It's My Birthday and I'm Going to Stop Being Bitter About It

When was the last time you were legitimately excited about your birthday?

I’m not talking about the euphoric buzz we all get from receiving gifts, cake and impersonal Facebook wishes from long-lost acquaintances. I mean, how old were you the last time you counted down the days for that maturity milestone, anxiously awaiting the thrill of identifying yourself with a whole new number, fraught with all sorts of social implications?

Turning 10 was a ton of fun. Crossing the threshold into double digits meant moving into a whole new category of kid-dom.

13 was undeniably huge, as evidenced by countless volumes of young adult fiction, after school specials and religiously-sanctioned blowout bashes.

16 packed a lot of punch, even for those of us vehicularly challenged enough to fail the driver’s test three times.

18 meant the freedom to serve our great nation, rock the vote and purchase as much pornography and tobacco as was necessary to impress our younger friends.

And of course, the ability to purchase that first legal adult beverage at 21 meant the end of an era punctuated by low-grade jello shots and parking lot pre-games (well, for some of us).

On Friday, I turn 28. I have no boyfriend, husband, child or even pet to speak of. I don’t own real estate and I can’t cook a casserole. Hell, I’m not even gainfully employed, thanks to a two-year grad school detour. Sometimes I’d rather read Seventeen at the gym than Newsweek (yeah, okay, that’s all the time). I in no way resemble the shiny, polished, self-assured 28-year-old prototype depicted in romantic comedies, and I’ve been sulking about it.

But I’m officially done being bitter. I’m reclaiming my birthday.

I distinctly remember the decidedly lackluster appeal of my 22nd birthday. There were no momentous moments to acknowledge, no newly-acquired privileges to celebrate. The doormen at the local bar even seemed reluctant to draw the requisite birthday “X” on my forehead—”shouldn’t you have gotten this out of your system last year, ma’am?” their halfhearted smiles said.

And then suddenly, it wasn’t just patronizing smiles articulating the m-word—I started getting “ma’am”-ed all over the place. I tried to brush the term off as an old-fashioned courteous gesture, but something about the squeaky-voiced checkout boy asking, “Would you like paper or plastic, ma’am?” didn’t sit well with me.

And then of course, came the first time I wasn’t carded at a bar. That hurt.

On my 25th birthday, I rented a party bus complete with disco lights and a stripper pole inadequately sized for anyone over five feet tall. My friends dutifully guzzled birthday beverages and publicly shamed themselves in my honor, but something about it all felt forced.

Getting older is rough. And yes, I realize I have a few more years to go before my senior citizen discounts kick in (at Ross, you only have to be 60!), but movies, magazines, and every other form of media have done their damndest to convince us of what we should have achieved by a certain age. And while those triumphs used to just be inherent parts of the growing-up process (You turned 13? You’re a woman! Mazel tov!), aging into adulthood means enduring repeated reminders of all the things you haven’t accomplished yet.

Not to mention all the stigmas women face as they age—at what point do we go from being promising, esteemed members of society to flailing, pitiful, Cathy cartoons? Ack!

Yes, I’m being dramatic (it’s what I do, go with it). But I’m pretty much sick and tired of dreading my b-day every year, and feeling burdened by all the implications, expectations, and obligations tied to a truly irrelevant number.

So on February 17, please join me in celebrating another year of my life, rife with all sorts of wonderful shortcomings and a few kickass successes.

I might even make jello shots for the occassion.

Image via That Cute Site.

  • Anna Shoosmith

    I am so glad I’ve read this! I turn 28 next month and am in a pretty similar situation to you. Thank you Michelle – I’m off to reclaim my birthday!!

  • Shona Johnson

    Happy birthday! I like your philosophy, I’m trying to approach my 30th in May with the same attitude! “Oh you’re still in your 20s? Well I’m in my 30s. I am wise and grown up. I sometimes even do things without getting my parents’ opinion.”
    Have fun! x

  • Darleen Witham

    It is my birthday today I am turning the “dirty” thirty and I thank you so much for this article. I know I am “still young” but I hate that it means I can’t be sad or reflect on what my life is NOT. But I do have a wonderful husband and I have been through tough times and came out breathing. Happy birthday fellow aquarian and know there is ALMOST always someone older turning older and up at 5 am stressing about it. 😉

  • Emily Eyre

    Happy birthday! It was my birthday on Wednesday and I was having similar feelings. I’m SEVERAL years older than you and still haven’t accomplished those major adult milestones of marriage and family and it bums me out, especially this time of year. So thanks for this. I have much to be proud of and grateful for and I celebrate that!

  • Anonymous

    Happy Birthday! As someone MUCH older than you, I think most of us begin to think we’re pitiful cartoons. I still have those pangs sometimes, being a person who has not taken the high road. But, I can say that I have taken great pains to live my life true to my values and to seize opportunities to do the things I love. It’s not perfect, but it’s been an adventure and I think I will have few or no regrets at the end of my life that I didn’t at least try to experience life and not just live through it. Have fun! You have a lot of great years ahead!

  • Jennie McKeon

    Happy Birthday! If it makes you feel any better, I failed my driver’s test three times too. If you were just talking hypothetically, then I take it back.

  • Asha Galindo

    I turn 28 in April! And this is actually the first year I’m not looking forward to it. And I LOVE my own birthday. It is a week long celebration, every year. But 26 was great and 27 was fine, except I mistakenly tell people I’m 26 still and in just 2 months I’m gonna be 28 and I DON’T WANNA!! But only because I’m not where the media says I was gonna be and I’m not exactly living up to my own standards either.

  • Rachel Firmager

    Hope the birthday jello shots were amazing! One of my friends made them for her 31st last month and they went down a treat. Perhaps by September I’ll have changed my mind about my birthday and will also celebrate with jello shots!

  • Celia Wells

    I’m only 21, going on 22 this summer and at least in my opinion, I think birthdays are doomed, you shouldn’t even invest so much anticipation on a birthday, or just one night, but I would say look forward to whats to come. I have been excited to get older and older even since I was about 17, not excited for my 18th birthday and my 21st as much as I was excited to be 25 and 30 and 40. You get out of life what you make of it! My 21st birthday was anything but special, out of 15 people, 4 showed up to dinner and my night out on the town was cut short by two fights in my group and a DUI of my best friend, and not saying that’s particularly something I would want to look back and remember, but that’s exactly why I try to not invest so much on an unforgettable night. I wish you the best birthday! But remember, it will be what you make it, and if it isn’t so great you will always have another one! And even better 364 days in between to make that your year!

    Best wishes,


  • Laura Palmer

    You’re still really, really, REALLY young, so don’t worry about it. Rant when you have wrinkles, crows feet and boobs past your knees. You still have at minimum 25 good years of youth ahead of you. Enjoy it.

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