Timing is funny. Last year, I published a rather optimistic piece about my birthday because the piece I intended to publish just felt too dark. Maybe last year, the timing wasn’t right for tens of readers to see it, but this year, something feels different. I’ve made a couple of small tweaks, but it’s mostly in its original state.
I’m getting better with the birthday angst–this year it didn’t hit me until last week, as opposed to years past when I start being upset about my birthday in May. Sometimes April.
Second, I lament what it means to have a birthday every year and be alone. And before Deanne and Jennie and my mom or anyone else starts in with “But you have us!” let me just stop you right there: it’s. not. the. same. At this point in my life, I have spent birthdays entirely alone. Two years ago, no one was available to spend any time with me, and at some point I ended up on the phone with Deanne, sobbing about the fact that even my own parents didn’t cancel their plans to do something with me on my birthday.
(Though being my age and having your parents take you to a pity birthday dinner wouldn’t have been all that great, either.)
I’ve long since made peace with all major holidays and being alone. Christmas doesn’t bother me as much as it used to, and New Years’ Eve has turned into a working holiday for me–one in which I’m asleep long before the ball drops.
But my birthday is the one tricky day that I still can’t quite employ enough cognitive dissonance to make it just another day on the calendar, like I have with those winter holidays. Maybe I need to plan resort trips to Hawaii or France, but that doesn’t help with this year.
Until I was 18, birthdays were handled mostly by my parents. And they were a big deal. Even when I didn’t get a party (with four kids, parties were expensive so we only got them on certain age milestones), at the very least I got a special dinner at a restaurant of my choice, followed by cake and time with my siblings. I always had cards from my grandparents. And in my teen years, friends planned picnics or barbecues or dinners at restaurants they knew I liked.
As an adult, my birthday is unhappy mostly because no one plans anything for me. It’s a day when I feel like I have lots of acquaintances but no actual friends, and the harsh, harsh truths that I haven’t had a boyfriend in forever coupled with decades of rejection remind me that I will, quite literally, die alone.
When you get to be my age, birthday plans are supposed to be handled by a spouse or significant other or even a gaggle of friends. That’s how my parents planned their parties, that’s how my friends’ parties, or dinners out are planned. But if I want to be with people on my birthday, I have to plan it. Part of that is the timing of my birthday, I know this. When I was a kid, I resented my summer birthday because I couldn’t bask in a constant stream of “Happy Birthdays” in my classrooms and hallways. As an adult, I resent my summer birthday because people are squeezing in summer vacations or hosting out of town guests. I don’t fit with their plans.
In my entire adult existence, no one has taken the responsibility of birthday party planning from me. Plus, there’s something in my American Puritanical DNA that screams “You can’t plan your own birthday–that’s so arrogant. And how much of a loser are you anyway that no one even wants to plan a birthday outing for you? Or even with you?!”
And all of this could be an indictment of my own personality traits: keeping people at a bit of a distance, being as self-reliant as possible, never needing or asking for help for fear of interrupting others’ lives, all traits that might discourage friends from taking the birthday reins. All traits that–let’s be real–I’ve had to develop because I am single.
Quite the catch-22, n’est-ce pas?
And at my age, it becomes even more complicated as my pool of single friends is more like a raindrop splash on a windshield. Most of my friends are married, and they have their own family obligations to manage. Coddling me on my birthday doesn’t quite fit into their lives, and I get that. I do. But I’m also a bit weary of having to pretend it’s really not a big deal that I don’t make the cut. Some years it’s not a big deal. Some years it is.
When I turned 40, I tried to plan my own birthday celebration with friends. Two people showed up. Two. Suddenly, I wasn’t 40 anymore–I was 10 years old being picked last for teams in P.E.
I learned from that year, so now I plan nothing. People ask what I’m doing for my birthday. The question is never “What would you like to do for your birthday this year?” The assumption is that someone has already planned to celebrate that I exist in this world. When I tell them “I’m not doing anything,” often the response is, “Good for you! Take a day and relax! Spend time with yourself!”
As if I haven’t been doing that for the past two months since school got out. Or as if I don’t spend time with myself the 364 other days of the year.
This year, my birthday will have a special level of suck: My birthday is on a Sunday, which means I will go to church and teach a Sunday School lesson, so I can’t sleep in. I can’t have a family dinner because of a scheduled choir rehearsal that I have to play for, in a building 30 minutes away, at the convenient start time of 6 p.m., and I can’t have family lunch, because of non-coordinating church meeting times. I can’t go out to lunch or see a movie or get a manicure. I can’t even have cake this year, because as part of the aging process, cake now makes me horribly sick.
And sure, I’m meeting a former student for breakfast on Saturday (we share a birthday), and I could do all kinds of birthday type things on Saturday, but it’s not the same. It never is.
I know that even for people who have a spouse or significant others, birthdays aren’t always a big deal. They’re often celebrated at home with each other and no big to-do is planned other than favorite foods and a cake. But they aren’t celebrating alone.
So my birthday wish–from someone who will never again have a birthday cake and will never have the opportunity for a birthday planned by a person who thinks I’m cool enough to live with–is that if you have a spouse or significant other, make his or her birthday something to remember, whatever that means in your relationship. Don’t take for granted that you have someone to pamper and celebrate another year of life with.
Because it sucks something awful to wake up every year on your birthday, confident that if Facebook wasn’t reminding 300 people it’s your birthday, no one probably would.