly sensual but also practical. Nice candles could also be a good gift and they can be used to set the right ambiance on a cold winter’s eve.

While artistic, handcrafted jewelry could also be a great gift (a new boyfriend once gave me a relatively inexpensive but very cool pair of earring from a new jewelry designer that I loved for the holidays – it was a perfect gift), I would be very careful about giving any jewelry unless you are pretty confident about your new girlfriend’s taste – you’d hate to have your gift sit in the jewelry box all year or worse regifted in a Secret Santa office swap. And just as I suggested for the men, what woman wouldn’t appreciate a gift certificate for an hour massage at a nice NYC salon or spa (maybe pass on the Swedish massage and opt for hot stone therapy)?

These are all relatively inexpensive gifts that are not charged with too much symbolism but also show you are invested on some level.
[2] Whatever the gift is that’s being shared, I think we can all agree that as long as the other person’s trying, he or she gets the green light (no matter how far from your taste the gift might be, try to keep in mind that old expression regarding looking a gift horse in the mouth – generally not a good idea as they have very bad breath).[3] Hopefully, you’ll have another whole year for your new guy or gal to get to know your taste – and possibly a lifetime together to get this whole gift giving ritual down.

Readers, if you have any good suggestions for thoughtful, inexpensive gifts for members of the opposite sex, please feel free to post them (and stories of interesting/inappropriate holiday gifts are also welcome for a good pre-holiday laugh).

[1] For starters, there should be open communication on this topic. You never know if the other person is also planning to show his or her excitement over your budding romance with some token of his or her affection. I think most people agree that they hate being taken by surprise when someone presents them with a gift and they are caught empty handed. One suggestion is to say to your new love interest, “hey, I picked you up something small. Nothing big at all, just something I think you’ll like.” Now he or she has been duly warned. Similarly, if you don’t “do” gifts during the holiday season (perhaps you don’t agree with the commercialism of the holidays), it’s also important to let your new significant other know. That way there is no misunderstanding or hard feelings.

[2] If you have some special skill where you can make a gift for your sweetie, even better. But if your one skill is making wood plate holders with a ceramic center (a la 7th Grade Home Ec.) you might want to hold off another year or two … or indefinitely.

[3] Ok, I know you’re busy this time of year… I’ll save you the effort of having to click onto the link: “[t]he value of a horse is related to its age - i.e., a younger horse is more valuable than an older horse. You can determine the relative age of a horse by inspecting its teeth. Back in the day, a horse was commonly given as a gift. If a man received a horse as a gift, and then inspected inside its mouth, he was trying to assess the value of the gift he received. So, the saying means that you should not assess the value of any gift that you receive; rather you should be thankful for the thoughtfulness of the gift-giver.”

Curious to know what Sunday at Noon is about and the services Marni offers? Contact Marni at to learn more about becoming a client. Like all good things this time of year, holiday discount available through December 24th. Why not give yourself the gift of love this year? Sunday at Noon: It’s completely confidential, it’s fun and it’s effective.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Peter Pan Lives on Perry Street (and his cousin, Paula, lives on Prince)

Ah, New York. Unlike any other place in the world. The ridiculously expensive shops, top tier entertainment, VIP nightlife, the constant energy and distractions … one big playground for high salaried adult-kids whose sense of age and aging would make Ponce de Leon think that there is definitely something in the water.

Now, I know it’s not just New York that has delayed the aging process. Haven’t you heard? All over the country 40 is the new 30, 30 is the new 20 and 20 is the new … ok, wait a minute… Anyway, you’re right - more people everywhere are going for graduate degrees, delaying marriage, living longer, etc.

But there is something about New York that is different. A feeling. A sense of control over one’s own child-adult transition, timing and destiny. A belief that you can be a kid for as long you want until the one day you decide (if you want, we all know people who never make this decision) that you’re done playing and you would like to now be a real life, certifiable adult. An official “Grown-Up.” Until then, however, there are a lot of trees you would like to climb and uneven bars you would still like to frequent. And, as all residents of Gotham City
[1] sure as hell know, there will always be an ample and steady supply of other Lost Boys more than willing to play with you. Whether you are 21, 31 or 51.

And you may ask why it’s anyone’s business when you choose to grow up. Who’s to say you can’t go out until 3 in the morning or that you can’t do 4 shots of tequila - as long as you are at work on time the next day it’s really not an issue. You get the job done. And done well.

Maybe it’s no one’s place to judge the oftentimes hedonistic and incredibly social lives we lead in New York – it’s certainly not mine. But the one thing that I can tell you, from the countless conversations I have with unattached New Yorkers (how do you like that as a synonym for “single?”), is that when it comes to relationships, this false sense of eternal youth can in fact be very dangerous for NYC singles ...

Dangerous? Yes, dangerous. More so than Barney’s Warehouse Sale. As always, I will elaborate.

New Yorkers tend to be achievers with the salaries to match the drive. They tend to take care of themselves and have the money that it often requires to look good – and younger. They tend to have active social calendars and are not sitting on the couch watching reruns when they could easily be at a gallery opening, a new culinary hotspot, or a friend’s Penthouse party. So when you look good, feel good and have more event invitations than you could possibly attend, dates scheduled than you can possibly keep track of or hookups pleasantly repeating themselves in your mind than you care to admit, it’s easy to get lost in a time warp. But oftentimes when a sociable single finally comes to realize that he or she is tired of the “carefree” single life (been there/done that) and wouldn’t mind some cares (kids, a house, and so on) it is often at a point where so much valuable time has passed that Jane or Joe Single suddenly looks in the mirror and exclaims “Holy *%!@*! How did I get here?”

This phenomenon is extremely common with NYC women, but men are certainly not immune (more on this in a moment). Anywhere else in the country (save LA or maybe one or two other urban areas) a single 30 year old woman is considered a virtual spinster. Here, no one looks askance at a group of 30 year old “hotties” out on the town looking to meet boys – they are considered to be in their prime dating age, really. However, as you might imagine, flash forward a quick 6, 7 or 8 years (yes, they go fast) and many of these same girls are very anxious to get married. Sure, they had a tremendous amount of fun dating casually, going out with the guys who weren’t good/right for them and possibly partying their fair share. Or maybe they’re “unattached” because they held out for Mr. Perfect until they realized that Mr. Perfect does not exist. Or maybe it’s because they were completely focused on excelling in their careers and it seemed as if there was all the time in the world to think about having babies. But they now realize the window to have a family is closing a little more each day. Often these women look great for their age (like many women in Manhattan do) and they don’t feel old by any means. But they have come to realize that, unfortunately, the human biological clock wasn’t set specifically for Eastern Standard Time. And, so for many of these women, dating is no longer simply dating. It has changed into a vetting process that is loaded with expectation, disappointment and frustration.

And, of course, the Big Ben reality isn’t lost on the men either. Yes, the men tell me, they want to be married and have kids. But not tomorrow. “She’s [x] years old? She must want kids as of yesterday. I want to be dating the person I am going to marry for at least a year. Then I want to be engaged for a year. Then I want to be married for at least two or three years before I have kids. So what is she going to do about having kids at [insert age]? My cut off is 36”. And you thought only women had these timelines in their heads! I literally had a conversation that went exactly this way the other day with a guy I never dreamed would have such a fixed time schedule.

If women could only hear the things I hear. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, Ladies, but being in the know helps me to convey information that can hopefully make a difference in some sassy single sister’s dating decisions. Message to the Women: You do not want to be a Paula Pan.

But before you get too smug, guys, please know that Peter Pan is not so sexy either. Many women are skeptical of a guy who is 40, 45, 48, etc. and never married and some women I know even refuse to be introduced to “those guys.” To them, it is a major, major indicator of skeletons in the closet, commitment phobia and/or a lack of desirability in general. Maybe there are enough women who overlook it, but there are plenty who will not.

And then there is the “able dad” issue. I met a guy who was 51 who told me that he still wants to have kids and so he only wants to meet women 37 or younger. I tried to break it to him that most 37 years olds don’t want their husbands in Depends when their kids are in college. Of course, I conveyed the message with more sensitivity (btw, I did not take him on as a client) … that was a year ago and he is still single and one year closer to his senior citizen discount. But he would not budge on age, consider dating a woman with kids or ever consider the thought of adopting. And for what it’s worth, let me remind my guy readers, your sperm ain’t immune from wrinkling either. See my Don’t Shoot the Messenger Part II blog (May 2009) for more on this. You have to wonder – why the hell did this guy wait so long? Because he drank the Kool-Aid, of course.

Ironically, these same New Yorkers who are uber-driven and focused in their careers/social lives frequently take a laissez-fare approach when it comes to their loves lives and often completely drop the ball. Indeed, these singles think that if they simply appear at a large number of social events per month they've done what they need to do and Mr. or Miss Right is going to magically turn up. You would not network for a high powered law firm or banking job at a local pub or leave beginning the preparation of a pitch to snare a top account to an hour before your meeting, so why would one assume he or she can take a comparably unfocused approach to finding a life partner? It seems like an obvious statement, but singles need to think strategically about dating. If they took a more focused approach to meeting their potential future partners (whether with the expertise of a service or just engaging in more deliberate dating in general) they would likely find that they can avoid the Captain Hooks of dating’s Never-Never Land.

New York is a wonderful city and it’s a lot of different things to many different people, but it’s not a children’s fairytale. And most would say that’s a good thing … after all, growing up’s not so bad.

[1] Ever wonder how New York got this nickname? Apparently, it was “first used by Washington Irving and others in the Salmagundi Papers, with satirical reference to Gotham, England, where the wise men acted as fools in order to avoid paying for the king's upkeep.” See (also addresses the Batman reference)

[2] I imagine most readers are aware of the unfortunate background story to this now common expression, but for the curious, you can find answers at the always informative Urban Dictionary site. See