by Quinn Fenger
I really do hate birthdays — the hype and over-celebration, the inflated expectations, the noise. I know I sound like an old grump when I say this, but I truly feel that birthdays, as they are today, are no longer so much a celebration of life as they are an exercise in forced, awkward gratification.
I had a birthday just a couple weeks ago during midterms. I didn’t have time to spend it differently than I would any other day, but I came home to find my roommates had been waiting for me. They wished me some quick ‘happy birthdays,’ gave me a few thoughtful gifts and left me to study for my next exams.
I didn’t care what others were saying to me online, and I wasn’t lost in my phone. Instead, I focused on the reality in front of me. It was a perfect way to celebrate.
Of course, when I criticize the ways in which we celebrate, I’m not talking about your sweet 16 or passage into the long-awaited age of 21. I’m talking about the endless feed of Facebook’s daily birthday reminders.
Real celebrations of birthdays have evaporated with the advent of social media. Almost all of us are reminded daily who’s turned another year older. But what’s the point? For me, at least, the day of my birth is just another that could be spent blissfully alone, yelling at the kids stepping on my front lawn.
I kid. But really, I’d rather thank those who raised me and congratulate them for keeping me alive for so damn long instead of being drowned in a flood of half-hearted well wishes from people I haven’t seen in years.
What I dislike most about birthdays are the outlandish expectations they bring with them. As Facebook has connected us to every person we’ve met, we’ve been more and more plagued by the idea we should reach out to people on their “special days,” as though we were close friends, despite being mere acquaintances. We lack real relationships with most of the people we associate with online. Rather than actually talking to those special to us, we spend our time on quick, meaningless, four-word greetings.
Our approach to birthdays needs to change, not only because I personally don’t like it, but because it’s having an effect on us as a whole.
As college students riding the cutting-edge of technology, we’ve increasingly given our attention to social media with the sole intention of expanding our good image. We promote our lives’ best moments in hopes that others will pay attention. The thing is, none of it actually matters.
No matter how amazing the food someone just ate and no matter how great so-and-so’s spring break was, the posts about those things have no real weight. They’re meaningless in almost every way because they lack connections to reality. We project unrealistic versions of our lives to fool ourselves into thinking they’re perfect.
On my birthday, I don’t want to focus on what others think. Instead, I want to fully acknowledge what life has gifted me. I’m alive, and there’s so much out there that is real and tangible for me to enjoy. That’s what I wanted my last birthday, and that’s what I got.
Going into that day, I hadn’t set expectations for myself or those close to me — I couldn’t have. I had no time. But in not doing so, I realized birthdays shouldn’t be an idealized version of our lives. They should instead act as reminders life’s enjoyable offerings don’t come in one-day-only packages.
If more of us thought this way, everyone would be a bit happier and a bit less entranced by the feed of phony greetings our phones alert us to.
But if that’s not possible, let’s at least downplay birthdays enough to stop those outrageous birthday songs at restaurants. Those are the worst.