Why do so many of our societal institutions revolve around surprise? Surprises aren’t fun. Surprises are stressful and impractical and they ruin friendships. Even the nice ones.
Have you ever seen this sitcom trope?: A dude wakes up on his birthday, goes about his day and it seems like all of his friends have forgotten about him. He’s not expecting anyone to make a big hullabaloo about the occasion. If he could find a few close friends to get dinner and drinks with tonight, he’d be happy.
But everyone says they’re busy.
He goes home depressed and frustrated. All he wants now is to collapse on his couch and watch Gilmore Girls with his cat. He turns on the light and SURPRISE. The whole office is there. They do love him, they really do.
Of course, they made him feel miserable throughout most of his birthday. And they never asked him if he wanted a big party with the whole office. But, sure, they love him.
Here’s another scenario — the Gift of the Magi trope: a young couple is planning on buying Christmas gifts for each other. They don’t have a lot of money, but they both have possessions that they really love: he has a watch and she has a violin. She sells her violin to buy him a new watchband. He sells his watch to buy her a new violin case. Surprise.
Neither of them can use their new gifts, but that’s OK because the real gift is love and the spirit of giving.
Bah humbug. That’s not touching, it’s depressing. If that couple doesn’t learn some communication and budgeting skills, they’re not going to last very long.
The problem is that surprises, no matter how well-intentioned, rely on deception, and deception is a quick route to misunderstandings and hurt feelings.
I don’t even like surprising people with small things. What if they don’t like it? Am I spending too much? Too little? What if my surprise isn’t surprising enough? Or is it too elaborate? Will they feel bad for not surprising me in return?
I’m not entirely convinced that surprises are always well-intentioned, either. I think most of the time if you’re planning a surprise for someone, you’re trying to manufacture a feeling, rather than allowing a real experience to happen.
“They went to all this hassle of setting up a birthday party for me and hiding it for three weeks. I guess I feel happy about it.”
“He spent three months' salary on a wedding ring and surprise Cavs tickets … and we’re on the Jumbotron. I guess I love him. I guess I better say yes.”
But the feeling of “surprise” is not equivalent to the feelings of happiness or love. They’re just temporary substitutes, and sometimes make the
“You should have seen his face. He was so surprised.” So what?
But I know there’s nothing I can do about it. Surprises have been around for a long time, and they’re not going away
William T. Perkins is a senior studying journalism at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to surprise William? Let him know ahead of time by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.