Holiday parties can range from black tie to alcohol-infused harbor cruises. From low-key shindigs to high-brow extravaganzas, holiday parties can be as fun as they are challenging.

While it may seem like a great time, parties can be fraught with awkward decisions, especially when it comes to who is attending. Here are a few tips for handling the plus-one on the invite.

Can’t find a babysitter

What do you do if you are not bringing your significant other? In the case of established couples, everyone is expecting to see our partners. If he is not attending, even for the most basic of reasons, be ready with a simple, consistent answer.

Whether it is because of an inability to find a sitter or something more drastic and personal, it is best to have a genuine, repeatable answer that will satisfy everyone from your boss to the office gossip.

Is this a third date?

For those not in a relationship with someone everyone expects to see, there are several things we must consider before using the holiday party to introduce our plus one.

First, what kind of impression are we trying to make? It is guaranteed that everyone who meets our date will judge both of us, trying to make sense of the relationship and using it to validate any preconceived notions? Are we trying to reinforce or dispel those myths?

Second, we must consider both our approach to the party and our date’s. In other words, if we expect our date to know who everyone is, remember anecdotes about each co-worker, and bring their best work laugh, we have to recognize whether that is realistic. And then, we must clearly convey those expectations to our date, confirm whether they are onboard and respond accordingly.

Other? Check!

And for the rest of us who are not married or dating? The same rules still apply. For those who do not want to bring a date, a simple, consistent answer for why is the best way to neutralize any possible comments.

For those of us who want to bring a date? We have to once again consider the image we are trying to convey to the rest of the employees in our organization. The work party is a stage and we have to do our part to remember our role and act accordingly.

For example, an executive whose significant other was often travelling was planning to attend solo. However, she had also been in charge of a family-first initiative at work. Instead of going solo, she brought her grown daughter as her date. This reinforced her priorities and was consistent with her colleague’s impressions.

The bottom line is, realize everyone looks at the plus-one as an extension of us. Whether we bring our sister or our second husband, we are dressing up our personal lives and marching them through the co-worker, boss, office gossip gauntlet. Try to minimize the damage and increase the likelihood of a fun time by thinking through the RSVP.