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Surprise! Surprise parties don’t always make people feel happy.

Surprise! Surprise parties don’t always make people feel happy.

I was talking with some friends the other night, and we got in a very interesting conversation about the fall-out from various surprise parties. Turns out that surprise parties are more perilous than I’d thought.

One friend threw a lavish party for her husband. “He loved it, but for months after,” she recalled, “he was very suspicious. He kept asking me what I was doing, whom I was calling. I think it truly unnerved him to realize that I could organize something that big without him knowing. What else was I up to?”

“I went to a party where the wife was absolutely flabbergasted that her husband could pull off the surprise party,” observed another friend. “It really shook her concept of her marriage. She thought of herself as the organized, logistically-minded one who had to take care of everyone. But it turned out her husband could do that stuff, too. So maybe she wasn’t so essential.”

“Yes,” added someone else, who had been at the same party, “plus I think she was a bit annoyed to find out that he COULD do that kind of thing. After all, for all these years, she’d been doing all the organizational work because she was convinced that he just didn’t have the capacity. But it turns out, he did.”

“Another problem is the resentment,” a friend chimed in. “When I was planning the surprise party for my boyfriend, I kept thinking, ‘He’d really better appreciate this!’ He did appreciate it, but still, I don’t think he realizes just how much work it was. I still feel a bit annoyed about it, actually.”

After talking about it, we concluded that surprise parties work best when children throw them for parents.

I have some experience with that. A few years ago, my mother, sister, and I threw a surprise party for my father’s birthday. Thinking back on that party — choosing the invitations with my mother, planning the toasts with my sister, conspiring my in-laws about what time they should bring my father over to our apartment from their apartment (my in-laws live right around the corner from us) for the reveal, and most of all, seeing the look on my father’s face when he realized that the party was for him — made that surprise party one of the highlights of my life.

But, this conversation showed, surprise parties aren’t always the unmitigated delight that I would have thought. Hmmmm.

What do you think? Any experiences with surprise parties, good or bad?

Two very useful personal finance blogs that I enjoy reading are The Simple Dollar and Get Rich Slowly. There's a lot of great content on both of them -- not just about saving and investing, but generally about how to live more wisely. They're both very entertaining, too.

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