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Does Your Birthday Make You Sad, Too?

Birthday anxiety is surprisingly universal.

10.05.16
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This year, it finally dawned on me: I spend a ridiculous amount of energy every summer deciding whether or not I care about my birthday. When I started whining about this non-problem to my friends, I was surprised to find that birthday anxiety is basically universal. It felt like the moment we all realized we hated New Year’s Eve. They’re kind of similar, right?

As with New Year’s, the optimist in me believes each birthday just might be the most memorable one yet, whereas the misanthrope in me finds it silly that I place any significance on it at all. It’s just a day! Or is it the best day? My hazy memory of past birthdays only makes this harder to parse. I’m pretty sure they were anticlimactic — not worth the stress — but maybe those were just a fluke? Maybe this year will be different!

Do you jump through these same contradictory hoops? Is humankind just a herd of forgetful animals full of hope and cynicism? My very unscientific research has indicated yes. Below, I’ve outlined the neurotic nature of my birthday psychology. Please review and tell me whether or not I, alone, am psychotic or whether we all are.

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Infographic designed by Emily Zirimis.

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  • Harling Ross

    hahahaha Haley. “IT’S MY BIRTHDAY, BITCHES” (Don’t look at me) — can I get this on a plaque?

    • Amelia Diamond

      WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN CJ

  • Beatrice

    I have a summer birthday too, on a holiday weekend, and I feel like I ALWAYS kept expectations low as a kid because everyone was always out of town for my birthday! Now as an adult my boyfriend has the SAME birthday and we just do our own thing that day…AKA i refuse to make real plans.

  • Olivia

    This is me EVERY year. My birthday is on October 8th, and I feel exactly like that. Honestly, I think the reason why I dread my birthday is because it feels like a reminder of how little I’ve come/accomplished in life since my very existence.

    • Alyssaspeaks

      Omg same. As I get older, the more I hate my birthdays. They just remind me of how far away I am from my goals in life and how little I’m proud to say I’ve achieved these past xx years.

      • PCE

        Yes to all of this

    • Sky

      Same!

  • last year i looked up when my 30th bday would fall. it’s on a saturday. TALK ABOUT ANXIETY. i wish it was on a tuesday. maybe my boyfriend who doesn’t exist will throw me a surprise party in europe with my 25 closest friends.

    • Savannah

      LOL! MOOD.

  • 808kate

    My birthday is October 29th, but in 2011 I took a flight from LA on October 28th and landed 14 hours later in Bangkok on October 30th. I didn’t even have a birthday .. but I LIKED it. (Please no one look at me.)

    • Haley Nahman

      Omg my friend just had a similar birthday disappearance on a trip to China and I found it SO HILARIOUS/was envious.

      • Alexandra

        I had the exact opposite experience, when I flew from Taipei to JFK on a 5 PM flight on my birthday and got home at 9 PM US time (and thanks to daylight savings time being different in the two countries, it was 37 hours long)
        I absolutely LOVED having the first half of my birthday celebrated with my friend I was visiting in Taipei the way I normally would, but with just one close friend instead of many — we were at the club at midnight (where I talked the Taiwanese DJ into playing ‘Down in the DM’ at midnight on the dot) and at brunch that morning. A great day with someone I loved but not overwhelming at all.
        Then it was off to the airport. Even though some of my friends in Europe were texting by the time I got on my flight home, for the most part, I got all of the birthday love in one mass dump when I turned my phone back on at JFK, and it was AWESOME. No waiting to see who would remember and call or text me. Watching airplane movies and drinking airplane champagne without any of the stressful birthday attention you normally get was amazing. I loved it so much, I’m flying home late on my birthday (this time from Europe) next year. 11/10 would recommend.

        • Mariana

          Birthday goals!!! Loved it!

  • Bee

    YES.

  • Normally It doesn’t phase me. But as this year was my 30th (last week, in fact), up until the actual day, coming to terms with leaving my 20s was akin to trying to push a cat into a carrying case.

  • I can accept having to have birthday, since it usually means a bit of good self-pampering; if only for 10 minutes and if only by reading a book … But other people remembering makes my stress levels rise up and sing Gotcha! or something. Just leave me alone, I know how to celebrate that.

  • Molly D

    What’s terrible is when someone is talking about what they’re going to do for their birthday and it’s AFTER yours. And you haven’t talked about yours at all.

  • Emily Gregor

    THIS IS EVERY THOUGHT I’VE EVER HAD ABOUT MY BIRTHDAY. I’ve done everything from skip it altogether to trying to assemble a #squad and let me tell you, it’s always been fun but anxiety-inducing to say the least.

    Also my birthday is at a both convenient AND inconvenient time: January 9th. In high school it always aligned with a rather enjoyable festival, while in college it was during our never-ending winter break so my friends at home were back at school and my friends from college were still at home (but away from me!) I also have a tendency to be traveling abroad.

    This year is the first one I will spend post-college so I can’t wait to see what madness ensues!

  • Natalie

    Wow, like a timeline of my own mind!

  • Autumn

    My bday is on Saturday and I’m kinda over it. Doing dinner with my parents (since they are the reason I even have a bday) and something with the bf and being done with it. Social menopause = I’m too old to party hardy on my bday.

  • Court E. Thompson

    My 30th is in two days and falls on my brother’s rehearsal dinner. I’ve demanded a cupcake and I’m calling it a day.

    BUT, what about a friend’s thing?!?! I still haven’t decided what I’m doing and I’ve been going through this exact process.

  • Mae

    the birthday anxiety is real. I was travelling for my 24th and 25th birthdays and now I try to take a holiday every year as a gift to myself, even if it’s just a 4 hour drive to a cabin in the mountains like it was this year. I find planning a holiday or long weekend (even solo) is much more fun and less anxiety ridden than trying to organize a group of people to celebrate you.

  • In 2016 I solved the problem of hating my birthday by scheduling a road trip from San Fransisco to Los Angeles along the Pacific Coast Highway with my boyfriend. Neither of us had been there, it was inevitable that we were going to do or see something interesting. I distracted myself by looking at the San Luis Obispo/Santa Ynez mountains, giant cows, and swimming in a pool with the Santa Barbara coast in the background.

  • Mallory

    I get birthday anxiety every year, so this past year, we planned a trip to Chicago. My husband and I arrived the day of my birthday, and we explored the city. It was so nice not knowing anyone, and it was even better that no one knew it was my birthday!

  • Iva Quint

    I can’t believe how accurately you pinpointed this timeline/what a relief it is to know this is a universal ennui. My bday is October 28 and I’m currently in the throes of “Three Weeks Out.” ALso, having a bday around halloween makes it even weirder because do I incorporate costumes into whatever is happening? do i just pretend my bday doesnt exist and just celebrate halloween? Ah this comment is making me anxious

    • Lebanese Blonde

      SAME BIRTHDAY. (And someone above is the 29th! Weird.)

      It’s a FRIDAY this year, which is even more anxiety-ridden. And I’m living abroad so the “should we find cheap tickets somewhere and just go?” question hangs heavy in the air. Ugh. (But on the other hand, love my birthday for the “I can hang out alone and buy fancy food and skip homework at all that” part of it.)

      • Iva Quint

        Dude, I had the same experience when I went abroad! I ended up staying in the city for my *actual* bday but did spend a weekend in Paris pretending it still was my birthday! Highly recommend. Best of both worlds

  • nell

    When my close friends in college are not a big fan of celebrating birthdays, (which means that they literally treat their birthdays like any other regular day in their life), I stop celebrating mine years ago. So no fancy dinner, no gathering, no cakes, not even a birthday song. This year I “celebrated” my 21th birthday with my friend eating sushi in the food court and watching Conjuring 2. BUT I INDEED LOVE CELEBRATING MY BIRTHDAY IN FANCY WAY!

  • I can’t say I have anxiety about birthdays, but I definitely don’t enjoy them as much as I’ve heard I should. 😉

    I refer to it as “the birthday curse,” and I’m so glad to know I’m not the only one who finds birthdays to be such a pain as an adult.

  • Avery Hayes

    Oh god, I’m sort of glad I’m not the only one, I thought I was the only person who sort of hates their birthday. Maybe it’s an October thing? Also my birthday always seems to be bad luck. Trust me you are not alone, in fact I freak way the fuck more out about it.

  • Yes!! My birthday just past and I vividly remember these thoughts going through my head. I need to hurry up an figure out my stance for next year. ;P

  • Sabrina Soebhektie

    Hi Haley, I just had my birthday last Sunday. And this is exactly how i felt! We kinda have a big expectation on birthdays because its “our” day (whatever that means) and expect people would feel the same way.

  • snakehissken

    My birthday is at the most inconvenient time of year (very early January what what) and people always end up cancelling last minute because of a snowstorm or whatever. So a couple of years ago I decided I’m going to spend birthdays alone, doing whatever I want. It’s so freeing.

    • Mariana

      You could celebrate your half birthday (somewhere around early june) and the snow problem would be solved 😀

  • Mariana

    I have a hate/love relationship with my birthday. Kinda love receiving calls from people that are wishing me good things; kinda hate talking to the cell phone – PHONE ANXIETY 4real. Kinda hate the attention that comes with having a party where you are the reason that everybody are there and the responsability of making sure that people are having a good time (expecially if you mix different groups in the same table); kinda love know that I am loved and people care. Oh boy.

  • Kelsey Loraine

    Yes! This happens every.single.year. including but not limited to New Year’s Eve, Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day, & any other social holiday it seems unworthy to not have sparkling plans on.

  • So much yes. In my late twenties and still telling everyone I know ‘My birthday is in 4 weeks!!’

  • Sarah

    People always look at me like I’m an alien when I say I find my birthday to be depressing. This article perfectly articulated my thoughts! I so badly want to have ZERO birthday expectations, but ultimately, I always have expectations (even if I have no idea what those expectations really are). I don’t even check my Facebook on my birthday, fearing that the only person to have written on my wall will be my mother :/ (Spoiler alert: she was 1 of roughly 10 people to write on my wall) ha!

  • Me, last month, 29th birthday drinks and all my friends left before 9pm. Staying 29 forever!

  • My birthday is in 2 weeks and my thought process is literally identical to yours.

  • ec

    Pretty much. Minez was yesterday. Red velvet cupcake and a diet coke in the Target parking lot…cuz i had to do something, right?

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/690a02d12f5a6223f68543f04872c507803f73f52eb3e0c3cfd0d1ae3bf9ba23.jpg

  • So freakin’ accurate

  • Birthdays are like, not even on my radar. I’m not super big on BIG celebratory birthdays anyway: I hate trying to keep on top of facebook felicitations, I don’t like being the centre of attention, I’m terrified of balloons and loud noises (aka party parties), and I constantly forget the date of my own birthday as it draws nearer. I don’t like people telling me “Happy Birthday,” too.

    Usually I’ll treat myself to A Thing I’ve had my eye on and I have an obligatory family dinner, but I would be happiest going out to a nice dinner date with my boyfriend or best friend (or just double date) rather than a bunch of anxiety and hoopla.

  • OMG I thought this was just me?! I’m soooo glad its not! I absolutely love other peoples birthdays! At uni I made such a big deal of all my housemates birthdays every year and loved spoiling them. I like to think I taught them how to birthday on a budget 😉 I’ve always hated trying to organise anyting for my own birthday though, I always thought why can’t someone else do the stressful organising part!? I did it for everyone else! So this year I spent my 21st with my family and boyfriend which was miiiiles better. My mam planned the whole day I didn’t have to worry about a thing which was so nice <3

  • Nena

    Wow. That’s LITERALLY me every year. It was like reading my own birthday thought process. I did end up making a small party at my place. Everyone left pretty eraly cause I went to sleep. HATE BIRTHDAYS.

  • Hannah Cole

    literally me just a few days ago.

  • I’m one of the lucky ones. I wholeheartedly love birthdays. I get excited and start planning, like, 3 months in advance. I’ve never done anything big – usually a party at mine – but it’s one of the only situations where I can get most of my (local) friends together in one place.

    I’m also the baby in my family and at least a year younger than most of my girlfriends, so I don’t have the fear of growing old instilled in me yet.

  • Joséphine

    THIS is the most relatable article I’ve read in a looong time and it almost made me pee (and I’m not pregnant)! I totally feel you and I’m going through the exact same thinking steps each and every year! Have a very, merry unbirthday! <3