The Sadism of the Surprise Party

We all know the joys of a Surprise Party. Our loved ones group together to surprise us with a lavish and meticulously organized display of their love on our special day. It is a heart-warming experience reminding us just how lucky we are to have these tenderhearted yet crafty people in our lives, willing to plan scrupulously for weeks, feverishly sending out a flurry of Facebook invitations, trying to remember which Stacy from work we’re still on speaking terms with, huddling in the dark for minutes at a time to ensure that this day, this party, will be untopped by any before or after it ever, ever.

For these reasons it’s not easy to speak harshly of the surprise party. But while the end may justify the means, the surprise party, like all situations founded on a web of lies, has its darker undertones. I dedicate this post to the voiceless masses who dread the day they are on the receiving end of this well-intentioned ruse.

Stage 1: The Lead-Up

The point of the surprise party is to catch you out. If you have even an inkling that something is going on, your friends have, by definition, failed. There are two methods generally applied to carry out the deception. Your friends might choose to ignore the situation completely, leaving you to harness the devastating belief that they’ve forgotten about you or simply don’t care. Or they might purposefully lead you to believe that you’re only worth the effort of some very lame and unsatisfying plan. A cloud of rejection will envelop you, and, as you wallow in self-pity, you may remind yourself of the various ways you have been let down over the years. Depending on the duration of the lead-up, you might, by the time of the party, be burdened with such a sense of bitterness that you end up drunkenly telling Stacy (the wrong one was invited of course) just what you really think of her.

He's been looking forward to this for weeks.

On the flip side, you might be fully aware that a “surprise” is being planned. You are then forced to live a lie for weeks on end, turning a blind eye to the subtle hints and winks abounding around you. In essence, you are forced to play dumb for the sake of your friends. You may even ask yourself just how stupid your so-called friends really think you are. The answer is often a straightforward “very”. Happy Birthday.

Furthermore, living a life of constant anticipation can be very stressful. Every corner you turn could mean a room full of people jumping out at you from behind an assortment of objects. You live your life on edge, continually preparing for and anticipating the moment. By the time of the party, you feel more relief than rapture. And you know when it comes you will still be caught off guard.

Stage 2: The Event

Catching a person off guard is a phenomenon which, while potentially fun, comes with hidden dangers. It’s nearly impossible to subtlety suggest adequate preparation for the event to the guest of honor (or “Surprisee”) without giving away the whole game. There is therefore a high risk of the Surprisee arriving woefully unprepared: face worn in by the day, attired in a pair of ill-fitting jeans and a dingy t-shirt purchased sometime in the late 1970s. Cameras will be in abundance and the guest of honor’s confused and deteriorated face will the number one target for documentation.

An oft-overlooked fact is that if the Surprisee in question has failed to plan themselves such a monumental event, chances are they’d like a little time out of the lime light this year. Nothing says “low-key” like a sea of camera flashes and shouting in your face when you least expect it. Quick rule of thumb – if someone says they don’t want a lot of attention on their birthday, respect their wishes. If they’re just saying it to appear modest and unassuming, punish their lack of directness by treating them to an exhilarating night of late night TV and board games for two.

Rock on.

Stage 3: The Aftermath

The surprise party can reveal many truths about its organizers and all others involved. You learn that your friends believe you can be easily duped, and, if you did fall for it, you can rest in assurance that they are right. A whole new set of self-esteem issues arises.

You also learn that your friends are capable of elaborate deceptions. The paranoid at heart may find this difficult to deal with. If they found it so easy to keep you in the dark about this, what else are they hiding? Nothing says “Happy Birthday” like a nice healthy dose of paranoia and distrust in those you hold dear.


If you feel confident that the Surprisee will be among the many who love and appreciate a cunningly planned surprise, by all means, go for it. Even those who don’t will give you a smile through their worn-out faces – no one wants to be a spoiled brat when someone they love has gone to a lot of effort for them. And maybe once the shock wears off and the sense of betrayal from the weeks prior starts to lift, they will genuinely enjoy themselves. But be careful.

And always remember, whatever you do, no clowns.

Unless affiliated with Rob Zombie.

Published in: on May 8, 2010 at 1:05 pm  Comments (4)  
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