How to Handle Ruining a Surprise

Ruining a surprise party (accident or not) is never an easy situation. But with a proper approach and eagerness to fix it, you can salvage your relationship with the host/hostess.

Richie Frieman
6-minute read
Episode #404

Over the summer, I planned a surprise birthday dinner for my wife, with over a dozen friends at a very nice restaurant. I had everything planned down to the menu. Everyone took the “friend oath” of keeping it quiet around my wife … that was until two days before the big event. Turns out, two people were the cause of the surprise being ruined and both blamed the other for doing it.

I never placed full responsibility on who exactly ruined the surprise but both people involved surely tried to argue their case for innocence.  However, regardless of who did what, the surprise was no more, and it made me think, “What are the proper actions to take for ruining someone’s surprise party?” 

Tip #1: Welcome to Apology City

Ironically the topic of ruining a surprise party wasn’t just reserved for only my group of friends. Turns out, many folks in Mannerly Nation also have either been on the receiving end or closely witnessed the tragedy of ruining a surprise party. With every email I received about this topic, the level of disappointment was enormous—and rightfully so. I mean, if you don’t feel bad about ruining a surprise party, it makes you a Grade A egotistical jerk. Sorry if that’s being too tough but whether it was on purpose or by accident if you ruin a surprise party and don’t feel insanely bad about it, there is something majorly wrong with you. Case in point: when I was in college my mom’s friends threw her a surprise party at my aunt’s house in Florida. As planned, everyone showed up an hour before she was set to arrive … all but two of her coworkers that is. As we got the call that my mom was pulling up the street, and saw her lights come up the driveway through the window, the “Duo of Destruction” opened the door and slid into the house, amidst a crowd of boos like a Red Sox fan wearing a David Ortiz jersey sidling into a sports bar in Manhattan. Here, two people in a manner of seconds—at the very last second mind you—ruined a well-planned surprise party that took months to coordinate. What made it worse was they could care less. In fact, they showed no remorse or sympathy and even found it funny. FUNNY!?!

Folks, bottom line; be it a meeting in a restaurant, or a house party, a party is a party. And a surprise party is an event with a high level of stress and anxiety felt by everyone involved. With that, if you are the one that makes the host/hostess scream in frustration over spilling the beans, you better break out your biggest shovel and start digging up the you-know-what. Rightfully so, that’s what you have to do; own it, apologize and never make it stop. See, you should feel awful and depending on the level of your relationship with the guest of honor, will vary the level of groveling but make sure everyone knows you feel terrible. A mannerly person doesn’t hide from their mistakes, let alone try to make up excuses. Admitting you screwed up is the only and right thing to do. However, do not make it your life’s mission to appease the people you pissed off. As I said, own it, apologize but don’t harp on it for years and years. It happened, you felt miserable about it, but life and parties, go on.

Tip #2: Money Talks

When it comes to surprise parties, it’s not only the time and attention but it’s also the monetary factor. Take my wife’s party: I reserved a private room at an upscale restaurant and planned to treat everyone. I did this because it was my idea and my plan. If I held it at my house, I would have bought the food myself, and treating her friends was something was going to happen either way. Granted, I didn’t go broke with this party, but whether it was hundreds of dollars or just bagels and coffee from Dunkin’, money is money. So, when I got the news that my wife found out, one of the first things I thought was, “Well, there goes that money.” Meaning all the hard work and time all for nothing, just money down the drain.  Again, it’s not that I didn’t want to spend the money, it’s just that now it wasn’t as special.  Still I figured I couldn’t let one bonehead ruin the “spirit” of the evening and was happy to pay the bill in full. But what shocked me was when said bonehead offered to pitch in. Interesting, right? I mean, my biggest gripe was that the money issue and now the reason for my agony was wiling to pitch in. So, now what?