It’s Your Date’s Birthday...

How should you celebrate—a little gift, a big blow-out, or pretend you didn’t notice? Here’s advice.

By Stephen F. Milioti

ou’ve just met someone you like, really like, and you’re trying to play it cool. On the third date, your potential paramour mentions his birthday, which is coming up soon. Your first impulse is to call a local restaurant and make dinner plans, asking if the staff can come out with a cake and sing... but is that appropriate? He’s
Simply asking a new suitor about his or her birthday plans is the way to go..
someone you like, so you want to do something, but he's not yet a boyfriend, so you don’t want to scare him off by going overboard. We got some tips from New York City-based psychotherapist Ken Voorhees, who specializes in gay relationships. Follow these guidelines and it’ll be a happy birthday... for both of you.

Just ask, silly!
Being up-front and simply asking a new suitor about his or her birthday plans is the way to go. He or she may already have a bash planned, nix the idea of celebrating completely (good thing you found out before ordering that clown-o-gram!) or hint that a dinner date would be great, which is where you come in. “Rather than springing a birthday surprise on someone, gently let them know that you’d love to celebrate with them any way they’d feel comfortable,” says Voorhees. It might seem so un-spontaneous as to be un-sexy, but it guarantees you both know what your sweetie would like most.

Don’t assume his birthday is about you.
If you’ve just started dating someone, don’t be offended if you aren’t included in the birthday plans. “He or she could likely have a lot of people – friends, family – vying for attention,” says Voorhees. “Be sensitive to the fact that your date might have an array of plans.” Those plans might have been set up before you started dating or even met, so don’t take it personally. If your date is comfortable inviting you to join the group festivities, he or she will let you know.

Go easy on the gift.
There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging a new sweetie’s birthday with a little gift, but don’t go overboard. Voorhees suggests something moderately priced—this is one
Whether you’re a broker or a beat poet, the gift should be meaningful.
time when it’s the thought that really counts, especially since a high price can seem like you’re trying to rush a relationship. “Whether you’re a broker or a beat poet, the gift should be meaningful,” he says. “Avoid giving a ring or any symbols like that of starting a life together.” Consider thoughtful presents, like books by a favorite author, an unusual tool to pursue a hobby (like left-handed pruning shears), or a little gourmet something for the kitchen.

If you make plans, keep them simple.
If your date says “Let’s just hang out” for the big-day festivities, it’s best to err on the side of subtly romantic rather than flashy. A romantic dinner out, an exotic cocktail by the waterfront or just a trip to the zoo (preceded by a nice brunch) are all good choices. Whatever you do, give your honey a heads-up rather than being frighteningly vague—saying you’re planning “something unexpected” is anxiety-inducing enough for a friend, much less a new date who’s still trying to get to know you.

If your date’s birthday falls before the third date, forget it.
If you’re on the first one or two dates with someone and you find out they’re having a birthday, it’s probably best to absolve yourself from any birthday duty whatsoever (OK, you can send a funny card). “The first date is a fact-finding mission,” says Michael Longacre, an art director in New York City. “The second date is the confirmation of the first one's findings.” So keep your birthday wishes on that scale—you shouldn’t go all out for someone you might not even want to see again! After all, it’s hard enough just to get to know the basic details about someone on the first couple of dates, much less what kind of shirt and birthday cake this person would like.

Have fun already.
Whether it’s yours or anyone else’s, celebrating a birthday is supposed to be a good time. “Putting too much emotional investment in someone’s birthday, one month after you meet them, is a problem,” says Voorhees. Freaking out about it may suggest that you’re getting too connected, too fast without really knowing the person. “Sometimes we just fall in love with the image of someone and with the idea of being in a relationship with them, when really the first few months should just be about having fun,” says Voorhees. So if you’re panicking big-time about an impending birthday, lighten up before you light those birthday-cake candles.

Freelance writer Stephen F. Milioti has written for USA Today, Salon, and New York.
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