Surprise parties: worth the effort?

Everybody loves a surprise. Or do they? Until meeting my boyfriend, I thought so. Even though he swore “je n’aime pas les surprises” (“I don’t like surprises”), I just didn’t buy it. So when he repeated regularly over the course of several months leading up to the event that he didn’t want a 30th birthday party, well, what was a girl to do?


I threw myself into the task of collecting his friends’ contact details and put the cover story in place… I would be taking him out for dinner on his birthday, just the two of us. Invites sent and menu preparation underway, what should happen? “J’ai changé mon avis… je veux fêter mon anniversaire”. (“I’ve changed my mind… I want to celebrate my birthday.”) And he proceeded to reel off a date, location and guest list exactly matching mine. Uh-oh.

With absolutely no element of contrast between what he was planning to organise and what I had already organised, I was left with no choice but to reveal the secret and resort to inviting a special guest as the element of surprise. It was a disappointing situation. But could have been avoided if I’d listened to the warning signs…

When we think about surprises, we usually think it’s all about the story. Get your cover-story water-tight, make sure no-one slips up in the lead-up, and it’s a recipe for success. Or is it? My story was strong. No-one slipped-up. So where did it all go wrong?

Simply put, I mis-read the recipe. There was a key ingredient missing… a willing participant. It is very difficult, nigh on impossible, to surprise someone who doesn’t want to be surprised.

Unwilling “surprisees” generally fall into two main categories: control freaks who want to organise their celebrations themselves leaving no logistical possibility of surprise, and control freaks who get suspicious and ask question after question after question rather than just accepting that there may be a surprise in the air and leaving the possibility open for it to develop as it will.

My boyfriend fell into the former category… the French don’t like to celebrate their birthday before the event, so by choosing the night of his birthday (which fell on a Tuesday) rather than the weekend after, he closed the surprise window. He didn’t want to be surprised.

Just this week, our own PerfectlyRandom fell into the second category. After proclaiming that she didn’t want a birthday party this year, she decided that her husband’s story regarding their Saturday night plans of a local evening out seemed suspicious and proceeded to grill all and sundry (me included!) about what was “really happening”. Instead of leaving the possibility open for surprise, her curiosity wouldn’t allow her to just let it unfold. She didn’t want to be surprised.

Surprise parties, if they come off, can be a wonderful experience both for the surpriser and the surprisee. Pulling off the surprise can be a great source of satisfaction, and the flip-side of knowing people care enough about you to want to organise a special occasion for you, and usually going to a great deal of effort to do so, is very touching.

But before you go launching yourself into planning your next surprise party, ask yourself a simple question that may save a bit of heart-ache down the track… is my target a willing participant? Will he or she be willing to play their part in the game? If yes, get organising. If no… well… don’t say I didn’t try to warn you!


2 thoughts on “Surprise parties: worth the effort?

  1. In my defence, my suspicions were aroused when the husband went to show me an email from a friend which he then hastily retracted from in front of my nose and then refused to share with me. Once you wake the beast, there’s no stopping it…

    But I do feel very special that he and all my wonderful friends went to such trouble to organise something just for me!

  2. Pingback: The surprise party – part 2 | Laugh Lots, Travel Often

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