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A few weeks ago, I texted my brother to see if he’d had a good birthday. “It was great!” he said, “I stayed home, ate some roast chicken, and watched a movie.”
“Wait, that was a good birthday?” I asked, trying to communicate my confusion without being rude. “I’m glad you were into it, I’m just not sure I would call that a good birthday.”
His response was quick and to-the-point: “That’s because women always hate their birthdays.”
At first I got a little offended by the generalization, but when I thought about it, I have indeed hated my birthday every year for the past decade or so, as have the vast majority of my friends. Why do so many women greet their day of birth with “UUGGGHH” rather than excitement? Why have I cried myself to sleep with a belly full of birthday cake on more occasions than I can count? Why do men seem immune to many of these birthday issues? After some self-reflection and polling a ton of lady friends, I’ve settled on these 10 reasons:
1. It reminds us we’re getting older. And thanks to the media and Hollywood, we all know there’s absolutely nothing worse for a woman than getting older.
2. Our expectations are too high. We want our birthday to be The Most Perfect Day Ever, filled with social time, personal pampering, grand celebrations, and customized cake sculptures. When our birthdays don’t measure up to our impossibly high birthday fantasy standards (and really, how can they?), we’re inevitably disappointed.
3. It never quite goes as planned. As a friend of mine said, “Birthdays are a reminder that people are supposed to love you and make a big deal about you, but it never quite happens that way.” Whether your best friend gets held up at work or your mom forgets to call you or the restaurant gets the reservation wrong, even the best laid plans tend to fall apart. And women tend to take it personally when they do.
4. We worry too much about other people having a great time. A surefire way to make sure you don’t have any fun? Worry incessantly about how much fun other people are having. A ton of women I asked listed this as a central factor behind birthday stress. People pleasers have a really hard time relaxing and enjoying “their day” when there’s a large group of people they feel the need to take care of.
5. No one ever remembers what kind of cake we like. A minor detail that starts feeling pretty major after the 5th year in a row you find yourself gulping down lemon poppyseed cake (even though you hate lemon).
6. It inevitably become about what everyone else wants to do. Even if we’ve gotten to the point where we can just own the fact that all we want for our birthday is a massage and wine and dessert with a good friend, if everyone else wants to go dancing, well, we’re probably going to go dancing. And we’re probably going to be wishing we were somewhere else the whole time.
7. We focus on the negative. I remember a birthday a few years ago, I had been woken up with homemade birthday pancakes and showered with gifts and loving messages from a ton of friends and family members, but for some reason I became fixated on the fact that a certain friend hadn’t texted me to say “happy birthday.” No matter how many great things happened throughout the day, I kept checking my phone and getting upset that this ONE FRIEND hadn’t texted me. Ridiculous, right? Also a fairly common experience.
8. It highlights the shortcomings of certain relationships. That friend who always flakes out on you or your boyfriend’s tendency to make everything all about him? Not only are those annoying habits not going to disappear for the sake of your birthday, they often seem magnified. And man, does it sting to realize your boyfriend is never going to be able to truly support you when you’re blowing out your birthday candles.
9. We think everyone else always has a perfect birthday, except us. Thanks, Facebook!
10. We’re secretly scared that nobody cares. Maybe it’s because of that one year in middle school when all of our friends ditched our birthday party to go to the mall, but I think many women still harbor a small-but-significant fear that people don’t care enough to show up and celebrate the day of their birth. Hello, anxiety stomach ache!
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