How should one behave when responding to an unwanted surprise party?

10 minute read

June 26, 2020, 1:50 AM

I recently ran across an older Reddit post on /r/AmItheAsshole where someone asked the userbase to judge their reaction to an unwanted surprise party.  This is what the user wrote:

Hi.  So I turned 22 yesterday, and I’ve made it clear to my entire family that I didn’t want a party.  In fact, I’ve never had a party, not for my 16th, or 18th, or 21st.  I hate attention being on me.

So on Saturday, my dad told me he wanted to take me to my favorite bar and I thought that would be a decent compromise to wanting to be alone.  However, when we walked into the door, there was my entire family and friends all standing there and they already had me a drink poured.  Because I’d spent the last six months telling my familiy I did not want a party, I just turned around and walked right out the front door and straight back to my apartment (about a 15 minute walk), and I ordered Chinese takeout and went to sleep.  I woke up to over 50 texts from various family members telling me how ungrateful I was and how I made my parents cry, and I even got a text from one of my family members who had visited from overseas who I wasn’t aware was at the party.  I apologized to him for having a wasted journey, and told him we could hang out one day after work if he wanted, and I resolved that issue.  However, the rest of my family now will not talk to me, and my mom is demanding an apology.

​So, AITA?

I was a bit surprised by a lot of the responses.  Many of the responses indicated that the person was out of line for walking out of the party.  Here are a few responses:

But the truth is, in the real world, if people throw you a party, you’re supposed to nod and smile and pretend to enjoy it.  Because it makes them happy.  And sure, maybe it’s not how you want to spend your birthday, but making your whole family happy should be more important than how you spend your birthday.

It’s one night.  Grow the [expletive] up.  If you are socially capable enough to have a favorite bar that your family knows about, spending an hour or two with them isn’t going to kill you.

Sure, you’re entitled to your privacy, but the fact of the matter is [that] everyone went out of their way for you, and you spat in their faces.  You’re allowed to be an [expletive].  Just know that you are absolutely one.

I also hate being [the] center of attention and hate surprises, and everyone knows it.  So much so that there were only twelve people at my wedding, and no reception.  I got a surprise party for my birthday this year.  You know what I did?  Smiled and thanked everyone for coming, especially since half the people there had kids they had to get ready/chauffeur to homecoming dances that night and they still made it a point to be there.  Sometimes you have to suck it up when people do a nice thing and show that they care.

Sometimes you have to do things you don’t like to do, and there were MUCH better ways to handle that besides walking out and ignoring your family.  Wow.

I can’t even fathom what was going through your head.  Even if you didn’t want the party, you could just say, “Hey, I’m really uncomfortable right now.  I think I need to leave.”  Instead, you just turned around and ghosted like a pouting child.  You didn’t want a party.  That’s fine.  But you literally ditched ALL [of] your friends and family without even so much as a goodbye.  I bet the majority didn’t even know you didn’t want the party.  To them, you just didn’t give a damn to give them even 20 seconds of your time.  I hate attention, too, but when loved ones try to do something nice for you, don’t [expletive] on them like that.

People are going to want to celebrate your birthday in your lifetime.  It’s literally because they love you.  Get used to it and stop being so unappreciative!

Your family should’ve respected your wishes, but would it have killed you to stick around for ten minutes and be civil with family members who went out of their way to celebrate you?  You pretty much took the minor inconvenience of, “My loving family wants to spend time with me on my birthday,” and responded in a really [expletive], petty way.

There were some that said that the person was right:

You said you didn’t want a party.  They know you, so they should know you weren’t just saying that.  Honestly, this was so satisfying to read.  Everyone completely ignores your wishes so instead of going, “Oh, well, you trampled a boundary that I had clearly and repeatedly stated.  Guess I’ll just suck it up and fake having fun on MY OWN birthday,” you just left.

Why do people do that?  It wasn’t about you at all.  This was about what THEY wanted.  It’s your party, and you can leave and eat Chinese food if you want to.

You said multiple times [that] you didn’t want a party.  There’s nothing special about 22, so why now.  If you don’t like being the center of attention, then you shouldn’t have to be.

Screw anyone who thinks OP was “being a baby” about it.  They said MONTHS in advance they DID NOT WANT A PARTY.  They set a boundary, which was then stomped on by their family and friends.  If one of my boundaries was stepped on like that I definitely would not be calm enough to talk about it right then and there, which likely would come off as EVEN WORSE.  This was the perfect response.  Now that things have happened, wait for the dust to settle, then calmly talk to your family about how it made you feel that they disrespected your clearly set boundary like they did.  STOP CALLING PEOPLE CHILDISH BECAUSE THEY LEFT RATHER THAN MAKE A SCENE.

And despite what the “you’re the [expletive]” crowd is saying, if you had announced that you would not be staying because your parents disrespected your wishes, or ghosted the party after stay[ing] for a bit, they would STILL call you the [expletive], so ignore them.  Now what to do going forward.  Don’t get caught in argument loops with anyone.  Not parents. Not friends.  Not family.  “My parents ignored the fact I didn’t want a party.  I am sorry they misled you.”  To your parents, “I’m sorry you felt that lying to me and throwing this party was more important than listening to what I wanted.”

Your wishes were clear.  And were made clear for months leading up to their party.  I wouldn’t apologize.  Not to your parents, not the family, because this whole time, you told them [that] you didn’t want anything.  You can send that to the family members who are badgering you for an apology.  Seems harsh, but, hey, your wishes shouldn’t be dismissed just because everyone is mad at you.

I wish I would have had the balls to do this at my 35th.  He threw a surprise party for me assuming [that] I’d love it.  I didn’t.  It was awkward as hell being thrown into hosting an event [that] I didn’t want, with people [that] I didn’t want in attendance.  And bless his socially inept heart, he planned on them paying for their own meals, which I wasn’t going to let happen.  So a party [that] I didn’t want, with people [that] I didn’t want to be with, cost me $1,300.

You were very clear about not wanting a party.  It’s not your responsibility to “smile and wave” to keep everyone happy.  That was your day, and they tried to overrule the only thing you asked for.  Could you have stuck around?  Sure.  Would it have been YOUR party?  No.  You didn’t ask for it.  In fact you specifically asked not to have it.

A few folks placed blame all around:

They shouldn’t have gone against your wishes, and you shouldn’t have acted like a child.

Your immediate family were complete dicks, but the friends and extended family weren’t.  Those did come to make you happy.  Being nice to them and then telling your father to go [expletive] himself afterwards would have been the mature approach.

They knew [that] you disliked the idea of a party.  Your father even acknowledged this before you left.  Then again, you could have at least acknowledged them, stayed for five minutes, [or] even just said thank you.  But they seemed really butthurt by the whole thing.  They really had no right to be that offended, in my opinion.

And then there was this one, which acknowledged that the person definitely was rude, but it had to be done:

YTA.  But you know what?  That’s okay.  Sometimes, you need to be if people consistently ignore your wishes and thrust you into an overwhelming situation that you just cannot deal with at that moment.  The nice thing would have been to suck it up and hang around a party you hate.  But now, I can guarantee you [that] you’ll never have a surprise party again.  Sometimes being the bad guy is the only way to get a message across.  And that’s okay.

I always wonder what I would do if I were confronted with the occasion of a surprise party in my honor.  I have certainly had situations where I was unexpectedly thrust into the center of attention against my will by people who were allegedly trying to honor me, and I’ve never appreciated it.  Right offhand, I recall a “senior roast” that the minister of LPCM, the campus ministry group that I was in while I was in college, did for me at one of our regular Wednesday night things in the spring of my senior year.  I couldn’t make the original event that they wanted to do it at because of another obligation, but I was fine with missing it if it meant that I wouldn’t be made the center of attention (though I also really didn’t want to go to the event that I was obligated to go to).  So they “roasted” me at the next regular event.  I got practically no warning that they would be doing it then, and I was mortified about being thrust into the center of attention without my consent.  I should have said something to the effect of stopping it, or just walked out, but I was too shocked to do anything other than sit there.  Clearly, considering that I have brought this event up on multiple occasions in the past, I’ve harbored a bit of resentment over it for a very long time (the event happened 17 years ago).  I think that someone probably owes me an apology for it, but the odds are good that I will never get the apology that I probably deserve.  Of course, it’s not like an apology would really make a difference at this point.  The deed was done.

Then there was the time in 2005 when I really didn’t want to celebrate my birthday.  I had previously told my family that I didn’t want to celebrate my birthday that year, and I was adamant that there be no cake.  I very much tried to ignore it all, including not requesting the day off at work in order to distract myself through my work, but it ended up being nonstop birthday greetings all day because one of the department managers got wind of it and ran his big mouth over the PA system for all of my fellow employees to hear.  Thanks for nothing.  I believe that no one would have blamed me if I had quit on the spot that day, especially considering how crappy of a job it was.  So after a terrible day at work, my mother messaged me to let me know that they had gotten cake and were planning to celebrate my birthday when I got home.  This was against my explicit request not to have a cake.  Not wanting to be confronted by that when I got home, and fearing that things might get very ugly if I went home to that, I turned off my phone and went for a long drive after work.  I ended up in Culpeper, which is about halfway between Waynesboro and DC.  I spent a few hours there, and then came home, late enough to be fairly confident that my mother would be in bed, and I wouldn’t have to deal with anyone.  And as for the cake that I told them not to buy for me, I threw it away.  Nobody ate any of that cake.  I also really didn’t appreciate it that my mother subsequently confronted me about that incident, telling me that there was something wrong with me for not wanting to celebrate.  I really didn’t view it that way.  Rather, it was my birthday, and determining how to celebrate it, or choosing not to celebrate it at all, was my prerogative.

So if I were confronted with a surprise party, what would I do?  I imagine that I probably would be pretty similar to the person in the Reddit post.  I would probably make sure to ruin it, because I do not like surprises – especially ones that thrust me into the center of attention.  A party in my honor without my consent would be more than I could handle, and I probably would walk out.  I could see myself saying to the guests, “I’m sorry that they brought you all here for this, but this was done without my knowledge or consent, and I want nothing to do with it.”  I consider myself to be quite fortunate that Elyse hates surprises just as much as I do, so I think that I’m probably safe, at least as far as most of that is concerned.

What especially bothered me about the first group of responses, though, was the idea that the person in the original post was somehow obligated to suck it up and attend a party that they didn’t want in the first place, if nothing else but for the sake of politeness to the guests.  Their parents completely disregarded their explicit request that they not have a celebration, and then they’re expected to enable their bad behavior by playing along and being a good sport about it?  No.  The parents should have gotten the whole carton of eggs on their face for that one.  After all, they invited many people for a celebration that the guest of honor didn’t want.  That takes a certain amount of nerve, and it’s their fault.  I hope that they had a lot of explaining to do to the guests for why they arranged a party that the guest of honor didn’t even want.  One respondent said, “everyone went out of their way for you, and you spat in their faces.”  I really took issue with that.  If anyone figuratively spat in anyone’s face, the parents spat in the original poster’s face, for blatantly going against their wishes.  It’s like what happened with my mother on my own birthday in 2005.  I was very explicit in telling them not to buy me a cake, and they did it anyway.  So upon learning about that, I skipped out on their celebration, and they got no celebration, and the cake went completely to waste.  If my mother was disappointed, she really only had herself to blame, when I had made my wishes clear.  Parents don’t always know best, and just because someone is your offspring doesn’t mean that you know better than they do, or that your wishes override theirs.

Additionally, the idea that people want to celebrate someone’s birthday because they love them comes off as extremely creepy.  My stance is that if you love someone, you really should respect their wishes.  If that means that they want no celebration, that means no celebration.  Otherwise, that’s not a very loving thing to do, if it’s against the wishes of the recipient of the love.

The whole thing ultimately boils down to a very simple concept of respect, and so many people just don’t get it.  If you know that someone doesn’t like being thrust into being the center of attention, don’t put them there.  If someone doesn’t want it, they will actively avoid it, and someone will get egg on their face for it.  No really does mean no.

Categories: Birthdays, Reddit