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My birthday's approaching. It's not a milestone age or anything, but my friends and teammates (people I socialize, work or talk with every day, at meals, practice and study sessions) found out about it and have told me they'll rig up a birthday celebration of some sort. I really appreciate the gesture, but I'm not a huge party person. I'd much rather have a smaller celebration with just a few close friends. My objection isn't due to a lack of time; it's just that I don't like large social gatherings.

Unfortunately, many of the people who want to plan the party aren't in that close friend group, and I'm worried that they might be offended if I exclude them. I've already attempted to tell them that I don't want a party (at all!). This morning, I said

Hey, guys, I really appreciate your offer, but I don't want a big celebration for my birthday.

The responses were along the lines of

You don't relax enough! Don't worry, we won't do anything too big. Some chuckles

I wanted to say

Thanks, but I just want to have a get-together with some close friends. I'm sorry, but that's all I'm doing.

but I couldn't manage to be forceful enough. I was too afraid of offending them, and so I sort of rolled over.

Here are my goals for communication in a future in-person response (hopefully within the next day or so):

  • I want to make it clear that I don't want a large celebration.
  • They need to know that I don't dislike them; I simply would rather spend time with close friends.
  • I still appreciate the gesture.
  • I don't want to offend them.
  • I'd like to be assertive.

How can I accomplish these goals in conversation? Ideally, I'd like to be the one to start talking, to come off as more assertive.

Culturally, I'm a teenage college student at a small school in the United States. The group of would-be party planners number about 12, and they're all my age or a little older. I know that they care about me, but I think they've gotten a little caught-up in their excitement.

  • You say they are friends and 'team mates' does this mean these are people you see as one group on a regular basis? – user5349 Sep 21 '17 at 16:08
  • @EricaGrant Yes, I do, usually multiple times a day. – HDE 226868 Sep 21 '17 at 16:08
  • Are you opposed to doing both? – apaul Sep 22 '17 at 14:12
  • @apaul34208 Yes, I am. – HDE 226868 Sep 23 '17 at 18:27
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Based on location and age I think you are also likely somewhat dealing with "an excuse" to throw a party. While they are likely wanting to throw you a party, people that age that I know are also wanting to throw parties in general.

Do you normally go to parties? Do they have an impression that you enjoy parties in general? If you do normally go to other people's events, you can opt to just roll with this and go to your own and leave early if it's too much to stay all evening. You can intellectually just treat it like an other party you might attend.

You can just say something like, "I love that you are all excited to throw something for me, but this isn't the sort of thing I really enjoy. Since it's intended to be sort of your gift to me for my birthday, I would really prefer that we do this instead", then insert what you actually want to do. Perhaps you can do something that does involve everyone, like go to the park earlier in the day and play tag football or go canoeing or or or. It's a little hard for me to throw out many more ideas as I don't know what you enjoy, and I am not sure your location. Where I am rivers are plentiful and many people do love to canoe and you can rent them very affordably, so I threw that out, but I am sure there must be something you enjoy that 12 people can do.

You can elicit the help of the "small group" you do want to hang out with as well. The people you are close enough to that you want them on your "short list" could help assert that they are already planning something and then get the others to back off. I have done this for others. One of my closest friends is very shy and very conservative and was very very worried about the type of huge raunchy bachelorette party her cousin was planning for her (and rightly so, she was the maid of honor). I agreed to throw her a tamer, smaller event and so we managed to talk her cousin into allowing me to be in charge of it. To keep it how she wanted it, I had it in the daytime, and we invited a lot of her older female relatives that were more conservative to help set a tone she was more comfortable with. The younger, wilder girls were disappointed and tried to make it the way they wanted, but the party wasn't for them and I would just refuse their attempts (on her behalf). She was the "guest of honor" and what she enjoys should trump what the attendees enjoy.

I do think you can be assertive, however, based on general culture in the USA and your age, I think you will have better luck being heard (without having to be overly aggressive) if you get others to back you that they already planned a small event catered to what you prefer best, which is something less grand and noisy and intense.

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    Thank you! I ended up taking the "small group" approach by accident; a close friend stepped in and made a small get-together happen, and I worked from there. – HDE 226868 Sep 24 '17 at 20:09
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Be assertive.

If you don't want to do a big birthday celebration, then be assertive about it. Unfortunately, indirectly stating that in a small voice isn't really gonna do much.

You have to communicate this front and center with them. If they don't get it, then do the celebration by yourself. Do the things you would've wanted to do with them but by yourself. Because we cannot depend on friends all the time and sometimes, we can/have to be selfish.

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    I don't want to nitpick, but I do know that I have to be assertive. I just don't quite know how to phrase things, and how to be assertive without being offensive. – HDE 226868 Sep 21 '17 at 16:16
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I think the bullet points you have look pretty good. I think if you use a lot of the 'I' language you have there they should be able to understand that its not that you don't like them its just that you don't want a party. Things like 'I feel uncomfortable having a party thrown for me', and 'I want to do something low key'. Also keep in mind that while this is a stressful thing for you (the prospect of having a large party thrown for you), they will most likely forget about this in a few weeks (if not faster). I think @threetimes is right in that they just want to throw a party for party's sake. Maybe you could suggest they start planning a Halloween party, or something not specific to you to shift their focus?

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