For 364 days of the year, we may pass for being fortyish or fiftysomething while looking not a day over 35. We can be forty-freaking-eight but claim we’re closer to 40 than 50 and lose not a wink of sleep. (Trust me on this.) On our birthday, however, there’s simply no escaping our true age. We can always lie about it, but then we feel not just old but cowardly and pathetic. Even under the best of circumstances, it is an occasion to be reminded of things we’d rather forget as much as it is an excuse to eat half a truffle cake.
When we were (ahem) younger, our birthday was the best day of the year, a full 24 hours of self-celebration. How can we get back to genuinely welcoming the day instead of feeling about it the way we do invasive medical procedures? How can we find our inner birthday girl?
With this in mind, I offer my Nine-Step Recovery Program to Reclaiming Birthday Joy.
1. We admit that we find our birthday excruciating.
This is most difficult for those of us who, especially on milestone birthdays, make a point of throwing ourselves a frenzied, over-the-top party, complete with a self-consciously inventive theme and matching alcoholic beverages, complimentary pole-dancing lessons, and party favors that rival Oscar-presenter goody bags. We may look as if we are enjoying our birthday, but mostly we are full of it. What we are doing is distracting ourselves, also known as faux celebrating. When we are not laughing, limboing, or tossing back a mojito, we are sobbing in the bathroom. Accepting that our birthday has more in common with a colonoscopy than a Mardi Gras event is key before taking the next step.
2. We feel grateful to have lived this long.
When life was more precarious, birthdays functioned as a daylong sigh of relief to have made it through another year without succumbing to the plague, influenza, or an infected blister (as did Calvin Coolidge’s 16-year-old son, a casualty of a tennis game on the White House lawn). We did not die in childbirth, nor were we impaled on a farm implement. Hooray! Like passengers on a plane who burst into spontaneous applause when the pilot lands in gale-force winds, we were happy to raise a glass and toast our own survival. Nowadays, not so much. So let’s not lose sight of the fact that even though we are protected by antibiotics, airbags, and the like, at any moment we could still slip in the tub or be done in by a tainted leaf of lettuce.
Oddly comforting, isn’t it?
3. We make a searching and fearless inventory of things that we desire, but would never buy for ourselves during the rest of the year.
We give thanks that the world is bursting with so many adorable, egregiously overpriced items from which to choose: Marc Jacobs handbags, Me&Ro jewelry, Jimmy Choos, La Mer skin creams. To celebrate our birthday, we will purchase something for ourselves that we most emphatically do not need. We will make the occasion feel extra festive by abstaining from such luxury items the rest of the year. (This will take some doing, but that’s another recovery program for another time.) We will also buy ourselves a pound of chocolates. Through prayer and meditation, we will not feel guilty about eating them all in a single day, without sharing.
4. We humbly ask a good friend — one who can be relied upon not to give us a bouquet of black Mylar balloons — to help us plan an authentic celebration.
This might include a small dinner party in the back room of a favorite restaurant, a weekend spa getaway, tickets to see Madonna or some other rocker in our peer group who has the chutzpah to charge $350 a ticket, or a pinata. Under no circumstances should the festivities feature one of those idiotic birthday cards that alludes to lack of estrogen.
5. We humbly ask our higher power to remove our fears.