Birthdays: We all have them, but what do they mean? Are they a chance to take stock of lessons learned on your time on this Earth? To reflect on one’s own mortality? To receive a Starbucks gift card from your aunt? This year as my anniversary of life draws near, I wonder, is it really my birthday if don’t throw a big celebration and surround myself with loose acquaintances who don’t give one single shit about me?
For as long as I can remember, this very time-honored custom of spending time with the people who feel the most indifferently about me has been how I ring in the latest year of my life, and I can’t imagine where I’d be without it.
Spending my birthday with people I don’t care about and who do not care about me all started when I was a child. In first grade, my mom threw me a birthday party and invited every kid in my class. Seated at the center of the table, I watched in awe as classmates who had never spoken to me sang Happy Birthday; their little voices all came together and recited those special words specifically and obligatorily for me. When they kind of mumbled the name portion of the song, I felt so full and so empty all at once.
Twenty years later, I’m happy to say this tradition lives on!
Of course, as I’ve come into adulthood and really learned who I am, certain elements of this celebration have changed. For instance, my big birthday party now takes place in a bar, and instead of classmates I invite coworkers, friends from college, people I vocally dislike, and even the friends of people I vocally dislike just to sort of fill out the space!
Nothing makes me know that it definitely is, in fact, my birthday like seeing my ex’s roommate walk past with beer in hand and give me a half nod as if to say, “Kind of weird that you invited me to this, but also weird that I actually showed up, so instead of unpacking any of that let’s just continue upholding the unspoken contract to perform these unfulfilling social rituals.”
I love this!
So this year as I prepare for my annual birthday bash, I look forward to agonizing over what I’m going to wear for hours, then spending a night surrounded by virtual strangers who never think about me on a day that isn’t today, all while talking to the same two friends I talk to all the time and hoping that my crush who I invited at the last minute will show up (they won’t!). Happy birthday to me!