November 2016

Why I Don’t Like Surprises

Author: Linda S. Hopkins

If the Prize Patrol rang my doorbell with a $5 million check, that would be a nice surprise. Unfortunately, my relationship with Publishers Clearing House went south the year I was so sure I would win that I stayed dressed up all through the Super Bowl game just in case I needed to answer the door and look surprised. Apparently they got the wrong name and address, or maybe the contest was rigged.

Generally speaking, I don’t like surprises, which makes pretty much all holidays and special occasions a source of angst. My husband once surprised me with a pair of shoes. I wore them for a season, because I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. But they were downright uncomfortable and just not my style. One Christmas, he put a tire gauge in my stocking. His intentions were pure, as he meant to convey his concern for my safety. I was surprised, but not particularly happy. Luckily for him, he redeemed himself with a generous gift card from one of my favorite stores, which was not really a surprise, as I had strongly hinted that the perfect gift would be a gift card from said store.

My dislike of surprises started long before I met my husband; I probably should have warned him. I was six years old when I asked Santa for a Chatty Cathy doll. Imagine my surprise when Christmas morning came and there was an electric train set with my name on it in place of the popular talking doll. I remember fighting back tears as I pretended to be excited about the train, which I found out years later was supposed to be a gift for my brother. When Santa discovered that his elves didn’t make enough Chatty Cathy dolls to go around, he switched the name on the train to even out the number of gifts—not a good surprise.

Then there was the year when I specifically asked my grandparents for a bride doll. I had selected it from the Sears catalog and could hardly contain my excitement. Imagine the letdown when I unwrapped a box of Grandmother’s hand-embroidered pillow cases. I was inconsolable until “Pops” went into the back bedroom and came out with another package. Surprise! It was the bride doll. But my joy had already been spoiled by the bitter taste of disappointment. Never do this to anyone.

The semi-surprise
Although some people take pleasure in a surprise, most people I know prefer to receive gifts they actually want as opposed to what someone guessed they might want. It’s the thought that counts, but only when you actually put in the thought. Like sending your vegan friend a box of Omaha steaks or buying your husband a silk tie when he was longing for a tackle box, thoughtless presents, no matter how expensive or extravagant, can send the wrong message.

If you want to surprise someone, do some sleuthing to find out what he or she might want or need. The safest way is to ask for a list, which technically takes away the element of surprise. A better plan is to listen and observe. Notice what your friend touches in a department store. Find out where she shops. Pay attention to items your spouse points out in a catalog or stops to admire in a store window. Listen for subtle hints in your daily conversations—not just near the time of a holiday or special occasion, but all year round. Keep some notes on your closest friends and family members: What does the person collect? What is her favorite color, favorite flower, favorite sweet treat? What kind of music is playing on the radio in his car? What are his hobbies? How does he spend his spare time? This kind of information will help you spot the perfect gift for everyone on your list.

If it’s an engagement ring or gift of similar importance, you would be wise to find out specifically what the recipient has in mind rather than risk presenting something that might possibly disenchant.

Control central
I don’t need a psychotherapist to identify the origins of my own surprise-a-phobia. Rooted in a strong need to be in control, I can trace it back to the surprise of a lifetime: the day my father didn’t come home from work. I watched out the window and waited by the door until Mama made me go to bed. For several weeks, no one knew where Daddy was, but apparently he had packed a suitcase. He finally showed back up with an uncharacteristic stubble on his chin, talking a mile a minute, seemingly unaware that he had just stamped a lifetime of insecurity and abandonment issues on my prefrontal cortex.

Daddy was eventually diagnosed as manic-depressive, or bipolar as it is more commonly known today. His erratic behavior was an illness, not a choice. But still, it left scars on a little girl who would forever after prefer the predictable over a surprise.

While Daddy’s unintentional “gift,” came with heartaches and challenges, it was bundled with a few bonuses. From undependability, I learned to be dependable; from broken promises, I learned to keep my word; from absence, I learned to be present.

I personally like life wrapped up in a tidy, predictable bow. If you want to surprise me, you can’t go wrong with a gift card…or a check for $5 million dollars. 

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