How I failed to celebrate my 38th birthday

smashedcakeThis year, on Australia Day, I celebrated my 38th birthday. Well, I say “celebrated”, but it was a miserable effort. I emailed a few friends two days before to see if they wanted to do anything, only to discover that 90% of them were out of town, either because of the long weekend, or because they wanted to get out of hanging out with me.

In the end, I went to the beach with a few friends, most of whom were planning to be there anyway, and some other friends dropped by my place because they were in the area. I went out to dinner with my family, too, because they’re easier to pin down.

It was a perfectly lovely series of occasions, and if I hadn’t set my expectations absurdly high because it happened to be the day upon which I entered the world back in 1977, I would have viewed the entire proceedings as entirely satisfactory.

But because it was my birthday, I felt a little flat. I even felt a bit unpopular, a not unfamiliar sensation from my younger life but one I hoped I’d banished when I started hanging out with equally nerdy people.

Now, that’s silly, I know that. I’m adequately popular by any proper measure, like the number of one’s Facebook friends who took thirty seconds out of their day to say hello after the site reminded them to do so.

But then I got to wondering. Was the fault not my friends’ refusal to keep their schedules free just in case I bothered to organise anything, or indeed my poor organisational skills? Did the fault lie in the very notion of birthdays? Is there just too much pressure placed on our own personal New Year’s Eves?

When you’re a kid, adding another year to the meagre tally of your age is cause for celebration. I was delighted when I transitioned from 6 to 7, for instance, and was able to feel more like the grownup I so desperately wanted to be. Later birthdays came with rights, like when I became a teenager and gained the right to have the sex I wasn’t having, or when I turned 18 and gained the right to smoke the cigarettes I’ve never tried, or when I turned 21 and gained the right to ask my parents to pay for a party. Good times.

But now, each extra year added onto the total simply reminds me that I’ve got fewer left up my sleeve. I’m hoping Joe Hockey’s right about us living to 150, but on the currentfigures, I’ve only a little over half my life left. And why would I celebrate a reminder of my own looming mortality?

The thing about birthdays is that they’re one of the very few occasions for being the centre of attention which our society condones. If it’s your birthday, you’re well within your rights to ask your friends to join you for a fancy dinner, or in a swanky bar, and some of them will even buy you drinks. If it isn’t your birthday, though, they’ll wonder why on earth you haven’t left them alone – or if you’re really so desperate to see them, at least offered to cook.

Besides birthdays, we make an effort for other people’s weddings, engagement parties, book launches, farewell parties, baby showers, and that’s about it until their funerals. Otherwise, once we hit your late thirties, we just keep comfortably to ourselves, occasionally arranging to catch up but certainly not pulling all the stops out.

So, since I abjectly failed to organise a half-decent birthday event, I’m going to have to wait 11 months before I can try again. And then I’ll be 39, and that’s a silly age for a celebration – so I’ll have to wait until my 40th.

As ever, at least according to some members of the federal government, the Queen offers a better way. Her birthday is April 21, but we always celebrate Official Birthdays on the second Monday in June – except in WA, quaintly. And indeed, every Commonwealth realm chooses a time of its own to celebrate – well, it’s not really Elizabeth’s birthday, so I don’t know – perhaps just her very existence?

Why, then, can we commoners not emulate our gracious monarch and designate certain days as Official Birthdays, upon which we prevail on our friends to attend a function in our honour?

As someone whose birthday often coincides with a summer long weekend, I may choose to have some date in winter as my Official Birthday. Not only will that ensure maximum attendance, and therefore presents, but given how sparse the social calendar is at that time of year, some of my guests may even be glad to join me. Furthermore, by dissociating the date of my celebration from my actual birthday, I will be able to process the trauma of my freshly-augmented age in blissful solitude.

An even better solution than Official Birthdays would be for everyone to be allowed to hold self-indulgent celebrations for themselves whenever they please, without the social stigma. But very few people I know have the social cachet to pull this off. This undoubtedly works for hip hop stars and members of the Dubai royal family, but I know very few people who are able to lure their friends into dropping everything for some kind of P. Diddy style White Party. More’s the pity.

So in future, I’m going to forget birthdays and try and hold regular, small gatherings of friends throughout the year. Now that I think about it, the last time I cajoled everyone into coming to a big birthday party, I barely managed to speak to most of them for more than a minute or two. And my actual birthday can instead be devoted to the endless debate about Invasion Day. Which it already is, unless somebody, I don’t know, knights the Queen’s husband or something.

So once we hit 21, let’s stop celebrating our birthdays. We should need no pretext to entertain our friends, and even if we’re looking for one, the date of our arrival becomes less worthy of celebration with the passing of each year.

That said, I would like to officially notify all my friends who forgot my birthday this year to give me a shout out on Facebook before Friday, or I’ll delete you.

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