Your Summer Love Etiquette Guide

How should you dress for a date’s work picnic? What’s a nice way to end a summer fling? Here, a manners maven tells all.

By Leah Ingram

ummer love is supposed to be free and easy… but even the breeziest of romances can create dilemmas. Let me help: I’ve written 12 etiquette books and consulted with a top relationship expert to bring you the smartest solutions to some of the most common (and challenging!) situations.

I’m having a barbecue with all of my college buddies, who will be bringing their wives and kids. I’d like to invite my girlfriend, but we haven’t been dating very long. Would it be overwhelming for her to accompany me, or is now the perfect time to introduce her to my closest pals?

How does she feel about this impending barbecue? Is she psyched to meet your buddies and their families, or has she been hinting that she won’t be available that weekend? As with any relationship — and yes, this is
There’s nothing wrong with turning down a request for a date.
one — communication is key. Sit down and talk about this. See how she feels. For all you know she can toss back a few cold ones as well as your college friends can, and she might fit right in. But if you sense mixed feelings on her part, give her an out. Tell her, “I’d really like you to meet everyone, but I don’t want you to feel like you’re Exhibit A that day. It’s OK with me if you want to skip this barbecue, and meet everyone another time at smaller get-togethers.”

My kids’ summer camp has a final performance at the end of the session. My ex will be there but I’d like to bring the person I’ve been dating for the past three months, since things have gotten more serious over the summer. Would that be appropriate?

As a parent your most important responsibility is to your children, so what do they think of having him attend? Do they like him? Have they even met him? Do they get along? Ask your kids. If they know him and are comfortable with him being there — and they would be proud to have him be at the camp performance — then that’s a good sign to go ahead. If on the other hand, this was someone you were dating casually at the start of summer, the kids went to sleep-away camp, and the romance heated up, then proceed with caution — it would be very unsettling for them to suddenly see this virtual stranger by your side.

The other issue, of course, is their father. “Is your ex cool — someone who can handle a situation like this well — or are you inviting a showdown?” asks Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., a psychotherapist and author of The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again. “If you are on good enough terms with your ex, give him a heads up that you’re going to be bringing a date. Please do yourself and everyone else a favor, and don’t make it a surprise.”

I’ve been invited to my new beau’s company picnic. What’s appropriate to wear? And how should I act?

If there was ever a time to opt for more conservative dress and behavior, this would be that time. As far as fashion goes, stick with something you might wear to a casual summer wedding — a sundress (not too bare), or a short-sleeved shirt paired with a skirt or capris. If there will be swimming, skip the bikini and go with a one-piece.

Whatever you do, don’t plop yourself in a chair and sulk if your new guy doesn’t spend every minute of the picnic showing you off or spending time with you. Even though this is a picnic, it is still a business affair. And for the sake of his career, he likely needs to be hobnobbing with his colleagues. So pitch in where you can, advises Dr. Tessina. “Offer to keep score during the company softball game or help to put the food out.” Engage in idle chitchat with his coworkers but keep the content rated G — they don’t need to hear about the amazing makeout session under the stars you two shared on the night you met. Basically, be a good sport about the whole thing. “Remember,” adds Dr. Tessina, “you want to make a good impression for your beau’s sake.” One last tip: Figure out a safe way to introduce yourself. If your guy is off chatting with the boss and someone comes over to you, try, “Hi, I’m Sarah Jones; I’m here as a guest of Tim Smith in accounting.” That should explain who you are, without invoking the term “girlfriend” too early in the game.

The July 4th weekend is quickly approaching, and the guy I’ve been dating hasn’t said anything about our spending the holiday weekend together. I’d like us to do something special but don’t want to appear pushy. How should I handle things?

It’s early in the relationship, so he may not be thinking that holiday weekends translate as time spent exclusively with you. To ensure you don’t end up depressed and with nothing to do on July 4th, I would recommend that you go ahead and plan some kind of party with your friends. Invite this guy, but don’t be disappointed if he RSVPs “No.” There’s always the chance that he has a family reunion or other social gathering to go to — and bringing you along simply isn’t appropriate at this point in your dating history.

My new boyfriend has invited me to spend the day at the beach. Problem is, I never learned to swim, and I hate the sand and seaweed. I’m embarrassed to tell him I can’t swim and don’t want to seem high maintenance about hating the beach. Should I fess up and ask to go to a pool instead?

“You’re going to have to tell him sometime,
It’s not your business to tell your date what kind of swimsuit she should wear.
and now is probably the best time,” says Dr. Tessina. “If he’s a caring guy, and he offers to teach you to swim, why not try it?” Also mention that it’s easier to learn to swim in a pool than the ocean; that’s a much better reason to suggest a pool versus complaining about how icky the sand and the seaweed are. And of course you can also explain that you’d rather ease into the water with four pool walls around you instead of the great ocean blue.

Actually, admitting that you can’t swim and prefer the pool to the ocean could be a turning point in your relationship — how he responds will say a lot about him. If he seems annoyed about changing his plans, you need to show him the door. But if he’s a good sport, this admission could lead you to a conversation about your childhood (why you never learned to swim, what he loves about the water… ). Telling him your big secret may actually help you two reach a new, deeper level in your relationship. Wouldn’t that be a nice upside?

I got kind of drunk at a bonfire at the beach and made out with a buddy of my friends… and this guy now wants to go out. I don’t want to date him, but worry this whole thing is going to reflect badly on me and that my friends will think less of me. How can I save face?

There is nothing wrong with turning down a request for a date. It’s good manners to be honest and just say, “No, thank you.” It would be bad manners to avoid the guy or ignore his calls and email messages. You need to be direct and firm in letting him know that you’re not interested in pursuing a relationship with him. Sure, you may have given him mixed signals with your makeout session at the beach, but that’s done with and now you need to move on.

On a more serious note, Dr. Tessina advises, “Take a look at your drinking if it causes you to do things you feel bad about later.” If this isn’t the first time that you’ve come off a weekend of drinking and regretting your behavior, then it may be time to seek professional help.

How do I get the woman I’m dating to wear a bikini instead of a one-piece?

In simple terms, you can’t. It’s really not your business to be telling her what kind of bathing suit she should wear. For all you know she may have body image issues she isn’t comfortable discussing with you yet, have a scar from surgery she doesn’t want to flaunt… or perhaps she’s just a very modest person.

There’s nothing wrong with complimenting her on how gorgeous she is and telling her you think she’d look hot in a bikini — perhaps that will boost her confidence and make her rethink her swimwear choices. But the bottom line is it’s her decision about what kind of suit she wears. Besides, how would you feel if she asked you to wear a Speedo (please, say you don’t already!) when you prefer surfer trunks?

With the end of summer approaching, how do I let someone know that it was fun but I don’t want to keep dating?

“If it was fun, why don’t you want to keep dating?” asks Dr. Tessina. Are you the kind of person who believes in summer romances only? Well, gee, you could have let this person know that back in June, when you started hanging out. When you do make the break, do it in person or over the phone. Breaking up by email, IM or text is simply not cool. Explain that you don’t see the relationship progressing, but that you’ve enjoyed your time together.

Now, on the other hand, there may be some legitimate reasons for cooling off the relationship come fall, and the key is to clearly explain those reasons. Are your kids coming back to live with you full-time after spending the summer with your ex, leaving you no time to date? Are you starting night school come September? If so, just tell the truth, and the other person should understand your situation.

Leah Ingram is the author of 12 books, including Gifts Anytime: How to Find the Perfect Present for Any Occasion, The Everything Etiquette Book: A Modern Day Guide to Good Manners, and Tie the Knot on a Shoestring.
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