“Friday is my birthday!” a 20-something friend announced on Facebook on a recent Monday morning. “That means Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are my birthday, too!”
Not so fast.
I guess I never realized it until I entered the social media universe a year or two after college, but every day is someone else’s special day. And darned if you’re going to forget about it.
Some souls are content with a single status update late on the hallowed evening:
“Thanks for all the birthday wishes! I feel loved.”
Others don’t trust digital reminders and the bonds of friendship to do their work:
“IT’S MY BIRTHDAY!!!!!”
“It’s my birthday weekend!” may be acceptable if you’ve booked some kind of special getaway. And maybe if your birthday is on a Wednesday but the party’s Friday night, I’ll give you the two days. But if you’re anywhere close to adulthood, there’s no such thing as a birthday week.
You are not a 16th-century monarch. You don’t command multiple days for your personal festivities.
As a child, I always thought the chief difficulty of my own birthday, Aug. 7, was that no matter what, it only lasted until I went to bed: Aug. 8 was like any other day, except that it was further away from my next birthday than any other day of the year.
Once, on Feb. 7, I did ask my mother if we could celebrate my half-birthday. The answer: No.
The ultimate in social media narcissism
But social media is tailor-made for those who turn the feed into a stream-of-consciousness birthday bonanza that goes on for days.
Some people begin by hinting several days or even a month in advance. One speculates on a “birthday haircut” and keeps us up to date on packing for birthday travel. The blessed day itself dawns with general satisfaction: “So far, the first hour and a half of my birthday have been awesome.” Then there’s some reference to a glitch in the “birthday schedule.”
As the day goes on, mundane events become extraordinary injustices through the lens of the birthday:
“Running into my most annoying ex on my birthday = not cool.”
“Who gives someone a ticket for their brake light being out on their birthday?”
As a new photo album appears—to apprise us of the weekend’s birthday trip—I think we can finally lay this birthday to rest. But a new invitation appears: The birthday would live on, at least until next weekend, with a Birthday Picnic.
Because one day, or even one week, is simply not enough time to publicly revel in the light we bring to the world.
Your special day isn’t so special
In high school, I took a comparative religions course featuring guest speakers from various denominations. The ones I remember best were the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a contingent of well-scrubbed teens whose Bible paging could have replaced the classroom’s electric fan. I was shocked by their nonchalant declaration that they did not celebrate birthdays. I could hardly fathom such a flat-lined existence. But now I wonder if they weren’t on to something.
Because while you’re celebrating the Twelve Days of My Birthday with more feasting than the Lannister court, several other birthdays have come and gone. I have 461 Facebook friends (and I was never even one of the popular kids). Face it: I’m fond of you, but I’ll still owe birthday wishes to two other people tomorrow and two the day after that. Would you rather I kept celebrating yours instead?
Is it purely a phenomenon of the digital era? Back when we all lived in the real world, I wasn’t giving personal birthday wishes to well over 400 people a year.
Or does the birthday obsession signify an age-old vein of narcissism that’s been biding its time for millennia, waiting for the right platform?
Having departed my 20s last week, I am noticing something of a cure for the birthday syndrome among my friends: Bacchanalian birthday weeks take a steep drop when people become parents. On the other hand, 30 and childless, I’m currently one of only three or four women east of the Mississippi who are not pregnant, if social media is any indication.
You think the lead-up to friends’ birthdays was bad? Try the 30 months or so between the time somebody announces her first pregnancy and the time her second child is born. Forget the birthday week. It’s the birthday years. I can only imagine how long these kids will take to celebrate their birthdays.
Does my desire for appropriately scaled birthdays betray my jealously? Maybe if enough people liked me, I too would justify spinning my birthday out for seven days or more. In the meantime, I’ll try to keep up with the 450+ birthday greetings per annum, and I’ll ask people to return the favor on only one day out of the year.
Alaina Mabaso is a Philadelphia freelancer who has landed squarely in what people tell her is the worst career of the 21st century. When her editors go to bed, she blogs at AlainaMabaso.com.