July 24, 2012

Surprise 50th Birthday Party Aborted



Paulette’s fiftieth birthday was coming in two weeks, on a Sunday.

She expressed a desire to have a surprise birthday party based on five-year-old activities—creatively reversing the number 50 to 05. I’d asked her if she liked the local Chinese buffet, which she did.

I called a couple of people I believed were willing to come, and arranged a time to meet at the Chinese restaurant. Then I called Paulette and told her I would drive across the county, pick her up, take her to church, and then take her out to lunch afterwards.

Paulette was excited about the invitation. However, there was a caveat: a relative might invite her to visit.

“OK,” I said. “I understand that. Just let me know if you are leaving town.”

A few days later she told me she didn’t want to go to church on her birthday. She would go, as usual, on Saturday evening. Then she stated that a day of church and lunch was boring.

“What would you like to do?”

“I want to go to Kennywood,” she replied.

“There’s no way I’m taking you there.” Kennywood was a long drive, and expensive. It was beyond what I was willing to do.

“Besides,” Paulette said, “you don’t even like going to church.

“I’ve wanted to attend your church because we both have ancestors involved in its founding.”

“I don’t know what I’ll do. I might be invited to my relative’s house. Or I might go with you. Or I might sit home and cry because nobody cares about me.”

“Wait a minute,” I said. “You might choose to sit home and cry, but it won’t be because no one cares. You have an offer for your birthday.”

She decided not to go to church, and still hoped her relative might call.


On July 14 I surprised Paulette by taking her to the Hannastown Court Reenactment. I ran late, hitting every red light along the way, reaching Paulette’s house with barely enough time to make it to Hannastown. I parked below her house and called her on my cell phone. Of course, she didn’t answer her phone. I waited, and redialed. Then she called me back. I told her where I was. I admitted I was cranky and upset because of the red lights.

Enroute I somehow mentioned the word poor in relationship to her.

“I’m not poor. I just got a big check. I pay my bills.”

“I’m sorry I used that term. I know you’ve been struggling.”

“How do you know that?”

“You tell me.”

“I don’t get food from the food pantry. I don’t take food stamps. I buy my own food.”

“Fine. You’re not poor,” I said.

“I pay my way.”

We made it to Hannastown just after the introduction. I paid Paulette’s $5 fee. She thoroughly enjoyed the reenactments, as I expected she would.  Afterwards, on the way to a restaurant, I mentioned I planned to order their great soup and salad lunch.

While perusing the menu Paulette said “I suppose I have to pay for my own lunch.” I zipped my lip. After all, she told me she could pay her own way.

I ordered the soup and salad. Paulette ordered a main dish.

After we ate, Psaulette said she wanted desert “But I don’t have enough money.”

I reluctantly said “I’ll pay for your dessert.”

“No, I’ll pay for it myself,” she snapped.

Before the bill came Paulette suggested that this lunch could be my birthday lunch with her if I paid for it.

“No,” I responded, “I offered to take you out on your birthday, and that is my invitation.”

She presented me with the best puppy dog eyes and face. I said nothing.

I was aghast at the check. Her meal cost $16; her dessert cost more than $6.00. My part of the bill was $6.50.

She forked over $25, saying she’d be broke for the week. I gave her $3, and paid the bill and the full gratuity.

I told her I needed to know if she would accept my birthday offer by Wednesday.


Paulette called on Wednesday evening.

“I’m afraid to accept your offer,” she said. “You might make me pay my way.”

“I wouldn’t do that,” I said. The buffet was one reasonable price per person.

“You should have paid for my lunch Sunday. You invited me. People think you are rude. Etiquette says that if you invite someone somewhere, you pay.”

“You put me in a position of not knowing what to do. If I pay, I’m saying you can’t pay, you’re poor. If I don’t pay, I’m rude.”

“You should have paid. I was your guest. I was taken out to eat by someone else this week, and they paid. They also had a birthday cake for me.”

Trying to divert the conversation, I asked her about Sunday.

“My offer is on the table. Either take it or leave it.”

“Someone offered to take me to the same restaurant we went to last Sunday, and they will pay.”

“So you are not accepting my offer?”

“I can’t trust you. You’re rich. And you didn’t pay.”

She then divulged that it was Regina, one of the two women I’d invited to her birthday, who called me rude for not paying for her lunch.

“And what were you doing telling Nina about what I wanted to do for my birthday?”

During a previous call, when I thought the phone was disconnected, I had told Nina (a family friend) that Paulette wanted a kindergarten-themed surprise birthday party.

I didn’t respond to Paulette.

“I’ll go back to the restaurant on Sunday. Maybe you can take me out to lunch the next weekend. It can extend my birthday. It’s a big one.”

Thus, Paulette turned down the invitation I extended to her.

As she continued to ramble on I became increasingly frustrated.

“Do you want to know why I won’t change my mind on the lunch invitation? Do you want to know why I told Nina about what you wanted to do for your birthday? I’ll tell you why—she was involved. She was helping me plan a kindergarten surprise birthday party for you.”

“You can’t do that at a restaurant,” Paulette said.

“Yes, you can.”

“Why are you telling me that? To make me feel bad?” I must admit I had a tinge of this attitude by now.

“No, I just wanted you to know that people care.”

“You’re making it up.”

“No, I’m not. You can check with Regina.”

“You’re mean. And what makes you think I’d want Nina involved? I’m glad I’m not going with you if she’d be there.”

“I can’t make this kind of thing up. I listened to what you said you wanted, and planned it for you. You keep throwing etiquette at me. Let me tell you two points of etiquette you didn’t use. When someone invites you to a restaurant, it’s etiquette to watch what they order and to keep your order in a similar price range. And on the way I had mentioned the soup and salad lunch.

“You’re making this up.”

“No, I’m not.”

“You wanted me to order soup and salad? Yuch!”

“And a second point of etiquette. When you receive an invitation, you don’t wait to see if someone else will offer you a better invite. That’s high school stuff. You accept the first offer, or you mention the possibility of another situation before accepting.”

Finally, I told Paulette that I was done dealing with her. She had vexed me to the limit and beyond over the past few years.


On Saturday evening Regina picked Paulette up for church.

“Here is the present I was going to give you at your party tomorrow. I’m sorry it didn’t work out.”


Although we are called to care for others, friendships can sometimes be toxic. It’s wise to not be drawn into the drama while being supportive (rather than co-dependent). And there comes a time to end a relationship.

This slice of my live describes the end of such a relationship.

Although I will no longer be in relationship with Paulette I can still hold her up in prayer. I wish Paulette the best as she moves forward—or doesn’t move forward—in her life.



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1 Comment »

  1. FROM Diane Cipa via e-mail (notice the secondary comment…LOL)

    Nicely written and very interesting, Carolyn. I like that you always gave her a choice and clear set of expectations and you followed her lead. It\’s so important, I think, to help another to understand that their words carry meaning and that friendship is a two way street. Sometimes, as I am sure you know, there is a slight mental illness or these patterns have been allowed to form over such a long time that a person has great difficulty understanding that you don\’t get their perspective. I don\’t have to tell you that, your post is just making me think, but then you get to make a choice whether to put up with it and just accept them and try to make the best of it or sever the relationship.

    Good post. Now I am hoping that your blog accepts my comment! LOL


    Carolyn: You’ll love this. I tried to comment, then it asked for my password which I can’t remember then when I tried to use their tool to get a new password it says they don’t have an account for me. LOL I think this is want you experience when you try to use Blogger. God must want you to live in WordPress and me to live in Google and never the twain shall meet!

    Diane—at least we understand each other!

    Comment by carolyncholland — July 29, 2012 @ 1:53 pm | Reply

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