Surprising your other half 101

Dear readers,

This post comes by popular demand from my own friends. After years of rubbish surprises (or no surprises at all) my (admittedly mostly female) friends are reaching the end of their tether with their (admittedly mostly male) other halves. Phew, that’s a lot of brackets!

So if this has been emailed to you by your dearest, or left open on your computer screen, or printed out and put on your desk / the wall / a sign that follows you around everywhere, it’s not a coincidence, SOMEONE IS TRYING TO GIVE YOU A HINT!

This post is THE definitive guide for clueless gift givers and special occasion would-be surprisers (yes, I know that’s not a word).

*Disclaimer – this post SOUNDS incredibly demanding – as if we expect this of you. We really, really, really don’t. That’s what would make going this far to surprise them THAT much more special. It’s not mandatory – but this is the ultimate “please your other half” guide.

Surprising your other half 101

Part 1 data collecting

 If you’re the kind of partner whose gifts and surprises never go down with the enthusiasm you anticipated, then this is for you. The first step is DO NOT DO THIS ALONE. I repeat DO NOT DO THIS ALONE.

Call around your loved one’s closest friends and family. Mum, best friends etc. and compile a list of their ideas. They are a golden resource as the likelihood is your other half will have given them vital information at some point.

Make a list of your partner’s hobbies and interests. Now, bear in mind, this is not a foolproof strategy, particularly if you’re not the best listener in the world. Case study: when I was eight, I loved the Spice Girls. Ever since, at every family occasion imaginable, someone mentions the Spice Girls, like I’m going to faint with pleasure at the reference. Make sure the list of hobbies is up to date!!

Part 2 a planning partner

You’ll need someone to plan the surprise with you. Again, I’d choose a best friend, or someone who’s well known in your circles for planning great gifts and surprises and keeping their mouth shut. This person will also be responsible for getting your other half out of the house if needed etc.

It’s also helpful to consult with someone who knows about things your other half likes. For example, if your other half is a huge Harry Potter fan, have a chat with another Harry Potter fan and ask them what their ultimate Potter surprise would be – from the wildest dreams realm to the more realistic. (Sorry, Harry Potter is literally my only frame of reference).

Part 3 above and beyond

The key to a great surprise gift is going above and beyond. The problem is with most (God I hesitate to say men, but there’s no other way to put it) people is that they think the fact that they figured out what their loved one likes will get them enough kudos. And they stop there (see my cautionary tale at the end).

Going above and beyond does NOT have to be expensive. It’s all about thought and effort. My formula is generally this:

- Favourite meals (three meals if you can manage it!)
– Favourite flowers
– One incredibly thoughtful gift
– One incredibly thoughtful experience
– One incredibly thoughtful evening with friends (can be a party, a meal etc) or just with you if they’re not the social type

As you can see, the best way to go above and beyond is to have a full day of surprises. Start by looking up what’s on.

Here’s a template surprise: John LOVES rugby, beer, veggie food and his friends. For one of John’s birthdays there happened to be an England v Wales game on at Twickenham on the day of his birthday, so if you look up special events local to you then you might just get lucky. That was also good because it got him out of the house for his evening surprise party (a veggie BBQ – his favourite – with all of his best friends and family) and gave him something to do for the day with one of his best friends who I’d convinced to fly over from the States for a holiday!

Not just any flowers – find out about your other half’s favourites. Image © Satureyes

Part 4 attention to detail

If you’re going to go for a surprise really go for it – attention to detail is everything. For one of my birthdays, John (and don’t think I’m some horrible wife intent on humiliating poor John, I have his full permission to publish this as a cautionary tale to others) had clocked that I’m a Harry Potter fan. He is a poor secret keeper and kept hinting that a.) I was going to have a Harry Potter-themed evening and b.) there would be some sort of mystery guest.

Now put this in context – several weeks earlier I’d convinced one of his best friends to fly in from the States and surprise him – he hadn’t had a clue – so I thought I’d set the bar pretty high for mystery guests.

The evening of my birthday arrived (I’d spent several days cleaning up so the mystery guest would be more comfortable, preparing the guest bedroom etc.) and still no guest. My Harry Potter party turned out to be a few printed signs off the Internet with different Hogwarts houses on them and two of my friends who’d actually been able to make it watching Harry Potter with me. And the mystery guest? On asking him what that was about, John ran upstairs, and came back down moments later, a dressing gown over his clothes with a printed Hogwarts badge on it and a Ron Weasley mask, still with the copyright sign prominent on its nose.

Yes, Ron Weasley was my mystery guest.

Sort of.

The lesson? If you’re going to go for a theme, go for it properly!!

Think about everything you do. For example:

Breakfast – don’t just bring them a slice of toast and some tea. Think about what their favourite breakfast in the world is and make it for them.

When you get them flowers, don’t just go to the garage – pop to your local florist in advance having found out what their favourite flowers are and get them a much more personal bouquet that says “I listen”.

An incredibly thoughtful gift isn’t just a rehashing of something they like. For example, for the literary buff, it isn’t just “a book they’ll like” it’s a first edition, a signed copy, a rare piece of merchandise. For the whiskey connoisseur it’s not just a bottle from the supermarket, it’s their favourite malt from their favourite location (if it’s aged the same age as them on their birthday, all the more impressive and thoughtful). These things don’t have to cost the Earth, but you may have to be tenacious in getting what you want. The Hanson at my wedding guy reached for the impossible and got something pretty awesome. And heroes don’t have to be inaccessible. OK, so my hero is JK Rowling and it’s pretty darn hard to get a signed book from her. But I have many other less “celebritised” (also not a word) people that I admire that could be easily tracked down – as does John.

A thoughtful experience should be of the same calibre. Don’t just think “my other half likes music” and take them off to anything music related, it’s about what they like. For example, John likes rugby. More specifically, John likes the Welsh and South African rugby teams. So I got him a ticket to England v Wales knowing he’d enjoy the experience. You may think you’re doing your other half a big favour just by knowing they like a certain field or discipline, but make sure you get them the right thing – otherwise it could be like getting a Man U fan tickets to a Man City game (see what I did there?).

A thoughtful evening with friends – try to get people your other half really, really loves there and not just a cohort of acquaintances (unless one of the things they love is really big parties). Everything, from the cake to the food to the music to the decorations should be their favourite – and a surprise guest who “couldn’t make it” and would mean the world to them will buy you brownie points forever.

Good luck, would-be surprisers! If you need any specific advice (comes with a big, I’m probably not an expert in what your wife/girlfriend/boyfriend/best friend/pet/gynaecologist likes disclaimer) drop me an email

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