Today's Wednesday Factoid is: Do you like or dislike surprises?
Mostly dislike. Occasionally it's fine, like surprising me with something you know I want or a fun gift, or happening to enjoy something I was not expecting to enjoy.
Usually I prefer that people not attempt to surprise me.
Partly because they're not that good at it, and partly because I tend to not appreciate having my schedule disrupted.
I prefer to be able to plan my time, and even if someone "knows" I'm free (as in, that I'll be home), I likely have plans for the time and may have budgeted it so I can do something specific. Or I may not have a specific plan but still don't want the time diverted to something I now have to be polite about and pretend to appreciate. Even if I really like the thing I'm being surprised with, I will usually be irritated by not being given decent notice.
The worst kind of surprise involves a demand on my time or unnecessary active deception.
I have had to wrangle surprises before that required me to have company at a different time or for a longer period than I was ready for, and I don't like when someone just shows up and figures I can drop everything and hang out (and of course it is impolite for me to say that I do not want to hang out). Asking about a hangout will involve a much more cheerful, fully present version of me that wants to be with you. A surprised version of me may be genuinely glad to see you but salty about having to give up whatever I had planned or may just not be in a mood for company and is now grumpy that she must now put on a face.
I remember when I was in high school I asked permission to throw a graduation party and my mom turned me down flat. I was actually startled as hell because I thought of course it would be cool to plan a party for something as big as graduating high school, and I wasn't being told that was a bad day or whatever--I was just full stop told that I was not allowed to have a graduation party. And though I don't remember fully what we said, I do seem to recall my mom saying I would be taken out to dinner to celebrate and "that should be enough."
I was really upset.
I called my friend to talk about it and she was silent for a moment, and then she was like "Okay, I have to tell you something." Turned out my mom had already started planning a "surprise" graduation party and my friends all knew. I was going to be taken to a restaurant as a distraction so everyone else could go set up at the house, so we could have the whole big walk-in-the-door/yell-SURPRISE! thing.
I was relieved after that, because it explained why my mom was acting so weird about it and being so unnecessarily firm, almost making me think I was being selfish or greedy asking to have a party, when really she just didn't want to ruin the surprise.
But after thinking about it longer, I was angry. I didn't tell anyone, but I was. And I continue to be angry about the principle. For this situation, my mother was willing to deceive me and even respond to my being dismayed and upset by shutting me down very hard, just so the surprise wouldn't be ruined. Is a surprise worth that? Who is this celebration FOR? If I have to feel like my mom doesn't consider my graduation worthy of celebrating for a while before we actually celebrate--if she KNOWS I'm feeling rejected and weird about it--if the preservation of the surprise is way more important than the preservation of my feelings--then how is it worth it to keep me in the dark?
A better way to handle that would have been to try to talk me out of it and then tell me they had been planning to surprise me. My friend sensed that immediately--knew that if someone didn't tell me, it would cast a dark shadow on what was supposed to be a good day. And because of her, I knew what to expect; I was prepared for it emotionally and physically; I had the opportunity to clean up my room and not look like a giant pig; I knew in the weeks preceding that my mom DID care about the milestone. It could have been such a disaster if nobody had told me. I probably would have been really irritated about the surprise if I had spent those weeks swallowing disappointment and probably being kind of bitter on the day of.
All things considered, it's just a high school party, but more than twenty years later I still think about this when people ask me if I like to be surprised.
Years later, my mom tried to surprise me with a party to celebrate my book release. I had told her I didn't want to socialize on that day and I just wanted to hide, and she was dismayed; "you have to do SOMETHING," she said. I said I preferred not to. When she asked if I was going to be home on that day, I figured something was happening, so I basically conceded and told my mom okay, okay, for these designated hours I will be home and I won't die if you come bring me a cake or something.
And then two friends and my sister spilled the beans to me that my mom was inviting people to my house and organizing food and gifts. I understood she was just trying to do something nice for me even though it wasn't in line with how I wanted to spend release day, so we reached a decision to limit the time they would spend there and it was honestly just so, so much nicer to not be startled by unexpected stuff and suddenly expected to socialize on a day that was emotional for me.
(Seriously, whatever an author wants to do on her release day, even if it doesn't make sense to you . . . support her, really.)
In retrospect I'm glad she made it possible for me to have a memorable mark of the occasion, and buying into it being a surprise meant I didn't have to worry about any of the planning (score!!), but I doubt I would have felt the same way if I had been honestly surprised.