I love surprising people. I love that shocked face people get when they're taken off guard by something thoughtful you've planned, and I love making the people I care about feel special in that “you don't even know how much I like you” kind of way.
I've planned and executed dozens of surprise parties for romance-buddies and friends over the years, and many of my gifts come at random “no reason” surprise times, too. Other than feeding people, it's my preferred method of expressing affection.
However, the key to a good surprise is keeping it, well, a surprise. Not shit right? Well some people have a serious issue with keeping things quiet, and as a result, one of my scroogiest pet peeves was born: the built-up surprise.
You know, when someone says “I've got a surprise for you,” and then makes you wait several hours/days/weeks to receive it. All the while, you're on edge, begging your surpriser for hints, brain churning with questions you inevitably bombard your surpriser with: “What is it? Are we going somewhere? What do I wear?”
And on the inside, your brain (or at least my anxiety-riddled one) is rumbling with even larger worries: “What if I don't like it? What if I really don't like it, but then I have to pretend I like it, because I don't want to hurt their feelings...”
I know this makes me seem like a total drag and ungrateful, but I seriously cannot stand when someone taunts me with a surprise. I know they mean well, but in dangling a gift like that, dragging it out, it makes things all about the surprisee, and less about the surpriser. Something that was originally intended to make me feel good is instead making me anxious, and it doesn't seem as heartfelt, sort of like they're fishing for a compliment. If you wanted to do something nice for me, just do it, and stop dragging it out.
Surprising someone successfully takes a ton of planning, so I understand why people draw it out like they do. They have spent so much time planning and building momentum for this moment, and they want the release to be as sweet as possible. But like furry fandom and putting mayonnaise on French fries, understanding something doesn't mean I like it.
Of course, not all surprises go as planned, no matter how hard you try. In college I planned a big birthday bash for my then-boyfriend. I organized it with his roommates, invited all of the people to his place, and then invited my guy over to do laundry at mine until the time was right to head on over. Unfortunately, my guy had just taken a load out of the dryer when a frantic call came from his roommate, insisting he come home right away because someone had “just broken into their apartment and stolen his laptop.” As someone who is very particular with his things, I thought he would be flying right home. Instead, he insisted on folding every piece of clothing -- underwear included -- while I sat anxiously by, pretending to be worried about his stolen things while simultaneously being barraged by “Where the F are you?” texts from his roomies. Unable to hold everyone in the “surprise!” position for the 50 minutes it took to fold boxer briefs, when we arrived at the apartment, everyone was extremely wasted, and no one yelled surprise -- although one girl did try and dive behind the keg when she saw us enter. It was confusing and I had to explain to him what happened.
Similarly, I once planned a surprise graduation party for my college roommate. As 30 of us hunkered in our tiny kitchen, banners strung, beer already making the linoleum sticky, my roomie came home from dinner with her boyfriend, who had been acting as my accomplice. I had enlisted a decoy plan that we would wait for her to come home from dinner and then head out to a fabricated party together. When she came into the dark house, instead of coming into the kitchen as I predicted, she walked directly into her bedroom, loudly fuming “THOSE BITCHES! They went out without me, our whole place smells like beer.” It was awkward.
With that in mind, here are some tips to help make it easier for everyone:
How to Plan An Awesome Surprise
Be sure to thoroughly think about who you're surprising. Remember this isn't about you. Just because you love a raging party doesn't mean your introverted biffle will appreciate a surprise bachelorette bash blinged out with dick piñatas and cop-turned-strippers. Maybe they would rather a surprise girl's weekend to the cape. If they're someone who loves routine and order, maybe you should pass on the surprise all together and let them know you want to plan something nice for them. Keep it a fucking surprise. See the above rant. Don't reveal your surprise unless you HAVE to spill because of circumstance, like the time Hurricane Sandy crashed my boyfriend's surprise 25th birthday party in Brooklyn and things got weird fast.
Start planning early. There is nothing worse than a rift in a great plan due to the lack of planning. A sold-out show or restaurant with no available reservations is a serious bummer, but a party with no guests is even worse. Pick a date, firm it up with key players (see below), and then start inviting people early.
Enlist an accomplice. A boyfriend, a roommate, or a family member can help corral your surprisee into the right place while you blow up balloons and perfect your party playlist. These key players are indispensable.
Have a decoy. Decoy plans are important for two reasons. The first is that they distract your surprisee from thinking, “Gee, it's kind of weird tomorrow is my birthday and you haven't addressed it at all, you dick.”
The second is that you can considerately ensure they will be prepared for whatever scheme you're marinating. When I threw that party for my roomie, she was all dressed up for dinner with her boyf. I knew she'd be really self-conscious if she walked in to an apartment full of friends wearing sweats and no makeup. Again, this comes down to thinking about who you're surprising, and what they would -- and would not -- appreciate.
TIme it right. If you're planning a surprise party, plan it a week or so before the actual date. You don't know how they plan to spend the evening of their birthday, and you don't want to monopolize their social calendar or freak out when it's revealed, two days prior to the date, that they plan to go to Montauk with their mom. Also, it will help catch them off guard.
Zoe shares other unpopular opinions on Twitter.