There’s one of these in every group.
Trust me, you know this girl.
And if you don’t know this girl, she very well might be you.
For months, she plans for her magical day. For weeks, she slaves away at making it perfect. For days, she speaks of nothing else.
No, she’s not The Bride.
This new diva is The Birthday Girl.
Yes, trust me, you know this girl.
She speaks of her birthday in terms of weeks or even months rather than a mere day.
Ya, well, it’s almost October which means it’s almost my birthday month, which means it’s almost my birthday!
She drops her birthday into casual conversation, as though it’s the elephant in the room that everyone should be talking about.
That’s so funny! You know what else is funny? Clowns. You know where they usually have clowns? Birthday parties. Speaking of which, next week is my birthday!
Her birthday plans include (but may not be limited to) a family dinner, drinks with girlfriends, a quiet night with her boyfriend, one raging themed party, and of course, a birthday brunch—none of which fall on the same day and each of which has its own, singular justification.
I mean, seriously, who wants to endure a birthday hangover all alone? Birthday brunch = necessary.
She balks at people who let their birthdays pass by without recognition, fanfare or celebration.
What do you mean you don’t like your birthday?! It’s your birthday! I’m confused.
She might expect gifts, but she probably just wants your acknowledgement that today is her special day.
Oh, wow, really, you didn’t have to do that! A phone call would have been more than enough!
I told you—you definitely know this girl.
And for a lot of my friends, they know this girl, because this girl just so happens to be…
Bet you didn’t see that one coming...
I tried for a long time to hide the fact that I was a Birthday Girl. This was, of course, to no avail. I’m about as deceptive as shiny Twilight vampire in the daylight. Now I can admit it—I’m your worst birthday nightmare.
I friggin’ love birthdays.
And seeing as how my birthday was last week, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to write about it.
(See that… suuuuuuper casual, right?)
Now, before you go clicking away thinking, Holy crap, this girl is going on a narcissistic diatribe that I absolutely do not have time for, stick with me for a minute.
I don’t want to defend the over-celebration of birthdays. I don’t want to recount all of the activities over the last week (cough::month::cough). And I certainly don’t want to brag about gifts or count the number of Facebook messages I received.
That would be ridiculous.
And, who would want to read that?!
Rather, I want to defend birthdays, not because of what they are, but because of what they represent. I want to share what I received from friends, family, and loved ones—not for anything I did, but instead because I added one more year to my existence. And I want to point out why our practices surrounding birthdays have something even greater to say about life in general.
So stick with me here—this one’s worth it.
Now, I’m not all that old, so I’m not entirely certain just how and when this “Birthday Girl” phenomenon began. People might blame the advent of social media or the increasing desire to live our lives online, but I think there’s more to it. I have to imagine that the 21st century has only magnified what was already an innate human tendency to seek affirmation and celebrate existence.
I can just see it now...
Cave women huddled around a fire, and blowing it out. Female gatherers granting gifts of berries and nuts. Feudal women swapping house work for leisure time. Suffragettes swishing around gossiping about their birthday parties in between rallies.
Even the Girl Scouts has a birthday week in which they encourage girls to perform particular acts of kindness, research, or outreach based on the day of the week!
That’s right—the whole organization throws itself a week-long birthday party.
Tuesday is the day for good deeds, in case you were curious.
Now, I get it. These are rather silly images. But the idea is pretty sensible.
Namely this—modalities change, but people do not.
We all want to know that we matter.
And all of this focus on one day (or week) proves that point precisely.
We humans have a few very basic needs that seem to manifest when the timing is just right. Think Maslow’s hierarchy, here. We need food, water, shelter and sleep to sustain our bodies. We need protection, order, stability, and freedom to make us feel safe.
And then, on a day when the spotlight is pointed, the cameras are ready, and the candles are blazing, the world can see into what we need most of all:
We need affirmation. We need affection. We need appreciation.
Ultimately, we need love.
And over the years, we have decided that the customary day to seek, give, and receive this type of love is on our birthdays.
I love "love". Thus, my adoration for October 30th. But this year, after what can only be described as a veritable deluge of love, I got to thinking. I started to wonder…
Why do we wait for one day?
Why do we withhold for a year?
Why do we postpone our praise?
Why don’t we share these feelings with our friends and families every single day of every single year?
Now, some people do this naturally.
I have this one friend who likes wine almost as much as I do. Every once in a while, we have been known to get over-served. Sorry, Mom. On these rare occasions, she gets on her soapbox and proudly proclaims how much she loves our friendship, how thankful she is for my presence in her life, and how she wouldn’t be the same without me.
Deep stuff for 2am, but we always manage to bounce back.
Anyway, the result is always the same. I leave those conversations feeling truly affirmed. I walk away feeling as though I’ve changed the world, when in reality, I’ve only changed one perception of it—hers.
But isn’t that the point?
Aren’t those the same thing?
I believe that if you’ve changed one life, you’ve changed the whole thing.
So why don’t we tell people more often?
Your life, my life, our lives are the sum of our relationships. It is our job to be acutely aware of the people around us, the roles they play in our lives, and what we are supposed to learn from them. It is our job to affirm their value to the world and their importance to our very being. It is our job to acknowledge, to appreciate, to affirm.
It is our job to love.
Not just birthdays.
It shouldn’t matter that the Fonz, the guy from Cash Cab, and yours truly were all brought into this world on the same day in October.
What should matter is the value that we add now that we are here. What should matter is whose lives we touch and who touch ours. What should matter is how this world would be different without us.
Not just birthdays.
If you need an excuse to tell someone how much you love them, how happy you are to know them, or how different your life would be without them…
You’re asking the wrong question.
And if you’re really struggling…
Just make one up!
Seriously, y’all. Make one up.
I’ve actually done this once before. One year for Lent, that’s exactly what I did. I decided that rather than “giving something up,” I would “take something on.” For 40 straight days, instead of skipping out on peanut butter or not eating chocolate, I picked a new person each day and affirmed them.
I told them how much I loved them. I told them how happy I was to know them. I told them how my life would be so much different without them.
Not just birthdays.
Pick a month. Pick a day. Pick a person. And as Nike says, just do it!
Tell them you love them. Tell them they matter. Tell them how they have changed your life for the better.
Give affirmation. Give affection. Give love.
Not just birthdays.
Who can you affirm, today? When have you been affirmed by someone in your life on a day other than your birthday? How did it make you feel?
Share your story or your reaction in the comments below.
Did this story resonate with you? Or did it make you think of a story of your own?
I believe that stories unite us. These stories can be traced back to one person, conversation, or observation that provided a turning point in our lives. I’d love to hear if you believe this, too.
If you do believe this, then share it with your friends! Because sharing stories an instinctual, powerful way to touch the hearts of others and change the world around us.