It Must Be Like

Dear Helena,

I’ve just started seeing somebody, and I want to have dinner with her on Valentine’s Day. But since I’m not certain how I feel about her yet, I don’t want to make a big thing out of it. (Plus, that might scare her off.) Is it OK to invite someone out on Valentine’s Day if you’re not serious yet? If so, how can you politely let the other person know that you’re not making a big statement?—Dithering Dater

Dear Dithering Dater,

Valentine’s Day can be tricky when you’re at the beginning of a relationship. If you invite someone out, she might think you’re serious when you’re not. If you ignore the holiday, you risk giving offense when none is meant. Emily Morse, host of the podcast “Sex with Emily,” says, “If I was dating someone, and we didn’t do anything for Valentine’s, I’d wonder, ‘What’s he doing tonight?’”

Here’s how to make a low-pressure date for Valentine’s Day that doesn’t imply something you didn’t mean to imply.

1. Be honest. Try this on for size: “I’d like to go out with you on Valentine’s, but we just started dating. This doesn’t have to be a big-deal Hallmark thing. Let’s just hang out and have fun.” Rather than taking offense, your date will probably be relieved.

2. Time it right. Ask someone to dinner too far in advance and you might freak him out, making him fear that you have some cheesy extravaganza planned. Wait until a few days before. But don’t leave it too late—a last-minute invite could be insulting.

3. Suggest that you forgo gifts. You or your date may feel pressured by cultural mores to buy each other a little something, veering dangerously into lovey-dovey territory. Do as one CHOW editor does, and suggest that you save your dollars for a future date where you can split a bottle of good wine.

4. Go casual. If you take your lover to a Michelin-starred restaurant and order champagne, she may expect a proposal, or at least the key to your apartment. On the night itself, reinforce the fact that it’s a regular date. Don’t dress up more than you normally do, skip the flowers, and take your date for pizza or to a casual neighborhood joint. Cut the dinner short by rushing her to a movie (nothing too sappy, though).

One final point: If you really don’t know how you feel, that’s fine. But if deep in your heart you just want a fling, and you think she might want more, don’t invite her out, however casually. It’s not polite to lead someone on, and on Valentine’s Day, even dinner at a taco stand could be construed as romantic.

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