Because everyone needs one day of the year that’s meant to be just a nice little acknowledgement but is instead loaded with expectation and whether or not it was good and did you have a nice time and OH NO.Now, I’m not one of those people that hates their own birthday. This is a common misconception. In fact, I like to acknowledge it. I think it’s a great excuse to take a day off work and go and do something you might not otherwise do – because why not?
Even so, birthdays have always been a bit tricky for me – and I think I’ve worked out (finally) that it largely comes down to control. Or the lack of it.
The many, many expectations
Joy: I can plan a nice thing for me and my friends/family to do. Generally, this is a fun, happy activity. They also plan or buy nice things for me. Because that’s a nice birthday tradition.
Anxiety: Bizarrely, it’s these very sweet gestures that give me this uneasy sense of anticipation. Like, when are we doing gifts? Is this everyone? Are we going somewhere? When? How long for? What should I wear?
Can’t just sit back and relax and enjoy my birthday, can I? Don’t be silly.
The guest list
Joy: I get to see people I often don’t get to see. This is a nice thing.
Anxiety: To me, inviting people to join me on my birthday feels like I’m DEMANDING that they pay attention to me on my SPECIAL day. In another light, it’s like I’m asking them this:
‘Will you come celebrate my inevitable ageing with me?’
And then what if that person REJECTS your invitation? They didn’t see themselves as ‘birthday friends’ with you and now it’s weird. Good one.
Oh wait, more expectations
Joy: Woo! I get to do something I’d never normally do!
Anxiety: This is way more hassle than it’s worth. I’d rather be at home with a takeaway and some films. This is not fun. Is it obvious this isn’t fun? Is everyone else annoyed that they’re not having fun? ARE THEY HAVING FUN?
Joy: Ooh, a surprise! Yay! How wonderful that someone has put in thought to give me something to enjoy and remember on my birthday!
Anxiety: I want to know everything that’s going on and when and why. I can’t prepare adequately for a surprise! God help me if I detect something slightly weird amiss and then I’m tetchy af trying to work out what the heck is going on.
A quarter of a century in and I still can’t decide if I like surprises or not.
The existential crisis
And then there’s all the fun stuff that has absolutely nothing to do with birthdays as a celebration.
The cards, the texts, the phone calls. The full-on, inescapable reminder that you are in fact GETTING ON A BIT.
Turning 25 feels like a milestone I’ve ignored up until now. I will be dead-on mid-twenties. From here on, I’ll be closer to 50 than to birth.
Aaaaaand here come the thoughts:
- All those things I want to do, should I have done a lot of those by now?
- Am I ‘on track’? Where is the track? Can someone point me in the direction of the track?
- What had other people done by 25 years old?
- What should I have done by next year?
- Will I have done it by 30? What if I haven’t?
- #Can someone please tell me what in the hell I should be doing?
I’m an adult (so I’m told) so I’ve yet to work all of this stuff out – or find the elusive person who has the answers. And if that’s not an anxiety-inducing thought, I don’t know what is.
But hey, the one day a year where you can do (mostly) as you please and people are generally pretty nice to you… I guess one day I might eventually learn to enjoy it. I’m sure stranger things have happened.