They Say It’s Your…

June 28, 2013

I have to come clean about something. I did not have a good birthday. There. I said it.  Despite the Facebook onslaught, not only did I not have a good birthday, I can’t remember when I have in recent past.

To preface my malcontent, it’s not the aging thing that gets me – I’m quite delighted to be 32. As far as my career as a character actor goes, there are only more parts for me as I age into my type. As far as a biological clock goes I don’t seem to have one.  And as far as maturity goes I’ve always believed if I can look back at a year prior and think I had moments of sheer idiocy, then at least I know I’ve grown. My birthday just makes me sad. I don’t know why. I always seem to get to the day after and feel like I missed something; like something was supposed to happen that didn’t.

[Note: It probably doesn’t help that this year my birthday also marked the beginning of the end of a relationship I just broke up out of.]

I don’t know at what point in my life it was implanted in my head that I was supposed to have a fantastic day on my birthday.  I assume it was in early childhood; it probably was for all of us. Whenever it was, I’m left, in subsequent adulthood, with a dull ache of embarrassment and the feeling of having disappointed someone when I don’t have a particularly good day, which seems to be always. There are plenty of moments of goodness surrounding the day – sometimes picnics, celebratory meals, usually a massage, maybe a baked good or twelve – but come the end of June 18th, for years I have found I’m mostly just sad, dreading the date June 19th, and feeling like I’ve let someone down.

The easy, pop-psychology explanation for who that someone might be is, of course, “myself.” But that doesn’t feel quite right. Another easy response is “my parents,” because that’s always the easy response when dealing with psychology. But that doesn’t seem to fit either.

The only other option I can think of is, “everyone.” Did I, at some point, develop the belief that by not having a good time on my birthday I’ve somehow disappointed everyone?  That is to say, the entirety of cultural expectation?

I decided to test my theory and stop lying when people ask me how my birthday was – to quit serving up the “oh it was great!”s with a side of subject change, and instead answer honestly that it felt mostly like any other somewhat stressful day. The results have been … awkward. At best. There have been some pitying looks, inability to respond, uncomfortable “aawws…” and so forth.  It hasn’t been pleasant.

[I reserved the description of crying in my bathroom at 1 AM while my “boyfriend” took up 75% of my bed, having barely touched me all night, for only my closest friends. I spared my acquaintances unlike I’m not sparing you now.]

I wonder why it is that we want so badly for people to tell us they had a good birthday. Maybe it isn’t just me – maybe we all get a little sad around our birthdays, but no one wants to see it reflected back at them in anyone else’s eyes.

One of my meditation teachers, Sylvia Boorstein, once explained the Buddhist practice of LovingKindness meditation as akin to wishing someone a happy birthday. (More specifically, she appealed to the nerds in the room by describing the phrases as a function of the Hortatory Subjunctive [*glasses push*]).  That is, reciting the mantras, “May you be happy. May I be peaceful,” is not about imploring a person or the self to be free from suffering, but rather wishing it without attachment to outcome. But I guess I feel like the comparison is inaccurate – people do seem attached to outcome when they wish a happy birthday.

This is not to discredit all the lovely people who wished me well on my day, or to downplay the enjoyable things that did happen. Just to acknowledge that I think it’s ok not to have a good birthday, even if you don’t really know why…

[Did I mention I’m single?]


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