A few months ago, my husband B told me he wanted to have a huge party in August, to celebrate him turning 50, our twins turning 21, and his recent graduation 32 years after starting college. “Just how big?” I asked.
“Oh, a couple hundred people or so. I want to block off the street and get a band to play.”
Gulp. My first reaction was heart-clenching anxiety. I was having flashbacks to our last big party, when the twins graduated from high school 3 years ago. We invited a lot of people but had no idea how many would show. We deep cleaned and decluttered for 2 months (a big feat, as cleaning is not a top priority for us), I planned and made lists of every last detail, and came up with a Martha Stewart-esque taco bar. I’ve seen other (saner) people have some ground beef, cheese and salsa and call it a day, but in my drive to make it “Nice,” I made vats of seasoned ground beef, chicken, pork, and vegetarian beans, shopped and cooked for days. People loved the party and praised the food, but I was totally burnt out. (And we ate leftovers for months afterwards.)
On a smaller scale, this is what I’ve tended to do for all the kids’ birthday parties and holidays over the year. I plan with detailed lists so that I’m walking around muttering to myself trying to think of everything. I cook the food from scratch, and bake/frost/decorate the cakes myself. I clean and shop, and then– as my family knows too well– as we get nearer the party, I become a drill seargent, yelling at them to help me do this or that, because there’s no way I can get it all done (add a heap of my built-up resentment in there too). And during all this time, I’m in a state of anxiety and fear— afraid I won’t get it all done, afraid of people seeing my imperfect house and judging me, afraid the party will not be Perfect. Underneath it all is despair that I’ve given up myself and my own needs for several weeks because I’m driven by Perfectionism. Sigh!
I’ve known for a long time that this isn’t a good set-up for me, or for anyone else… but I honestly didn’t know how to change it. The panic was too great for me to do anything but what I knew how to do. And I know there are many reasons that I’ve gotten into this miserable way of operating– lots of childhood issues I won’t go into here. I’ve been working on them, really really hard. But we haven’t had a party since that overwhelming graduation party… and now B was asking for one, a bigger one than we’ve ever had.
It may sound extreme, but the idea was sending me into a PTSD state. The anxiety and fear barged their way in, and I just wanted to stand straight still and do nothing. Luckily, we have two wonderful therapists that we see for couple’s counseling, and we talked it out with them. As usual, they got us to see things from each other’s point of view, got to us empathize with what the other was feeling. Also as usual, they said “oh Theresa, what a great opportunity for you to work with your feelings!” (groan) And they helped us formulate a plan. It may sound like a strange one, but it worked for us–
B would be in charge of the whole party. He would make the plans, he would find out how to close off the street, he would hire a band, he would do the invites. It was his party, and he’d get to have it the way he wanted it. He would grill brats and veggie burgers, provide beer and root beer kegs, and then the rest would be potluck and BYOB. He wouldn’t clean because the party would be in the street. And my job was to not plan, not worry, and just take care of getting coolers and ice. Coolers and ice! Okay then.
This may sound like it was a proverbial piece of cake for me… but let’s just say it wasn’t. It was hard to let that old party planner in me go… not only a perfectionist, but she has some teensy-weensy control issues too. But I wanted to make this work for B, and I wanted to not be afraid of parties, and I wanted to try something new.
I wasn’t perfect at letting go– I still had anxiety about the party, but was better at remembering that I didn’t have to listen to that panicked voice in my head. I felt my fears and anxieties and worked with those feelings, rather than letting them take over. B and I had many great talks and were really understanding each other in the weeks before the party. It wasn’t easy for me, but it was different, and I was acting differently–my family reported I was much better, no drill seargent this time.
I did do more than just coolers and ice– I decided I wanted to make the cakes, since I do like to bake. I did do cleaning (not excessive). I did help out with other details. But it was still a big change for me in giving up control, doing much less, and letting go.
And the party was great! We had fabulous weather, over a hundred happy people, tables of potluck goodies, fun music and 21 year olds hosting a bonfire. B loved it, and I did too. I remembered the good parts about having a party– how fun it is to get together with family and friends.
I learned a lot about myself in this process. I’m sure I’ll still struggle with these same issues in the future… but now I actually don’t mind the idea of maybe someday kinda hosting another (probably smaller!) party. Whee!