Richmond Proper: On Surprises

“You have deftly pointed out the problem with surprise parties. They take the guest of honor by surprise.” — Judith Martin

“You have deftly pointed out the problem with surprise parties. They take the guest of honor by surprise.” — Judith Martin

Imagine this: you come home from work, exhausted, rumpled-looking, and so eager to get into your pajamas and veg out. You can’t wait to relax for a few hours and savor some alone time. But when you open your front door and expect to be greeted by the comforting emptiness of your house, instead you hear “SURPRISE!” and 100 of your closest friends jump out. They turn all the lights on and blast the stereo, ready for a night of partying. Gone are your dreams of much-needed quiet, replaced with the prospect of having to be cheery and entertaining for the next several hours.

This is why surprises are dangerous. Sure, it could turn out great. But it could also be a huge, unwanted disaster for the person being surprised. Let’s look at a few guidelines for surprises:

  • Don’t throw a surprise party for someone unless you know beyond the shadow of a doubt that they LOVE surprise parties. Many people like to prepare themselves adequately and get themselves into a proper party spirit before attending a party, let alone before becoming the center of attention themselves. Don’t assume that they will be as thrilled about it as you are.
  • Don’t use the element of surprise to announce big life changes. “Will you marry me?” is not a question for a Jumbo-tron or a crowd of friends and family. Also, do not ask a person this question if you’re not sure how they will respond. You should have discussed the idea of marriage in depth beforehand, otherwise any expectations from you are rather cocky and presumptuous. Also, statements like “I’m gay,” “The baby is yours,” and “I’m not your real mother” are better made tactfully in a one-on-one scenario than in an outburst at a family event or on the set of Jerry Springer.
  • Don’t surprise someone with a new pet. Unless you’re a parent giving a pet to a child, this should never be attempted. Oftentimes people who talk about how they “just love those little pug dogs” don’t actually mean they want one. Also, they may not be prepared to take care of a pet, with all of the expenses and multiple walks per day it may require. A new member of the family, no matter how small, is something that a person needs to get ready for in their own time.
  • Don’t surprise a host with your own amendments. It’s easy to send a message of self-importance to a host by carelessly changing the framework of his event to suit your momentary needs. “Surprise, I brought a few guests of my own whom you didn’t invite!” “Surprise, even though I accepted your very specific invitation, I decided not to dress up because I didn’t feel like it!” “Surprise, I changed the music from your carefully-constructed playlist to something you totally hate!” You get the picture. These thoughtless party surprises make you look less charmingly impulsive, and more intent on wrestling all control away from the host.
  • Do prepare the person being surprised as much as possible without giving the surprise away. If you plan to take a friend out to dinner and then to their surprise party, say “I’m taking you out somewhere special on Friday, so dress up!” If you want to whisk your man away for a surprise weekend at Snowshoe, arrange to pack his snowboarding gear ahead of time. Before renting a convertible for a surprise drive in the country, tell your girl to put her hair up and bring a scarf. Surprises should enhance the experience, not inconvenience those being surprised.
  • Do be punctual when attending a surprise party. You should be in your place by the time specified on the invitation, or else don’t come at all. If you get there just as the the guest of honor arrives, you’ll look very suspicious walking up to her door with presents in hand. “Oh hello, just thought we’d drop by for the heck of it” probably won’t un-spoil the surprise for her.
  • Do pepper the lives of your loved ones with little surprises. Perhaps surprises are best when reserved for the everyday. Examples are a little note left on the bathroom mirror, a small gift (not for any particular occasion, but just because) wrapped cheerfully, a handwritten letter just to say you’re thinking of someone, or a favorite meal prepared just the way your best friend prefers it. These are all ways to show people you care enough to brighten their days in unexpected ways. A surprise doesn’t have to be of monumental proportions to have a pleasing effect on those you love.
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Tess Shebaylo

Tess Shebaylo is a freelance writer, crafter, history geek, and compulsive organizer. She works at Tumblr and lives in Church Hill with her daughter, Morella.

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