It’s my birthday tomorrow and I find myself somewhat disillusioned. It crept up on me. The whole of December did to be fair. And yet, as my birthday has drawn near I’m moved between excitement and overwhelming ambivalence. The reasons for which I am still trying to work out but I think it goes something like this…
My Birthday as a Child
As a child I always looked forward to birthdays. In perhaps a slightly narcissistic way I saw birthdays as the one day people showed they care. In the humdrum of every day life and the multitude of chores, birthdays shone like a bright star. Put succinctly, on my birthday I felt truly special.
I looked forward to my birthday with great enthusiasm as a child. It always confused me that adults did not seem to share this level of glee about their own birthdays. When adults didn’t always know their exact age I was confused. How could they not? Weren’t they counting the days to their next birthday? If adults seemed to brush away comments on their birthday or announce ‘I’m not sure I’m going to celebrate this year’ I was dumbfounded.
As I grew up I learnt to temper this enthusiasm to a few weeks before the event. Somehow I learnt that there was a respectable time before one’s birthday in which one could mention it. I heard the unspoken message that as one gets older so must their approach to their birthday mirror this seeming mark of maturity. Along the way I lost my ‘childlike’ enthusiasm for that one day of the year when I felt people noticed me.
Entering into my twenties I was still excited about birthdays. I may not have mentioned it’s impending arrival until someone else brought it up. I didn’t chatter about it endlessly during the oncoming weeks. But I did still celebrate. I had drinks or meals with friends. I took the onus on myself to organise and celebrate my birthday. Looking back I can only remember feeling happy and content to do so.
Birthdays: Then and Now
It is only in the last few years that I have approached my birthday with mixed feelings. Sometimes excitement but often tempered by dread or even sadness. I have also detected a tendency to drift toward apathy. So what has caused this change?
When discussing this with my partner I think I’ve started to understand my changing feelings. As a child the expectation is that everyone else will make the effort to celebrate. Parents/guardians or carers will hold parties for you and organise presents (although I appreciate this is a very privileged way to celebrate). These were the fond memories which elicited such excitement within me. As a child who struggled to feel remarkable or special in any way, who at times struggled to feel loved, birthdays were days where those fears could be laid aside. On my birthday I was loved. People showed me they cared even if they didn’t have time or I misread those signals the rest of the year.
As you get older the celebrations for ones birthday drift far more toward the one whose celebration it is. As I left my teenage years I had to arrange my party. If I wanted to celebrate with friends then I had to arrange something. And it was relatively easy. Having a close group of friends who knew when my birthday was I felt the feeling was mutual. They expected me to provide them with a space to celebrate my birthday. At university and on gap years I lived with these friends and was in close proximity to them without requiring any extra effort. Even if I wasn’t living with my parents or siblings, I was still viewed as a child coming back home at some point. My parents and family still made the effort to celebrate.
Feeling the Birthday Blues
And now? In the past few years I’ve begun to feel that my birthday is a burden to those around me. It’s another thing on their to-do list to mark as an occasion. For my family it’s something I truly believe they are happy to do but not something they are excited for. To them it’s more work to find the time or put the energy in. For my friends, I don’t see them as I used to. We are all at work, most of us full time. We’re all busy. If I want them to remember, let alone celebrate, I have to arrange a party or drinks. I’m sure they’d come BUT it all begins to feel hollow.
Here’s the thing. Birthdays are exciting and full of happiness when everyone wants to celebrate with you and genuinely seems excited to do so. Birthdays are less exciting when you feel like the expectation to celebrate is a burden on people. So as I sit here 2 hours away from my ‘special’ day I have no interest in a day which I feel I have thrust upon people. The shine diminishes with everyone person who has apparently forgotten. Or who mentions my birthday in an off-hand remark. At this point, I think I’d prefer tomorrow to be an ordinary day. And if you truly think about it, I guess it is just that.
What do you think about birthdays? Are they something you look forward to or do you have mixed feelings? Let me know in the comments!