Humor Life

How to Not Suck at Surprise Parties

By Ali Solomon 

There’s something about having a major life event that makes people want to throw you a surprise party. “Oh, Lisa is turning 40; that’s a multiple of ten! Let’s make her think no one is planning anything, spend the next few months lying to her face, and then when she’s at her darkest mid-life moment, jump out from behind the sofa with balloons.”

I’ve never been a fan of surprises, period. I have the patience of a toddler on Christmas Eve and a chronic need to investigate my life like a crime scene until I know everything about everything, immediately. But despite my misgivings, I try to abide by the rules so I don’t ruin everyone else’s fun.

Make sure the party you’re invited to is actually a surprise.

Last weekend, my husband and I attended a surprise 40th birthday party for his coworker Jim. As we pulled up to his house, we saw Jim taking out the garbage and panicked that we arrived too early and were going to ruin the surprise. We then spent the next 40 minutes hiding behind the bushes in front of Jim’s house, waiting for him to leave so we could make our entrance.

Except the party was NOT a surprise, and Jim did NOT leave the house (except when a neighbor called him to say there were two creeps lurking in his hedges.  Um, surprise?

If it is, in fact, a surprise, don’t be the asshat that ruins it.

I get invited to so few parties these days that when I do have a social event coming up, all I want to do is talk about it. But I have to work hard not to upset everyone’s careful planning since I’m the worst at keeping secrets.

Case in point, a recent conversation with my cousin, five days before her surprise baby shower:

Me: See you Friday!

Her: Why? What’s on Friday?

Me: (Pause) Nothing. Nothing’s on Friday.

Her: I’m confused. Do we have plans?

Me: (Pause) Fuuuuuuuuck.

If the party’s for you, don’t be a jerk about it.

Yes, yes, you’re very clever to have figured this out. Perhaps someone slipped up and gave it away. Maybe you were able to CSI the information by looking at written indentations on a notepad, hacking into your husband’s email, or calling every restaurant within a 20-mile radius to see if there were any large bookings on or near your birthday. But now that you know, you must play along.

Many years ago, my husband planned a surprise party for my 30th birthday. I saw it coming a mile away, because this was a MULTIPLE-OF-TEN birthday, dammit! I acted the same way I did when I once won a game of “Clue” and spent the next hour bragging to my family how I was able to deduce that it was done in the conservatory by Professor Plum while my brothers pretended to kill me with the fake weapons.

Everyone was supposed to marvel at how I was the Jessica Fletcher of surprise parties. Instead, they shoved cake in my mouth just to shut me the hell up.

Make sure people show up.

I attempted to throw a surprise bridal shower for a friend. We had over twenty confirmed guests, and I reserved a private room in a cute local cafe. In the days preceeding the shower, guests began canceling for a variety of reasons that ranged from “plague outbreak” to “oh wait, was that this weekend?” The bride’s own mother got stuck on a train from Greenwich and showed up more than halfway through.

Unsurprisingly, the restaurant kicked us out of the private room and made us wait by the bar. So the blushing bride entered, where four of her nearest and dearest stood up and yelled, “Um, happy shower!” She was definitely surprised, mostly by the fact that now she was going to have to purchase her own damn table settings and Waterford crystal.

Give the proper reaction.


Incorrect response: Bloodcurdling scream, followed by uncontrollable sobbing for the next twenty minutes.

Correct response: “Wow, I feel loved, appreciated, and properly feted, and I did not suspect a thing.”

“Were you surprised?”

Correct response: “Oh my gosh! I had no idea all these people were in my house. I definitely didn’t recognize any of the cars parked in our driveway.”

“Did anyone spoil it for you?”

Correct response: “No, everyone is super good at keeping secrets. Especially my best friend, who totally didn’t call me up the night before to ask me what I was wearing to my own surprise party.”

“You really didn’t have a clue?”

Correct response: “I’m a dim bulb who lacks basic deduction skills. I think it’s because I don’t watch enough crime dramas on TV. Also, I assumed that when no one was free to do anything for my Multiple-of-Ten birthday, it was just because I was an unloved, friendless shell of my former self.”

“Are you happy?”

Correct response: “Mmmmphhhh” (can’t talk, mouth filled with cake).


About the Author

Ali Solomon is a cartoonist and art teacher living in NYC with her husband and two toddler daughters. You can find her on the Huffington Post, McSweeneys, Scary Mommy, In The Powder Room, Blunt Moms, and other parenting sites. Read more of her ridiculous nonsense at, on Facebook, or on Twitter @AliCoaster.