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The Secret in My Marriage

The Secret in My Marriage

The unintended consequences of planning my husband's surprise birthday party.


When two people get married, their joy is doubled, while their sorrow is halved. So when my husband’s 39th birthday approached, I thought it would be fun for both of us to have a unique celebration. A surprise party would be perfect.

I started planning his party while my brother was visiting. I wished we could have invited my husband into our orbit to help us with ideas, but secrecy was the whole point. When my brother suggested the invitations read “Help him celebrate while he can still blow out the candles on his cake!” I started laughing – and quickly had to cover when my husband entered the room, telling him I was laughing about a story about my nieces. I felt a twinge of discomfort; I’d never lied to my husband before, and it felt weird to start.

“What did your brother’s girls do?” my husband asked, expectantly.

Desperately, I cast around for an anecdote. “They, um… pretended…. they were horses!” I improvised, gulping. My husband looked at me, waiting for the funny bit. I thought of a line by the British poet Sir Walter Scott: “Oh what a tangled web we weave / When first we practice to deceive!” as I dug myself deeper and deeper into trying to concoct a passably amusing anecdote.

After my brother went home, planning the party alone was much less fun. My husband loves Middle Eastern food, so I decided to have a Middle Eastern theme. My mom volunteered to make baklava for the party. But her recipe is dairy… should I go meat or vegetarian? That night, I turned to my husband and asked him his advice – but caught myself just in time. Instead, I just looked at him, at a loss what to talk about until my husband, oblivious of my thoughts, started doing something else.

Each time I felt like opening up to my husband, I had to quell the impulse.

That’s how it continued. Each step of the way, I felt like talking about how my plans were progressing, and each time I felt like opening up to my husband, I had to quell the impulse.

I even turned to subterfuge. My husband plays on a sports team, and I wanted to invite his teammates, but had no contact details for them. “Honey,” I asked nonchalantly one night, “what's the password on your e-mail account?” I tried to make it sound like I was interested in nothing more than his password decision-making methods. And, innocent that he is, he fell for it and told me his password. I was glad to invite his teammates, but the fun of party planning was wearing off. I was becoming like one of the spy characters in a John Le Carre novel: world weary and tired of secrets.

Most evenings, my husband would ask how my day had been. I’d be bursting with thoughts about his surprise party, but couldn’t say any of it. I started shrugging and saying “pretty good,” then changing the subject.

“Nothing happened today?” he’d venture, with a surprised look.

I began to feel boring and alone.

As the party neared, I got my biggest news yet: my husband’s parents, who live out of town, were going to come! When my mother-in-law told me, I was elated. Normally, it’s a very special family occasion when they come into town, but this time – nothing. No planning, no meals, no telling the kids, no excitement. It felt ridiculous to keep such a visit secret.

The party finally arrived. I have a photo of my husband at the party, and he looks incredibly happy. His eyes are shining and there’s a huge grin on his face. Next to him, I’m grinning as well. Only I know that the look of happiness on my face was mostly relief. No more secrets, no more lies. I felt like the character from, “The Spy who Came in From the Cold;” I've given up espionage and have returned, thankfully, to normal life.

My husband recently told me someone had suggested he make a surprise party for my next birthday. "Don’t do it," I told him. "Let's go out to dinner instead."

August 14, 2010

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Visitor Comments: 5

(5) SusanE, August 16, 2010 4:18 PM

Surprises are fun for the Planners.

You are so right about surprise parties. I agree with the author. A clandestine operation is not always good, and Surprise parties are not the best way to celebrate. They are more fun for the people sneaking around planning them than they are for the guest of honor.. Sad in a way. The planning and anticipation is part of the celebration. Imagine a Holiday that is kept secret and only announced 10 minutes before it starts? Planning for a celebration is part of the fun and excitement that celebration.

(4) Max Lurie, August 16, 2010 10:36 AM

Surprise Party secrecy well worth it.

My second birthday after we got married, my wife made into a surprise party. I did not suspect a thing and fell for all the excuses and didnt work out the hints, instead as I walked through the door I walked into a very unexpected crowd. It was one of the best parties I can remember. All the secrecy and diversions my wife endured was from my point of view definately worth it.

(3) Sarah, August 16, 2010 8:27 AM

Mazal tov

Besides enjoying your story, I was touched by how uncomfortable you felt at not being able to "share" with your husband the goings-on. It shows that you have a beautiful relationship with your husband. Keep it up! Regarding what you wrote: " When my brother suggested the invitations read “Help him celebrate while he can still blow out the candles on his cake!” , please remember that as Jews we don't blow out the candles. The candle represents our soul, and we surely don't want to blow it out!

(2) ruth housman, August 15, 2010 10:30 PM

giving it all away

A delicious secret is hard to hold on to,, and as this charming story is told, it was very difficult, and yes, involved a lot of subterfuge. Surprise parties are fun, especially if they work as planned, and it is, a total surprise for the recipient, who is made to feel so special by the inclusion of friends, and the secret delight in making this happen. It takes a lot of hard work to keep a secret. I think God is keeping a big secret from us all, and sometimes I think the vast diversity of stories in this world, has hidden a great secret, a secret that to me is so clear, and that is, our present, is a gift, a total gift from God, and that what is hidden, is paradoxically, the hand of God in all our lives and what is handed to us by way of story and storyteller.

(1) Caroline, August 15, 2010 4:35 PM

Surprise Birthday Party

I enjoyed reading this article and I know how you feel about planning a surprise party. I am planning a surprise party for my husband who is turning 40 and it is tough keeping a secret, but it is also fun that he doesn't know who coming or what I have planned. The hard part for me is that my husband works from home and I have to find a way to get him out of the house! Thank you for sharing!

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