I had an occasion recently to talk to a couple of friends who are notoriously good at planning surprises for their partners, for family members, and sometimes even for friends.
It’s a lot of fun planning surprises, they said. But they also noted that their partners didn’t do them nearly as much in return.
As we talked, I found myself thinking about surprises in my own life. Technically, my partner and I have surprised one another in the past. Relatively speaking, these have been small and straightforward surprises — an inexpensive gift that just shows up at a random time, an unexpected treat picked up with the groceries, etc.
And there have been a few grand gestures over the course of our relationship — we went on a trip to Alaska for our fifth anniversary, for example (very cheaply, due to clever application of travel points he’d earned from work-related travel at his job).
But those were never surprises. We always talked them over before they happened.
As I write this post, I’ve never had a surprise party thrown for me (by anyone). And I’ve never had a partner plan an intricate surprise for me. To be fair, I have literally no idea if I’d like a surprise grand gesture or not, since it’s never happened to me. It’s possible it’d rock my world. But it’s also possible that I’d have an anxiety-based meltdown in response (I tend to plan and structure my own days by default). Who knows.
A Favorite Childhood Memory as Coconspirator
I do know that I’ve enjoyed being a coconspirator. It’s one of the positive childhood memories I do have. I was probably 7 or 8 years old, quite young, when my father decided he was going to surprise my mother with a trip to Florida for her birthday.
My grandmother was brought into the plan — as were the four of their children. My older sisters secretly packed luggage for my mother to use on the trip. My grandmother cleared her schedule to come babysit while my parents were gone.
And I remembered the small part my brother and I played: We were to convince our mother that there was a classmate’s birthday party happening at the arcade in the mall.
Once she drove us there, my father, grandmother, and other siblings were going to meet her there and yell “surprise,” and she was going to be whisked away to the airport.
It worked like a charm. She never suspected a thing. And she bawled her face off in the middle of the arcade in front of her entire family and assorted members of the public.
I can remember being so happy for her. And excited that my grandmother was coming to stay, too, yes… as she was (and still is) one of my favorite people.
When You’re So Happy Something Good Happened to Someone Else, You Forget to Be Disappointed It Hasn’t Happened to You
Anyway, as I recalled this experience, I found myself amused that I’ve never been upset that this hasn’t happened to me. Instead, I found — and still find — myself feeling happy for my mother whenever I think of this experience. Which is really remarkable in a certain light, as we haven’t always gotten along.
The weird thing is that even if I try, I can’t muster up disappointment that I haven’t ever had a surprise party — and certainly never a surprise trip.
Instead, I find myself thinking of all the collaborative good times I’ve had with my partner and the little surprises we’ve managed towards each other — as well as how happy my mother looked that one day in the Bangor Mall arcade — and all I do is smile.