The Dating Nerd is a shadowy figure whose whereabouts and identifying details remain unknown. What we do know is that he is really, really good at dating. He's been on more dates than you can shake a lengthy bar tab at, and he's here to help the average guy step his dating game up a notch – or several. Need his help? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hi Dating Nerd,
My girlfriend bought me a watch. It’s super nice, but I don’t know what this means and I feel under pressure to do something in return. What do I do?
– A lucky boyfriend
Well, clearly, the first thing you do is humblebrag about it on the Internet by writing an open letter to an advice column about your shiny new luxury timekeeping device. “Dear Dating Nerd, what do I do about the fact that my hot girlfriend just put a thousand bucks’ worth of finely tuned Swiss bling on my wrist? Very concerned about the fact that this might mean I’m a great boyfriend / amazing in the sack, RSVP.”
But seriously, it’s a fair question — that is, unless the watch was purchased by your girlfriend’s personal assistant, who constantly struggles to hear your girlfriend’s words over the sound of a money faucet loudly spewing money all over the place. If buying you a gift doesn’t represent any particular financial effort, giving it to you probably isn’t a form of significant personal effort. Enjoy making out with your expensively exfoliated partner’s face without stress.
Let’s assume, however, that your girlfriend is not Lindsay Lohan, desperately purchasing affection with the remains of a massive fortune. Let’s assume that buying you a watch was a significant dent in her checking account — that it represents hours of labor, during which she dutifully suffered idiots so she could get the sweet sweet ducats she spent on you.
Well, then, here’s what you shouldn’t do.
Firstly, don’t immediately Google the watch, find out exactly how much it cost, then buy her a necklace of equivalent price. First of all, she didn’t buy you a watch so she could earn credits at the Guilty Boyfriend Store. Secondly, unless you’re a woman, you basically need a supercomputer to calculate the subtleties of taste involved in buying women’s jewelry. Whatever you buy her, she’ll either think it’s tacky or not tacky enough. You will screw this up.
Secondly, do consider what her motives are. And, honestly, this seems obvious. Probably she bought you that watch because she likes you a lot, or flat-out loves you, and she thinks, or hopes, that your relationship is real. By real, I don’t mean “physically manifest” or “most likely continuing until next week.” What I mean is, are you bullshitting? Is your plan “stay together until someone better comes along?” Are you constantly having ambiguous Facebook conversations with attractive female acquaintances? Are you in this, to the point where you would take a bullet, or, worse, take a baby shower?
Don’t feel bad if the answer to that last question is no. For most people, in most relationships, the answer is no. Most people are dating out of convenience — just kind of clinging onto someone pretty who provides better company than a mirror or a Twitter feed. And there’s nothing wrong with that. We’re social animals.
But do feel bad if you’re getting increasingly clear signs that she’s telling her mom that she’s really found someone great this time, that you’re not like all the other guys, when you are, in fact, exactly like the other guys — when you like having her around okay, but you will absolutely leave her for a shot at cuter or younger at the very first opportunity.
A gift like this is a sign that those meaningful mom conversations are taking place. It’s not a legally binding contract — it’s not explicitly a test — but it is a strong signal that she’s Into It, that she’s Chosen You. See, the great thing about money is that you can’t fake it. If you’re a reasonably confident person, you can fake affection, at the cost of the modest caloric output required to give a back rub. Giving thoughtful compliments only requires a modicum of brainpower. Making a woman handmade pasta is a lovely gesture, but she’s probably dimly aware that you’ve pulled this exact move on someone before.
But you can’t pretend buy somebody their favorite Premier Cru burgundy, or pretend book them a flight to Peru. This isn’t a make-believe gesture — so, in her mind, this isn’t a make-believe relationship.
If you agree with her, congratulations. I’m glad you’re on the same page. The first thing you should do is Instagram the fuck out of your new timepiece. Seriously. The most touching compliment you can give someone you’re dating — in this age where every single person is constantly projecting their sexual viability with social media — is being a total dork about your relationship in public as much as possible. I’m talking nauseating couple selfies, status updates about how lucky you are, whatever. Maybe you don’t treasure this idea — maybe your social media brand is “unsentimental status updates about how society is falling apart, combined with occasional YouTube videos of Radiohead.” I don’t care. This isn’t for you, it’s for her.
Then, just treat your relationship like anything you really care about. Take pains. Actually listen when she talks. Don’t whine if you’re horny but she’s not in the mood. And while, again, you shouldn’t immediately buy her a random present just to prove that you, too, can operate a credit card, you also shouldn’t rule out buying her gifts as well. If you’re passing by a florist and she says something about how she loves their bouquets, she’s dropping a hint, stupid.
If, however, you are bullshitting, take this watch as a warning. Get out now. And give her the watch back. Don’t offer to give her the watch back — mail it back to her, in a nice box, with an apology. Because if you don’t break up now, you might find yourself breaking up with her at your sister’s wedding, or after Thanksgiving dinner, or on the night of her birthday, which she’s spending alone with you at one of your favorite restaurants because there’s nobody she’d rather hang out with. That would be sad. I assume that you’re better than that. So is she.