Why I make such a big production of my birthday is a bit of a mystery to me too. “How come you are so fixated on celebrating your birthday? You are like a teenager” a friend recently remarked. A fair question, at a time when most women favor a “don’t ask don’t tell” age policy.
I thought about it for a moment and then I came up with a narcissistic “Well, it’s the day I was born.” An answer that produced what seemed like endless mirth.
It got me thinking. Why has it never been just another day? The reasons might have evolved as time went by. Certainly it has nothing to do with receiving presents or organizing a big bash. Nor has it anything to do with milestones: from hereon, the milestones don’t look particularly appealing other than for being physical there to see them through. More likely, it has become an excuse to be entirely selfish for 24 hours straight and not having to apologize for it: doing what I want, with whomever I want, leaving work and any responsibilities at the door, at a time when my life is a merry-go-round mostly run by the necessities of others.
That is why I make a point of not working, not even a little bit. The few times I ended up working on my birthday were always disastrous: the year I went to a business related conference and my boss, feeling sorry for me, stuck in a boardroom on my birthday, sent a huge bouquet of flowers to my hotel room that triggered a massive allergy attack.
Or the year I was on tour with a band: we had dinner after the show, someone ordered a cake and the band serenaded me with “Happy Birthday.” My boyfriend, who had flown in to be with me, then proceeded to pick that very night to dump me. That must have been the last time I was at work on a July 7.
As silly as it sounds to my grown up friends, I take immense pleasure in planning the entire day, which is only spent with people I really, really want to be with. I love receiving phone calls and text messages and I keep a black book of those who forget: although these days, thanks to Mark Zuckerberg, overlooking someone’s birthday is rather hard work. It’s not about gifts. It’s about the attention which, for someone who doesn’t particularly relish attention, might seem incongruous. I might be making up for the invisibility I tend to create on most social occasions.
A few days ago, exiting a hospital lobby, I held the door open for a female doctor who was walking in. She looked up, as I waited, and said “Sorry”. Sorry? What for? Because she was delaying me? Because I was stuck holding the door? It reminded me of an article I had read a little while ago on why women say “sorry” much more often than men. The theory behind it is that, over the centuries, in order to get what we wanted, we had to find pleasing and non-threatening ways to get our point across. Apologizing for what we were about to say became a reflex. Then apologizing in general. Apparently, we are much more likely to apologize even when an apology is not called for.
I have noticed I do it all the time. A small collision on public transport or in the street, not necessarily caused by me, will push the “sorry” out of my mouth. The wrong food delivered to the table will be sent back by prefacing “I am so sorry but…” when none of it is my fault. In truth, I might have divested the word of its original meaning and transformed it into an iteration I pepper my speech with. Another way of keeping narcissism at bay, of not wanting to be the center of attention.
Unless it’s July 7. Then I feel entitled to remind all and sundry that is the day I decided to grace the world with my presence, stumping my parents for a name as they had not prepared an option b, and there is no female version of Giacomo. I wonder, had I been a Giacomo, if I would have walked the planet with more confidence and fewer apologies.
Nevertheless, I am turning 53 and it might be time to update my behavior: tomorrow, while fluttering between hairdresser, restaurants and museums, don’t expect an apology if you inadvertently bump my elbow or deliver a steak instead of pasta. I won’t even apologize for the silliness of behaving like a 16-year-old on her birthday. On July 8, I will revert to normalcy. Minus the unnecessary apologies. Maybe.
Anna Wintour card from curvyfashionista.com