“Damn it Jim, what the hell is the matter with you? Other people have birthdays, why are we treating yours like a funeral?”
People often ask me “why don’t you celebrate your birthday?” or “why don’t you like your birthday?”. Now I can point them here, to this answer. So here it is.
-I don’t like the attention.
The shortest, simplest answer which I generally end up giving so that people will just drop it. It’s not entirely inaccurate, of course. I don’t have a penchant for the limelight. I’m a background person. I keep to the back of the crowd, the shadows, the sidelines; I keep myself out of the way and in a position of little attention. Not to say that I’m unable to be social. Not to say that I can’t hold attention. No, I simply have no desire for attention to be directed at me.
Now sure, there are lots of people who don’t like attention. They might be shy or awkward or any of those things. They still have birthdays. Birthday *parties*, even. So it can’t be the full justification behind my aversion.
-It sets expectations.
One step more into the depths of this explanation. Birthdays (and by association their celebrations) are governed by a set of social norms. Furthermore, abiding by even a few of these norms creates the expectation that the others will also follow. I, of course, am not one to generally abide by such norms if I don’t feel they suit me. Thus, failure to fulfill these expectations creates disappointment (albeit unjustified).
In other words, if people find out about my birthday: They expect a celebration. They expect a gathering. They expect to be invited/involved. They expect a celebratory mood. They expect cake. They expect me to be a host. Etc. I miss on one (or more, as is most likely) of those and somebody is unhappy. Yes, somebody is unhappy for themselves regarding an occasion/even that isn’t even about them. And it’s unpleasant.
But I could certainly blow that off in favor of theoretically appeasing the majority. Again, it’s not so hard to dismiss and carry on with the merry-making. But that’s not the final reason, no.
-It has a history.
Oh no, it’s the answer that a shrink would love. But yes, here it is. My birthday and my sisters’ birthday are separated by eight days (not birth*date*, birth*day*). Due to this, it was generally a combined birthday party. Half mine, half hers. Theoretically. And more than that, it was also several times combined with a Halloween-themed party. A bunch of people, activities, whatnot. (Don’t get me wrong, I understand the practicality of this approach-it makes perfectly logistical sense.)
But due to this general mash-up of birthdays/holidays/whatnot, my birthday became such that it wasn’t about me. It was an annual event that simply coincided with the birthday. Furthermore, between my sister and I, I am the quieter one. Much less social, much less limelight (see first point). So this split event became somebody else’s event of which I was a very small part. Initially I was resentful, but that gave way to simple dismissiveness. I just didn’t care about the event anymore. And that partially lingers even now.
A little bit more depth here. So why would I make a big deal about it if I don’t care about celebrating it? Well, I wouldn’t. I have no desire to create a celebration that really means nothing to me.
-It’s a reminder
Now here’s the meat of it. We all go through life, moving in a direction, going toward things, trying for goals. Yes, they take time. And yes, sometimes they don’t ever happen. But my birthday has become an annual focused reminder of goals not met or failed. It’s a day set aside when the digit on my age rolls over.
It says “You’ve been here, on this planet, this plane of existence for *this* many years. What? You haven’t done that yet? You’re still working on that? What is *wrong* with you? Look at yourself. Just look. You’re not even that different from last birthday. It’s been a whole damn year! You’ve even regressed in ways. I suppose this will change in another year, right? Unlikely.”
To compound that even more, I don’t even *need* an internal monologue to dump on me like that. Because, it’s a “birthday” - a “special” day - so people you don’t hear from often decide they’re going to call, message, establish contact somehow. And what do they want to know? That’s right, everything that I’m already beaten down about. They want know how “things are going”, about “what’s new”, about “what has changed”.
What do I have to say? “NOT A DAMNED THING THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR RUBBING IT IN. NOBODY IS MORE DISAPPOINTED IN ME THAN ME SO BACK OFF.” but nicely, which is even more taxing to hold it in instead of going off on these kind people.
More than that, as I go through the day somebody will inevitably ask “what I wished for” or “what I want” for my birthday. And inside I’m screaming “NOTHING ANYBODY CAN GIVE ME BUT MYSELF AND MAYBE ONE DAY I’LL GET CLOSE TO HAVING IT” but all I manage is a dismissive chuckle or “nothing really”.
And so I go through the day with a constant reminder, be it text, verbal, whathaveyou, of my feelings of total inadequacy as I go through a day of that exact life for which I have those feelings.
*That* is why I don’t like my Birthday. *That* is why I don’t talk about it, announce it, tell people, make a big deal, etc. It comes whether or not people know about it. It is inevitable. I just try to get through it as painlessly as possible.
That is my answer.
Until possibly, one day, this might be invalid.
One can only hope.