Wednesday, October 29, 2008

renewed ambivalence about celebrating my birthday

I totally made this for TD:

I know, I know. I just posted hours ago on how I wanted to make myself a special dinner and cake and seemed really excited about it. But now I am recoiling from the inherent diva-ness of feting oneself. Is it not unlike throwing yourself a party at which you are the host and only guest, waving a sign that says "I Rule"?

I have a complicated relationship with birthdays. I was the youngest of six, and birthdays are not big in my family (my culture? I dunno, cause we celebrate the grandkids' now that we've risen in SES). For the first seventeen years of my life, until I met my first boyfriend, I never celebrated my birthday or really got gifts. I might have had a few gifts, come to think of it, from friends in high school. But not from family. They hardly remember my birthday. I expect zero phone calls from family on Friday. But I never had a party or went out to celebrate. I have since though--my sister usually gives me some cash, my brother might call me, and there's now always friends or significant others who make me celebrate with dinner, and twice (2004, 2007) I threw myself a self-catered party with friends.

On the one hand, I feel almost entitled to celebrate--making up for lost time! I wasn't really allowed by my strict parents to have many friends, and especially not male friends or boyfriends, so it took me until 18 to go out to a nice dinner (at my then-boyfriend's suggestion, which was really nice), and till 24 before I thought "I should see what the fuss is about big birthday parties."

On the other hand, I hate too much attention, as previously stated. I don't mind a small group of friends or a boyfriend taking me out, of course. But can I ask them to take me out to dinner? Isn't that a bit presumptuous, demanding, princessy, self-absorbed? Even more than the idea of attention, I hate the idea of appearing demanding--celebrate ME! And there are arguments that it's a day like any other--why, by virtue of your birth and apparent ability to avoid dying, do you deserve to be celebrated? Why should you ask that others celebrate this day with you, and thus celebrate you?

I was sort of excited about making my own birthday dinner, until I thought otherwise about how narcissistic it seems to do that for oneself, especially since not everyone thinks birthdays are special and so you really are just having an ego-trip. They might think me special, yes. But the occasion itself? Is it not unlike asking people to celebrate some obscure holiday, like say, Halloween? See also this polemic against the birthday dinner. I hate asking people for things. They probably don't want to give them to you. No one is excited as you are, and I'm not even that excited in general about my own birthday.

Also, I generally always have misplaced expectations for birthdays. I either throw a party and something bad happens (one guest offends the other, it's a weird mix of people who don't mesh), or something bad always happens anyway despite efforts to keep things low-key (an argument with a parent, other people actually appearing to be even less excited than I am about birthdays and I'm not even that enthusiastic, etc.). Maybe I should catch myself before the 28th year of potentially bad outcomes and not celebrate at all. I'm serious. I seem to forget that every birthday has something bad happen or some failed hope, because every year I think it'll be different, and there's no reason to think that. Other than principles of statistics that say future outcomes cannot be predicted by past outcomes. So they might be better, the future birthdays, or they might be just as meh or bad.

Why take the chance? What is my compulsion to celebrate my birthday other than the thought that I should because there's some general societal expectation that should do something on this particular day? Am I just another victim to the Birthday Industrial Complex? I occasionally feel foolish for having such simple, common, socially constructed desires. Fucking auto-ethnographies.

So, give me reasons why I should make myself a nice birthday dinner and maybe even stick a candle in my own cake and then on top of that demand to go out to dinner. If they aren't that compelling, and I have already played the poor urchin card of "let formerly poor and restricted Belle have birthdays," maybe I'll just get takeout or go for a burrito and just be happy that I'm getting presents in the mail and a few phone calls from friends.