Saturday, 19 January 2013


One of the weirder things about men, at least men in the English-speaking countries, is that they don't seem to care that much about their birthdays. Maybe it's because they don't fancy being King of the World for one day of the year; it implies that they are not King of the World all the year around. Or maybe the charming schoolyard tradition of "paddywhacks" (spanks or kicks to the behind)--which for the first time I realize is an anti-Irish slight possibly confined to the Province of Ontario--teaches them that birthdays = violence, so it is better to shut up about it.

However one thing men must learn if they wish to get along with women is that the majority of women--particularly women of the girly-girl variety, with whom I proudly align myself--really care about birthdays.

I went to an all-girls school, and there it was the custom for a girl's friends to decorate her locker for her birthday. This provided an early lesson in the need to actually inform your friends that it is your birthday. It also inculcated a strong sense of responsibility for the birthday happiness of others, for what kind of a friend leaves her friend's locker undecorated on her birthday? Finally, it was a bracing test of the fine feminine skill of mind-reading and gauging the social hierarchy, for it was necessary also to know whose job it was to organize the birthday locker-dressing.

(This is the point at which male readers, totally confused, are likely to click away to something else. Here you go, boys. And here.)

In adult life, particularly adult Single life, responsibility for a happy birthday usually falls upon the birthday girl, who has to organize things for herself, even if it is merely saying to her female flatmates, "It's my birthday next week." If the flatmates scurry into girly-girl organizational action, all is well. But if they aren't that sort of flatmate, then the birthday girl has to think more carefully and rather more obviously organize a happy birthday for herself.

When I was twenty-nine about to turn thirty, I was very very Single indeed, not having been on a date for a year or so, and spending as much time as possible writing bad poetry at the local bohomenian cafe. (This place was packed with Goths, artists, writers, rep theatre types, philosophy students, and the local Lothario, a housepainter named Graham.) I did not like the idea of turning thirty, but I liked the idea of dying even less, so I decided to turn thirty with a bang.

I invited a great number of friends, both from the town I was living in and my hometown (an hour away), to dinner at the best Chinese restaurant in town (for which they would have to pay) and then back to my tiny bachelor flat for cake. And a tremendous number of friends did turn up, and they insisted on paying for my own dinner, and we went back to my place for cake, and it was all marvellous.

The mistake many Single women make is to assume that boyfriends and husbands just naturally take birthdays into their own hands and organize them as merrily as if they were girls. This is sometimes true, but very often NOT. No, many married women (at very least) have either to explain the importance of birthdays or stew in disappointed resentment. Marriage not being courtship, and marriage being permanent, I think even a good sparky quarrel on the topic is preferable to "Oh poor me. My husband isn't doing anything for my birthday. He thinks it is a movable feast, and we can do something next week instead. Sniff, sniff. I need a cookie."

Amusingly, just after I wrote the title for this post, B.A. dropped by to ask what I want to do on my birthday. Good call.

What is your idea of a fun birthday?


Sarah said...

Last year, my birthday fell during the first week I arrived here in Germany, and I purposely hadn't mentioned my birthday to my host family so these virtual strangers didn't feel obligated to do something special for me. However, I forgot I had already provided my insurance information months before, so they knew anyway. I was staying at a house full of men and teenage boys for that week, who set their table with any flowery stuff they could find and some candlesticks as I came down for breakfast. And then they took me skiing. It was a really fantastic birthday and proof that men can organize great stuff sometimes. :)

This year, my mother will be visiting me here over my birthday, and we'll have just come back from Prague. Other than that, I just want my friends to come over for dinner. :)

Julie M. said...

I just started a new job two weeks ago and was amused that I actually had to fill out a form in HR giving permission for my birthday to be acknowledged in the office. I don't really care if they do or not, but I know that other people in the office appreciate having an excuse to go out to lunch and have cake in the breakroom.

Other than that, I like it pretty low-key. I appreciate cake and a gift from my husband. I don't want a party or the waitstaff at a restaurant to sing to me. I don't really like being the center of attention!

RMVB said...

My sister and her husband decided to take me away to Gettysburg for a weekend of camping! It was really special, because it WAS something I've been wanting to do forever, but they both really loved it as well, which is always my idea of a good time (when everyone is please with the game plans). It was also very thoughtful of them because I was/am unemployed and lonely.
Another great bday was when my mom took me to a pumpkin patch in the mountains. It was simple, but really lovely and we found some funky shaped ones that I didn't even know were possible.

Seraphic said...

Being sung to by a waitstaff is not at all my cup of tea, or indeed the cup of tea of anyone I know. I think it comes down with paddywhacks as some sort of bizarre birthday humiliation.

JustAnotherCatholicGirl said...

This December I hit the 25 mark, EEEKK! I wanted my birthday to pass along unnoticed, but my sweet mother went around and asked everyone over on the day of my birthday for a party. She told them it was a birthday party, I told everyone it was a Christmas party. Lol! It was all very sweet of everyone and it was nice to be surrounded by friends.

jamie said...

My ideal birthday is would be something (anything, really) fun with a few good friends...that I don't have to plan. My boyfriend took me out to dinner for my birthday last week and kept insisting that I got to choose where we eat. "I really don't care," I told him. I finally mentioned, "This isn't a test. I promise. I really don't care. I just want to hang out and eat good food!" Then the light bulb came on and he remembered I seriously dislike planning events. :)

Jam said...

Twice in my life I've thrown a party that only one person bothered to show up to, so I'm a bit party-shy and wouldn't dare risk it for something as important as My Birthday. For the last few years I've made a special trip to visit two of my best friends for a couple of days, hanging out in the city, drinking coffee, shopping, etc. It's perfect, we have lots of fun and there are only two people for me to coordinate with.

MaryJane said...

JustAnotherCatholicGirl - when I read your "25 - eeek!" comment, I thought, oh my gosh honey, I WISH! And then I realized that when I am 40 I will think the same thing about someone who is my age now, so I'd better enjoy it! ;)

My two best-ever birthdays were surprise (or semi-surprise) parties thrown by 2 different friends (girls), both of whom knew me really well and managed to "surprise" me without the unpleasant elements of surprise.

Anonymous said...

Twice, people have attempted to surprise me with a party, and each time I figured it out ahead of time. This helped me to realize that I don't particularly like being surprised with a party.

I like going out to eat with a bunch of friends, that way nobody has to do the dishes! Last year I spent my birthday with a married friend and her many children; we had Chinese delivered, and she made a most wonderful orange cake with orange icing. It was entirely lovely!


Bernadette said...

I think the best birthday I ever had started with breakfast out with one friend, a nice and ordinary day at school (it was while I was in college), a couple of small but meaningful presents during the day (e.g. the guy I liked purposely left his hair un-gelled because I had told him I wanted to see what it would look like), dinner with another friend, and then going to swing dancing in the evening, where they gave me a birthday jam (a sort of celebratory exhibition dance where you get stolen back and forth by the guys). Then when I went out to my car at the end of the night, I found that my brother had snuck an enormous Disney princesses helium balloon into my back seat. That was a pretty good birthday.

Last year I was feeling sorry for myself before my birthday because I didn't think anyone would remember. I was so wrong. The whole hospital I work at seemed to remember. One of my friends who's on the cleaning staff took a card around and had half the hospital sign it. The head chef in the cafeteria brought me up a special cupcake she made just for me. My coworkers had left roses and a massive balloon bouquet (too big to fit into my little car) at my desk. And then both my parents and one of my best friends came to lunch. That was a pretty good birthday too.

I've done the planning your own birthday party thing too. It's fun, but I find that sometimes it backfires - I wear myself out organizing the party, and then I'm too tired to enjoy it. But I'm working on that. :)