My first date with this seemingly great guy I met online happens to take place the night before his birthday. We have been emailing for about two weeks
now, so I 'know' him pretty well, but I'm uncertain about the etiquette here - is a simple "happy birthday" okay or should I have a gift for him? If so,
what is appropriate to give him this early in the game?

Jenn, Williamsburg

First dates that occur around occasions can often provide confusion. Showing up with a large wrapped box in hand can be perceived as 'too much' so early on,
but on the other hand you want to make a good impression. The fact that this is *his* birthday does give you an advantage, though; if it were a holiday that you were *both* celebrating, you would have to give consideration to whether he'd have something for you, in which case I'd advise you to stash something
small in your purse and pull it out only if he also has something for you. In this case, I'd advise you also to be ready with something, and to present it to him only if the evening seems to be going well and you're getting a good vibe. Best to have on hand would be either (a) a simple card, expressing your birthday wishes and your enjoyment of the getting-to-know-him process, and/or (b) something small and ultimately disposable, such as movie ticket coupons or a bottle of wine. This way you present as thoughtful but not trying to work your way into his life so soon. And whatever you do, don't ask the waiter at the
restaurant to put a candle on his dessert. This can spell humiliation.