I am a thirtysomething questionably professional man living in New York City. I do not consider myself a social butterfly or as having a particularly special or exciting personal life.
Regardless it has gotten to the point where even meeting a group of friends at a bar requires a minimum of 15 emails juggling no fewer than 3 proposed dates. I have friends that have kids, friends that are planning on having kids shortly, friends that are working frantically so they can afford somewhere into which they can place children, and people who are just generally so busy at work or with vaguely work-like engagements for which they don’t get paid (networking? Is that what this is called?) that they can’t ever do anything with real friends.
I realize I’m not the only one with these ‘problems’ (specifically white people and first world) but generally they are not really that hard to deal with. That is, except when it comes to birthdays.
Now don’t get me wrong — I love a good party and I like to have fun. However the extra demand on what little free time we have has also made the demand for fun greater, and nowhere does this demand become more twisted than in planning one’s own birthday.
Let’s break this down. Universally on your birthday:
- You want to have fun
- You want to be surrounded by friends
- You want to be surrounded by friends having fun.
This, in my rather intense circle of friends, has lead to something of an arms race for the most fun, thus requiring notification and social buy-in well in advance of any other engagement. I have been to weddings that involved less planning than these people’s birthdays, and surprise, I had more fun at those weddings.
This isn't to say I've never had fun at these meticulously planned engagements either. However over time I've been able to gleam a few indications that your birthday will not be fun and that maybe I should RSVP “no” or else ignore your invite entirely.
What follows is a condensed set of these rules developed mentally and then recently extruded in a barely controlled (and frankly undeserved) fount of bile. If this introduction seems overly civil, well, I had to balance this piece somehow. Profanity incoming.
These rules can really be applied to any social engagement but are the most common with birthdays. Also there are obviously exceptions, notably for the people in my life for whom I would set myself on fire for and extra leeway for major birthdays. That having been said, the rules are as follows:
- Don’t make me wear a costume
- Don’t REQUIRE me to do something in order to participate
- Don’t make me travel to a ‘destination’
- Don’t plan something that takes 2 paragraphs or more to explain
In more detail:
Don’t Make Me Wear A Costume
This is being mentioned first as it is the only no-no I have in relation to house parties, which otherwise you can’t really fuck up. I am a grown ass man who has moved many times in his adult life and doesn't own anything resembling a costume because I have a closet full of real person clothing, any of which I would happily wear to your birthday shindig but for the fact that you've gone ahead and made it clear that anyone not wearing costumes will be on the receiving end of some serious shit.
Let’s just be honest here: I don’t particularly want to spend money on clothing I will wear exactly once? Where the hell do you have room to store costume apparel in a New York City apartment, anyway? I don’t even like dressing up for Halloween, who the hell are you to think I want to dress up for your birthday? Are you, in fact, Jack Skellington? The King or Queen of Halloween? No, fuck you, and fuck your little dress-up party.
Don’t REQUIRE me to do something
Instead of picking something broad and/or low key that everyone or almost everyone can enjoy or at the least just hang out if they don’t, you pick something that requires jumping through hoops and mandatory participation. So instead of karaoke (at which I can huddle at the bar if I don’t feel like singing Celine Dion for some reason), you choose rock climbing. Tango lessons. Some other ridiculous activity that necessitates my involvement in order to not appear to me a schmuck. Guess what? Staying home. Just because it is your birthday does not mean you get to tell big groups of people how to enjoy themselves. Fun fact: any time someone has ever said “come on, it’ll be fun!” to me I had exactly no fun whatsoever. Again I’m a grown man over here. I know what’s fun. You’re not my dad* and fuck you for trying to be.
Don’t make me travel to a ‘destination’ in order to participate
Yes, I get it, it’s your birthday — it’s all about you for 24 hours. Your day, right? People have to sing to you in restaurants while bringing you some dessert you’d normally never order with a sad single candle on it. Then later you get blackout drunk like it’s no big thing! Whatever age you are is the new whatever age you want to be. Fine. I get it. But don’t make me travel an hour and a half (or wait an hour and a half for a table to open up at that “super special spot”) just to watch you physically wreck yourself. It’s your birthday, not super happy fun fuck everyone who loves me spectacle time. I accept that I have to take care of you after you start vomiting tequila but don’t make me do so as far away from home as possible.
Don’t plan something that takes 2+ paragraphs to explain
This I find is just a good general rule for any sort of anything you’re planning to ask others to attend. If you can’t explain your birthday proceeding in a short invite, chances are I don’t want to go. I mean maybe you need to plan a ton of logistics for a beach trip, which I totally get! But if you’re such a control freak about said beach trip that you have to plan every goddamn stop and assign people to bring very specific items, the chances of my having fun are thus lessened and I will just go to the beach on my own time thanks. Actually if you’re planning anything that would be MORE fun NOT in the presence of your birthday diva ass, chances are I will fail to attend and just take your plan and run with it. Because fuck you, that’s why.
What the hell is wrong with me and why did I write this?
Because I was recently invited to a birthday that:
- Is a murder mystery party! Which I was totally on board with at first? I mean I love the birthday girl dearly and if she says this is going to be fun I believe her.
- Takes place in New Jersey! Which, alright, fine an hour away from where I live via public transit then a 10 minute cab ride to the friend’s family home. I can deal with this, I think, except I’ll have to leave by 10 if I want to make it home or else spend the night?
- Then I received an email with a 3 page instructional PDF attached and was like “what.”
- The last page was my role and stated what was expected of me and and blah blah blah FUCK YOU I NOW HAVE A BOOK TELLING ME WHAT TO DO!?! WHOSE IDEA WAS THIS?! HOW IS THIS ‘FUN’???? MAYBE I DON’T WANT TO BE YOUR FUCKING DANCING BEAR FOR AN EVENING.
- I sent the host $10 via paypal to pay for beer and politely apologized for being unable to attend and then a vent spiraled out of control into what you now read.
My friend meant well. Many friends mean well. They plan elaborate things out of a love for others rather than a love of self. They want their friends to enjoy themselves and have a good time and are using the excuse of their birthday to plan something we wouldn’t otherwise do. Heck everyone said the Murder Mystery party was fun, although followed immediately by “you definitely wouldn’t have enjoyed it.”
Other friends don’t mean well, or at least don’t realize that they’re being somewhat obsessive and mildly egocentric about the whole thing. Admittedly I have been this person: I tried to make my 30th birthday an insane combination of multiple parties both in my now home of Brooklyn and my hometown of Miami. It did not work, for least of which reason that I was sick and I way overreached in my planning. I was rescued from my own stupidity by a friend who stopped by after everyone had left and took me out for a birthday burrito that wound up being the best part of the whole affair.
My 34th birthday is 3 weeks from today. I will shortly** send out a single email stating a bar, a date, a time, and specify that no further save the dates or instructions are forthcoming. I will not be making a Facebook invite or dumping everyone’s emails into Evite***. If I see someone in person I forgot to invite I might casually mention it, but otherwise I will not be asking people if they plan to attend as it is my birthday and not a wedding, bris, confirmation, bar mitzvah, centenary celebration, christening, knighting, or other such event that mandates attendance by loved ones near and far.
The earth has gone around the sun one more time and I’m still not dead. Technically the only person who should be celebrating is me, but hey if you want to come get a beer, cool.
*For better or worse there are a few friends whom are in fact surrogate parents and to whom none of this actually applies. You know who you are.
**Too shortly if you ask me but people in this group are already claiming dates in late April.
***This still seems like a weird privacy no no to me.