I believe that there are two types of people in the world: Those that like surprises, and those that don’t.
I don’t like surprises at all.
This is not to say that I throw a hissy fit whenever someone surprises me. For example, a coworker surprises me with a Slurpee from time to time. I love Slurpees, particularly of the Coke variety. However, it’s the Slurpee I love, not the surprise of receiving a Slurpee. If I knew it were coming, I could prepare for it–I could eat an early breakfast or wait to brush my teeth until after the Slurpee arrives. I could be ready.
The same goes with presents. I think people (myself included) love to eschew wish lists because we know what someone else really wants. Our ego says to us that we’re the one who really “gets” that person, and we’re going to come up with the perfect present to prove it. The truth is, for those of us who don’t like surprises, we’re much happier when you (a) get us exactly what’s on the list or (b) don’t get us anything at all.
This may not seem like an earth-shattering confession. But the truth is, not liking surprises is a symptom of not liking spontaneity, and I see that as an issue ingrained deep inside of me. It’s about letting go and enjoying the conversation when a friend calls out of the blue. By being unable to let go and rolling with the punches (and surprises often feel like punches to me), I miss out on some of the random beauty of life.
Here’s a classic example of how I react to surprises and how I miss out on what could have happened:
The year was 2002. I was studying abroad in Kyoto, Japan, and I had found myself a very cute Japanese girlfriend. She lived in Osaka, a city that’s about an hour away from Kyoto by train, so we only saw each other about once a week. The rest of the time we spent texting in cute little Japanese characters and talking on the phone.
I remember the date because it was the day before my birthday: January 8. Mayu had ended our text conversation that night with a somewhat cryptic question: “What time will you wake up tomorrow?” I told her the exact time that I woke up every day (8:15) because it left me the exact amount of time to eat breakfast while studying for my daily Japanese language quiz, shower, brush my teeth, get dressed, bike 3 miles to school, adjust my hair, and get to class exactly on time. Every morning was exactly the same, precisely calculated to maximize sleep and efficiency.
So at 8:15 on my birthday, I rolled off my futon (I get up immediately after my alarm goes off because of previously mentioned calculations), scooped some morning rice out of my rice cooker…and heard a knock on the door. I suspected it was one of my neighbors. The thought crossed my mind that it was Mayu, but it couldn’t possibly be–she know I had class, and her round trip was over 2 hours!
It was Mayu.
It was snowing. Dollops of snowdrops fell around her face. I’ll never forget that face. It was the picture of happiness, all pink and smiling and pleased with it self. “Happy Birthday!” she exclaimed.
“Heyyyyy,” I replied. I already knew where this was going.
She came in, unbundled herself, and gave me her gift while I ate morning rice. She had spent all night preparing a traditional box of Japanese treats and candies (something you give someone on a special occasion).
After she explained to me what all the little candies were, she wiggled up to me on the couch and said, “So…it’s your birthday. What do you wanna do?”
I looked up from my rice and–I kid you not–said, “Well, I have class in 30 minutes, so I need to get ready to go.”
A few minutes later I ushered her back into the cold, closed the door, and went back to my routine so I wouldn’t be late.
I’m sure any of you with an Asian fetish can think of all the possibilities I missed out on by not relaxing and letting go. If I had skipped class for the first time that semester, would anything bad actually have happened? Maybe I’d have a much crazier, kinkier story to tell instead of this sad, stilted tale.
That’s my life. I’m not OCD. I just know exactly what point B is and I won’t let anything–even cute Asian girls–get in the way.
And honestly, part of it is that I’m hyper aware of people’s feelings. Not all people’s feelings, but some feelings. Like, in the above example, I truly was worried about offending one of my beloved Japanese teachers. Or the other day when I didn’t go over to a friend’s house to watch football when I said I would because I ended up unexpectedly hanging out with an out-of-town friend, even though I was able to let go of my original plans, I felt bad the entire time for dropping Plan A.
But all in all, this is a confession because I realize that my reaction to surprises greatly limits my life. It limits adventure. It limits the number of those nights that you actually remember among all those countless nights that are pretty much the same.
Before I sign off, a few closing notes: One, to all of you out there who love surprises, please at least try to understand those of us who don’t. Surprising us doesn’t lighten our day–it just adds anxiety to it. So despite how pleased you are with your surprise, if you really want to make us feel good, don’t make it all about you. There are ways you can ease us into a world of spontaneity, and surprising us is not one of them.
Two, I will always draw the line at birthday surprises. Sure, it was great of Mayu to surprise me on my birthday, but that’s the one day when I feel completely justified being selfish about my time. My ideal birthday is a free day for myself. Don’t surprise me and ruin my peace.
I sound like a curmudgeony old man, don’t I?! This is my confession. Can anyone relate?
You can read my first confession about how I don’t like to go out of my way for anything here.