I turn 32 today, and I hate it. Not because I am concerned with aging or because I am ashamed of who I am. I’m proud of my achivements and I’m doing just fine. No, I hate this whole birthday thing because it causes my faith in other people to dwindle into near misanthropy — if only for a day. Like anything, it passes. In many ways, how one person acts around you on your birthday (treating you coldly or failing to even say hello when they know very well it’s your birthday and this damn knowledge has made the office rounds without your sanction) is a measure of how they view you as a human being. But I also realize that this is an inaccurate measure, that people are subject to personal whims, that they have lives and they’re doing the best they can, and that it is unfair for me to judge them based on one day. Further, who am I to expect anything from anyone? And who the hell am I to judge?
The problem extends to just how important a birthday is and how it ties into one’s ego. To celebrate one’s self or, to use a verb suggested to me this morning, “pamper” one’s self strikes me as a horrid act of solipsism. To assume that others should reschedule their lives around you is even more selfish. And I suppose I’m committing the ultimate act of selfishness by laying down these neuroses in writing. But I must be honest here.
Here is the cruel irony: I am embarassed by any attentions showered on me, but I do pine for it in some casual, picayune, and non-materialistic manner. The last time I attempted any kind of celebration with friends (a few years ago), I tried simply to meet for drinks in a pub. There was no need for anybody to bring gifts. Just a casual conversation. Perhaps a few “Happy birthday, Eds” thrown in for good measure. I figured this was a halfway house between lavish blowout and informal confab. A way for me to become comfortable with the idea of the birthday, which seemed to delight everyone else.
Nobody showed up. I felt about as insignificant as the fly crawling up my glass of Guinness.
So I have removed myself from the equation. But I’m not sure if this is the right approach either.
Because we are dealing with an issue where one’s status is raised or lowered in relation to how a birthday is celebrated, I dread the birthday’s assault on my steady internal barometer. A birthday enters the equation and it threatens to blow a strong gale against the steady sail I use to guide my course. The birthday is entirely different from the curve balls life throws you, which are generally not personally directed at you and don’t involve you and can be responded to with action and discipline.
Since my own attitude doesn’t subscribe to the whole “Hey, here’s a cake! It’s your day!” approach that seems to be the norm, I try to wiggle my way out by avoiding most of humanity. It’s probably a shitty thing to do, particularly when my friends are only being kind and are just doing their best to make me happy. And I certainly don’t welcome this passive approach on my part, which is somewhat cowardly and only continues to exacerbate the problem. I really want to conquer the birthday in the same way that I triumphed over my hesitations about Xmas by doing volunteer work instead of participating in that holiday’s abject consumerism. But I don’t know how to do it. Because the damn thing’s all about me.
I feel that when I reveal even modest impulses (“Can we go out for drinks? Can we go out for dinner?”) that I’m like that wretched kid in that old Twilight Zone episode who has powers over all of the adults around him and forces them to submit to his every desire. Shouldn’t social occasions happen because people simply want to meet each other?
I certainly don’t want to burden my friends with any feelings which suggest that I’m ungrateful. I don’t want to be some miserable beacon that they have to celebrate or reassure, even in a small way. I don’t like the fact that for twenty-four hours, I become this minor bundle of nerves because I’m so self-conscious.
Why do I still blush in my fucking thirties when people wish me happy birthday? I can handle damn near everything else. I’ve had stalkers and death threats. There is no end to the amount of vitriol I have received over the years. But I’ve always been able to laugh that all off and dwell upon the positive.
The birthday, alas, is cut of an altogether different cloth. And I wish I knew exactly why. I cried on my thirtieth birthday when my then girlfriend baked me a cake. When my now girlfriend sang me happy birthday to me on the phone this morning, I was embarassed to tell her know how much this meant. When emails poured in this morning from a few friends, I couldn’t even type in the word “Thanks.”
I don’t know what to do about any of this. But at least I know there’s tomorrow. I know that tomorrow I’ll be myself again, divested of the importance and the attention (or lack thereof).
© 2006, Edward Champion. All rights reserved.