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December 09, 2015

Infrequently Asked Questions: Should I bring a date to the office holiday party?

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Wonderful as it may be, the holiday season can also be the most stressful time of year for dating.

The e-invite for the annual holiday party finally docks in your inbox, and more often than not, a plus-one comes along with it. You're seeing someone new, and it's going swimmingly, but deciding whether it's safe to invite a new love interest without derailing the whole relationship is both confusing and a little anxiety-inducing.

We reached out to Kenneth Maguire, a therapist with the Council for Relationships who specializes in working with couples and individuals, for some advice on the dos and don'ts of inviting a date to your holiday office party.

Let’s say you’ve been seeing a guy or girl for a few weeks, and you’re comfortable with where it’s all going, and you decide to be brave and invite him or her to your holiday work party. Good idea or bad idea?

I think I’d start by asking them whether they would feel comfortable going, so that there’s a little less pressure on them about, one, the seriousness of the relationship and what their response might mean, and two, they might feel the relationship is going well, but that might feel like too much of a step right now. I might put it out there in a much more uncertain way: Do you feel comfortable enough? Would you like to go? Not go? Make more possibilities and options to it than, 'I’d really love it if you’d come to my office party.'

By nature of bringing it up, isn’t that opening a whole can of worms?

It probably is. And it’s probably a can of worms that would eventually be opened whether during the holidays or not. Either way, there’s probably going to be a conversation about where the relationship is going or not going, and it may be that the holiday party, because of this time of year, that's one way the conversation happens.

If you had to draw a pros and cons list, what would that look like?

I think you want to consider how formal or informal the office party would be and how many people would be there. So, if it’s a big company and a lot of people and it’s not really intimate, then taking someone you’ve been dating for a short period of time probably is going to be more comfortable because it’s going to feel like a party. If it’s a very small company with only 10 people sitting around a table at a restaurant, that might feel like a bit much to someone you’ve been dating. In terms of pros and cons, a pro is it could be a really good evening, a fun time, enhance the intimacy of the relationship, and it could be the right time to be asking what direction the relationship’s going and it may help it develop. The con side is the person could feel overly pressured and they might actually back off from the relationship and feel like you’re moving too quickly or putting more importance on the relationship than they are at that point.

There’s almost a selfishness involved with wanting to invite somebody because of proximity to the holidays, which come around once a year. It’s a validation sort of thing, wanting to be the one who has a plus-one.

Right. You don’t want to be the person there alone, when everyone else is there in a couple and you somehow feel "less than." Whether you are or not, but you might feel that way in your head. So you might be putting pressure on the relationship and then putting too much stress on it just because you’re not comfortable going alone.

Planning how long ahead of time is OK to invite a date is hard, too.

I think a good rule of thumb I heard is, 'Never plan ahead longer than the relationship has existed.' If you’ve dated two weeks, only plan two weeks ahead. Three weeks ahead, unfortunately, it’s just past that deadline.

If you do bring a date, how do you introduce them?

I think that’s something you need to negotiate with the other person. I think most relationships, what happens is we don’t talk to the other person and don’t collaborate on it -- especially talking about early in a relationship and introducing them to other people for the first time. You and the other person need to be a united front; you need to have the same idea in your head of what’s going on. That will make them more comfortable about going with you because they know then what the turf they’re going on is. If you want to introduce them in a particular way other than as a friend, you need to have that conversation with the person and don’t just surprise them with saying 'This is my boyfriend or girlfriend' at the office party.

In your own practice with patients, is the holiday season a generally rough time for relationship building?

I think it can be very difficult because we have a lot of ideas about what the holidays are supposed to look like in terms of relationship and family. We have a lot of romantic notions of feeling closer to people, warm with people, intimate with people, and if the relationship is still in the uncertain period, it could accidentally put more pressure than is necessary on the relationship to be something you want it to be because of a romantic notion. Or, you could become resentful of the person that you didn’t get that when all of that is really marketing done by consumerism, or companies, rather than what actually happens during the holidays. You want to be careful you don’t put too much pressure on the relationship, and you also want to be careful you don’t become resentful that you don’t get the Hallmark card version of the holiday.

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