9 Practical Party Planning Tips For The Unpopular And Awkward

Birthday parties are supposed to be the ultimate in frivolity--it’s literally a day all about you!-- but that’s also what makes them emotional landmines.
Publish date:
February 26, 2014
awkwardness, birthday parties, decoration

I’m 28, and I’m still terrified that no one will come to my birthday parties.

Embarrassing, right? “No one came to my party” is often seen as a little kid’s fear, like being afraid of the dark. However, xoJane has taught me that I’m far from the first person to have this issue, so I don’t feel quite so alone anymore!

I might even have a little insight into why this fear is so pervasive. Birthday parties are supposed to be the ultimate in frivolity -- it’s literally a day all about you! -- but that’s also what makes them emotional landmines. When no one comes to a party celebrating the fact that you were born, it can feel an awful lot like people don’t care whether or not you exist.

At some point in my teens, however, I got tired of just having dinner with my mom and decided to plan my own birthday parties. This has resulted in a lot of hilariously bad birthday stories, like the time my invites referenced swing dancing (“Let’s all go swing!”) and someone thought it meant hanging. There have also been some surprising successes (my 28th birthday was attended by no fewer than 20 people.)

Through all this, the most freeing thing I’ve discovered is that creating a successful party is a skill that can be learned, rather than something that only people with 1,000 Facebook friends can do. Personally, it helps me to remember that birthday parties carry way more emotional weight than say, a sushi outing, but they’re still subject to the same planning “rules” of all get-togethers.

With that in mind, here are my tips for a better birthday party:

Do not be ashamed to plan your own damn party.

Remember, party planning is a SKILL. Most people don’t know how to do it, so even if they love you, they probably don’t know how. (Ironically, this is the reason why 99% of surprise parties only exist in movies. The other 1% are super awkward and not what the birthday person wanted anyway.)

Your party doesn’t have to be huge or impressive to be awesome.

I once realized I could have a party in a cabin on a lake near my college. What I didn’t realize (in my rush to do something “cool”), was that even if everyone on my list had attended, there still wouldn’t have been nearly enough of us to fill the space. The eight of us rattled around like peas in a pod as we smoked hookah in the very corner of a huge room.

If you're new to party planning, think small. VERY small. You and three other people eating take-out Chinese while playing Cards Against Humanity can be just as much a party as an elaborately catered shindig.

Send out feelers a week or two beforehand.

Around a week and a half before the party itself (or two weeks, if you’re hoping to invite more than five people), start talking about it. Mention potential dates to your friends, which can be as simple as saying “I’d like to hold a tea party for everyone on Valentine’s Day. Would you be interested?”

The point of this exercise is twofold. First, this will give you a rough idea of how many people are likely to come and you can figure out how big a space you’ll need, how much food to get, etc. Second, it helps you find out if there are any major schedule conflicts BEFORE you make firm plans and send out official invites. This is when you, an atheist, realize your first choice of party dates fall on Ash Wednesday, but you will still have time to figure out a better date before creating the Facebook invite!

It’s also good to Google around a bit in order to make sure that your party isn’t conflicting with a major event that will make parking impossible (football games, parades, and concerts are all culprits).

Do not be afraid to “move” your birthday so that the maximum number of people can come.

For years my birthday fell on “Parents Day” at college, when everyone’s parents came to visit and take their children to dinner. Having a party on that day would have forced my friends to choose between their parents (who had travelled for hours to see them!) and me, so I started to schedule my birthday parties for the weekend after. Since then, I think I’ve only once had my birthday party on the actual date of my birth.

Once you’ve set the actual date of the party, don’t change it.

Seriously, don’t. Party attendance drops to nothing if you change the date after you send out invites.

Invite at least twice as many people as you hope will come.

The general rule of thumb is that less than half the people you invite will show up. Again, this isn’t because they don’t love you. It’s because people get sick, have to work late, or just have shitty memories.


Ideally, rather than sending everyone a Facebook invite and then never mentioning it again, you need to invite people THREE TIMES:

1st invite: sent out at least one week beforehand. Should mention the date, time, and place of the party.

2nd invite: halfway to the actual date of the party, mention it again (this is a great time to update the Facebook party invite with something like “Bring your squirt gun!”).

3rd invite: Day-before texts to people who tend to easily forget dates, promised to bring food or other supplies, etc.

Also, don’t be afraid to invite people face-to-face! This is hard for me, as I am shy, but a lot of people will be flattered that you took time out of your day to invite them personally (and therefore will be more likely to come!)

Keep the food simple, and only decorate if you have to.

Unless you are someone who regularly cooks elaborate meals or makes a dozen tiny place settings for the joy of it, don’t do it for a party. You will be needlessly stressing yourself out on top of doing the really necessary things, like vacuuming and making sure you have enough chairs.

Also: never spend more than you can afford for a party, even if it’s a special occasion. Ask friends to bring food or BYOB. No one expects you to have steak tartare, and if they do, they’re well off enough that they can hire a planner to plan your parties FOR you.

Plan for both the worst and best case scenarios.

Outdoor parties can get rained out. Everyone might be down with a case of the flu. Or people can just be assholes. The latter hasn’t happened to me (yet) but if it does, I have a special book and cup of tea ready for self-care purposes.

I also have a backup plan for when EVERYONE shows up: the best pizza delivery is on speed dial.