Is a surprise birthday party for someone with few friends a bad idea?
April 4, 2009 2:30 PM   Subscribe

My girlfriend's birthday is coming up, and I want to plan a surprise party. Is this a bad idea?

For various reasons, including the difficulties of our long distance relationship (800km!) and the fact her twin sister has recently moved to the other side of the globe, I think she needs a special birthday to cheer her up.

My initial idea was to have some sort of surprise birthday party, but then I realized she has a very sparse set of friends -- individual friends who don't know each other. The other problem is I don't really know them (see long distance bit above), or which ones she is closer to and would like to see at a birthday party vs. the one who are just acquaintances. Her closest friend is her sister, really, who won't be able to come, and beside her I can only think of two people she talks about more frequently, but even these people she only gets to see very infrequently because of their schedules (all nurses working shift in different places).

Is there a way I can pull this off without really knowing any of these people? Should I start focusing my energy on coming up with a different birthday surprise?
posted by TheyCallItPeace to Human Relations (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It's a really sweet idea and it's even nicer that you're trying to suss out the dynamics ahead of time. In this specific scenario, a BBQ or chill get-together could be fun. Maybe they'd all like to get to know each other! But you don't want a bunch of 3rd level acquaintances hanging out for a 'special' birthday - it could be a nice evening but not really what I (personally) would find really fun or special. Does she like surprises in general? Is she a big-group kind of person or more one-on-one or small groups? Sounds more like the latter to me. I bet what she'd like more than anything is to spend time with you since it's a long distance relationship right now.

Other ideas:
- take her somewhere - even a B&B in the same town, or one town over, or the mountains/beach close by -- really, anywhere. Bring food, picnics, wine, games, movies, blankets, a guide to local flora/fauna, go for walks. BONUS points if the place includes a nice big jacuzzi for two.
- Anything else she's always wanted to do? Learn x (thai cooking, salsa dancing, astronomy, nature walk, etc.) that you could arrange? Combine that with a themed present or future present - maybe part of it now and part of it this summer if you can't go far now.
- Where is she in Canada? Maybe folks would have other ideas
- can you arrange for a video chat with her sister on the day of her birthday? Or have the twin record something now (even just using her webcam) and make a little quicktime out of it?
posted by barnone at 2:42 PM on April 4, 2009

small parties can be great - you really get a chance to talk to everyone - but if it's a group of people that may not know each other too well, it will help to plan an activity. get everyone doing something that your girlfriend loves to do. if she likes cooking, cook an elaborate meal together, or have a cookie baking night. Is she crafty? get everyone making crafts. it could be anything - board games, a hike and a picnic... fun
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 2:49 PM on April 4, 2009

This doesn't sound like a bad idea, but I would suggest not making this THE thing you do for her birthday -- maybe don't even schedule it for her actual birthday. If she doesn't have a lot of friends and the ones she has don't know each other, then it might not be relaxing for her to have a party with them. That doesn't mean she won't find it fun, but sometimes people want their birthdays to be "perfect" and sometimes "perfect" means "lying in bed and watching a movie with one's significant other" -- it really depends on the person, and presumably you know her better than we do.

Maybe you can feel her out on this -- not by coming right out and asking if she'd like a party, but by asking something more general like "So, what do you want to do for your birthday?" If her response is something like "oh, I just want to stay home and watch a movie with you" then that suggests she wants something low effort and intimate; if it's more along the lines of "let's go out and do something fun!" then a party might be just the thing.

(Complicating things is the fact that you're in a long-distance relationship; if you don't see her all that often, I'd imagine she's more likely to just want to spend her birthday alone with you. At least that's how I'd feel, as a somewhat introverted gal.)
posted by pluckemin at 3:02 PM on April 4, 2009

my ex set up a whole day where we went to stores I liked and she gave me money. Then I got to hang out with another friend and make some paintings we always talked about. Then we went out to dinner and had some nice wine. It was great. I was so tired.

Then we went back to my place where there was a surprise party for me with all my friends.

So you could use friends to take her nice places she likes one after the other and then meet up with her for dinner later.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:06 PM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'd think of some other surprise. A thinly attended party in honor of her will only remind her that her sister isn't there, and it might be awkward if it's a room full of people who don't know one another.

Weekend for the two of you out of town? Big present? Tickets to visit her sister? Get her something she'll really love that you picked out just for her instead of planning an event that you have no special reason to believe she wants.
posted by decathecting at 3:12 PM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think the surprise party can work, but I'd suggest having it be a party that revolves around some sort of event or activity, as opposed to a bunch of people just standing around making small-talk.

Does your girlfriend like miniature golf? Or visiting art galleries? Or bowling? Or back-to-back matinee movies? Or... Something like this? These are all events that can be done by a group of people, where it really wouldn't matter how well any of the people in the group actually know each other. It would be something fun for everyone (or maybe not -- but if you pick something fun for your girlfriend, her friends will clearly go along with it to be with her).

But the main reason I suggest this is the problem decathecting raises. You don't want to do something that will just make her miss her sister even more. The regular style, "We're all in a room now, let's chat!" party would probably make her sister's absence horribly noticeable. But if the event revolves around doing something your girlfriend happens to really love, then it will be a distraction from that regrettable absence.
posted by Ms. Saint at 3:24 PM on April 4, 2009

I don't mean to throw a wet blanket on anything, but your first question should be whether or not she would like a surprise party. If you're confident that she would like it, then proceed.

I hate surprises.

My well intentioned wife had one for me, and I survived it, but for me it was a matter of getting through it, as opposed to enjoying it.

Most people love this kind of thing, but not all of us.
posted by imjustsaying at 4:41 PM on April 4, 2009 [4 favorites]

I like throwing surprise parties the day or weekend after the birthday. Sometimes I get the post-birthday blues and it's a nice, um, surprise. Also takes the pressure off for the birthday itself to be OMG perfect- it's like dessert.

For a small group, you could do activities like:
Flying trapeze lessons at a local circus school (did this for a wedding shower once, it was awesome. You don't need to be exceptionally athletic to do it.)
Cookie making party- like a gingerbread house party, except to be more seasonal, don't make Xmas houses. Pick something funny. Like, you all make little trailers for a gingerbread trailer park or something. I went to one of these recently too, with 8 people I barely knew, and it was relaxing and fun.
Go on an adventure picnic & play a sport (I've done this going 30 min outside the city on public transit to the Toronto Islands with a potluck picnic; we played soccer and ate orange wedges, then had lunch & beer, it was great)
Dinner party (in the living room, not around a table, to keep it mingly) and then play a board game (Pictionary, Balderdash, Cranium).

I think it's a nice idea- I've thrown four surprise parties in the last few years, all for introverts- a home dinner party for 6, a house party for 20, a restaurant dinner for 30, and a bar party for 40- and the recipients all loved them.

Have some sort of documentation mechanism in place so people can leave notes & stuff behind- a whiteboard where ppl can draw stuff behind them & then take their photos, or a labelmaker giving each person a word, polariod board, chalk board in the bathroom, or even blank paper & markers so people can make funny drunk birthday cards.

Oh, also, consider setting up a webcam so the twin sister can attend for a bit via a Skype call.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 6:51 PM on April 4, 2009

Based upon what you posted, I would recommend you planning a birthday event but not having it be a surprise. That way, she can give you an inkling of what she might like to do and whom she would want you to invite. Not everyone likes surprises, but most people don't like planning their own birthday parties either. She can give you a date and a list of invitees and you can handle the rest. Because everyone doesn't know each other, I'd recommend some sort of an activity like those mentioned above, like a make your own pasta/pizza/cookies party or bowling or a picnic with croquet or something, just to have an icebreaker. I think it's a sweet idea to have a party for her but it might be easier to have you be the host of the party rather that it being a full-on people hiding with the lights out surprise.
posted by emd3737 at 9:40 PM on April 4, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions and advice! I am going back to the drawing board, and probably will not do the surpise party, but will try to make something special and include some of her friends.
posted by TheyCallItPeace at 12:10 PM on April 9, 2009

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