I do not have parties to meet boys. I don’t have them to get high or drunk or break things. I have them to commemorate holidays, and somewhere, somebody decided that birthdays go on that list.
I’m not trying to be ungrateful – I appreciate living, and people, and cake. But I’m too selfish for the whole “Individual Mother’s Day Salute” thing (I want to be the one in mind when the cake flavor is chosen) and would really like an opportunity to hang out with my various girlfriends while semi-flirting with guys I already know. But something about birthday parties reveals the deep, dark fear that we are uninteresting as individuals – in my twenty-two years, very few of my birthday parties can be counted as anywhere near “super sweet”. I always moved right before the “big” birthdays (ten, thirteen, sixteen), my eighteenth birthday was weeks into my first semester of college (thanks for dinner though, grandma) and my twenty-first fell in the Year I Lived at Home (my parents don’t even drink wine on Communion Sunday). The ones right after those usually included enough not-so-new friends to make it awesomely memorable, but only after solving the monstrous issue of “how on Earth am I going to entertain all these people?”
The Birthday Party becomes a total nightmare if you (like most of us) have a group of friends too large to be termed ‘fellow-shut-ins”, too small to “roll deep”, and too broke for the “dinner-at-the- highly-recommended-restaurant-then-Gosling-double-feature (seriously, UNICORN) – at-the-local-multiplex” plan you’ve been saving for that special empty Saturday night. How does one have a birthday celebration without feeling like an asshole? And I don’t mean worrying over the guest list – if you don’t gel with the group, you’re not attending – but as a person that finds joy in making other people comfortable, I had no idea how to make everyone do what I wanted without looking like “the girl that made everyone do what she wanted, and her control-freak tendencies were obvious, and it sucked”.
Then I realized the solution was obvious: just make it about other people.
Go out with people younger than you. It makes you feel socially superior without having to be embarrassed about dedicating your Friday to misspelled activities like “go-karts” , or live-action urban warfare simulations (“laser tag” for the uninitiated). Also, they have a desperate need to stay occupied, which automatically saves you from being trapped on your couch for an hour waiting for someone else to stop being polite and start getting picky. Be sure to bring a few other actual peers that don’t mind getting pulled into the fray (they’re key for all the head-shaking you’ll do at the end of the night over the “children”).
Invite people to visit you. You feel special because they are making the effort, and their staying with you obligates them to pay you a certain amount of uninterrupted attention. Suddenly the party plans morph into an itinerary of places they haven’t seen – which always helps you shake off any lingering boredom with your current place of residence. Also, if you’re lucky enough to have mutual friends in the area, suddenly those people’s schedules become a lot more open: ”If so-and-so is coming, I can’t miss them- I’ll be there”. Visitors are like your cousin’s new baby – everybody wants a turn because we know we have the very real option of giving them back.
Make a weekend out of it. This saves you from a myriad of Sophie’s Choices like “Cupcakes or cookies?”, “Sushi or pizza?”, “Kayaking or football?”, or “Bridesmaids or Horrible Bosses?”. Trying to fill thirty-six hours is actually easier than trying to fill two or three – when no one has school or work to attend, the answer can be “all of them, plus a hand-delivered pound cake” (at least if you plan on not having any alone time with your guests until three a.m. Sunday morning over dirty dishes. It’s a surprisingly fertile time of day for gossip.)
If all of your energy goes into things that everybody finds fun – which, by the way, is how you plan social events on any other weekend – the whole thing seems a lot less daunting. Those that make a party all about finding that one special celebration that totally defines their personality need to remember 1.what weddings are for, and 2. it freaks the group out when you start planning for things that requires boys you don’t have, so stop. Overall, try to remember that it’s your birthday – it’ll technically all be over in a matter of hours one way or another, plus it’s not like you and more-or-less-the-same group of friends (save those fringe people that can never seem to attend two events in a row) won’t get another shot next year.*
*Barring death or newsworthy disaster – well, actually next year’s supposed to kind of be it, so November and December birthdays need to plan accordingly. If this was my last one, at least it was a success.