The other day I was at a coffee shop when my attention veered away from my work to the conversation at the table next to me. It was a blind date, which are my favorite to eavesdrop on. Things seemed to be going well — the normal getting to know each other over coffee conversation, until he mentioned it was his birthday. I watched this piece of information transform the chill vibe of the date as he tried not to seem pathetic for agreeing to spend his special day with a stranger. I had to actively keep the shock off my face too and couldn’t stop thinking how strange a blind date on a birthday felt to me. Why was it such a big deal? Why did it stress me out?
Growing up I didn’t just celebrate my birthday — I had an entire birthweek or month. I grew up an only child to a mother who adored celebrations. My birthday was a big damn deal, complete with streamers, balloons, and once, circa 1992, even an astronaut named Zoom who sang me a personalized song. You could say she created something of a birthdayzilla because now, as an adult, I sometimes forget that not everyone celebrates with this level of enthusiasm.
With age I’ve recognized that there are two types of people in the world, those who actively broadcast their birthday and those who quietly let it pass. Unlike in grade school when it’s called out on the morning announcements or you pass out homemade cupcakes, as adults birthdays are only acknowledged if you or the people close to you choose to do so.
I fall into the category of those who want to celebrate their birthday, but want someone else to broadcast it. While an extreme desire to celebrate my birthday has lingered since childhood, my adult anxiety makes me hyper aware of this childish propensity and how completely uncool it feels to say, ‘It’s my birthday!’ I just want people to know, to surprise me, and for that one day to feel like they have to be nice to me.
This year I’m realizing this outside desire comes from an internal need.
If I want people to acknowledge me, celebrate me, and be kind to me — it’s really because I’m craving these things from myself.
Acknowledging this, I’ve decided to figure out some ways I can have birthday autonomy. I spoke to eight women about their ideal ways to spend their birthdays and their ideas felt nourishing, exciting, and loving. Inspired by these conversations here are some non-depressing ways to spend your big day…
1 | Take your mom on a date —
She gave you life so she should really be the one celebrating this day. Hanging out with your mom doing something you want to do is a great way to bond, broadening her horizons to something you love that she’s never experienced. Last year my mom visited me in NYC and we went to a blowout bar — she loved it!
2 | Explore mother nature —
Spending some time outside might be the celebration you need. For summer birthdays, take a trip to the beach and for winter birthdays embark on a ski trip or run away to somewhere warm. Regardless of climate or location, doing something that connects you to the earth is healing.
3 | Adventure away on an excursion —
Taking a day trip to somewhere you’ve never been before near your city or town will get you out of your usual surroundings without any added pressure of securing time off from work or expensive travel expenses. When I looked up a few options outside my city I was delighted to see how many options there were for simple train trips. Even exploring a different part of your own city or booking yourself a hotel or Airbnb for the day could be enough to flip your perspective and give you the celebrations you’re craving.
4 | Dress like it’s your birthday —
Wear lipstick, put on heels, get a blowout, do whatever makes you feel like yourself at your very best. I like doing these things once I’ve actually done them, however the thought of getting ready can be so overwhelming it becomes a rare occasion where you do dress up. I never feel better than after a photoshoot or situation where I’m made up. With my make-up half done and fading back into myself, I feel like my special occasion self which automatically makes me more apt to stay out longer, have the confidence to make conversation with strangers, smile for selfies, answer the door, and be fully seen.
5 | Get touched —
Give yourself the gift of touch. As humans, regardless of if we’re in a relationship or not, we’re all starved for more human-to-human contact. Gift yourself your favorite bodywork treatment, a facial, manicure, foot massage, reiki, or cranial sacral therapy — whatever your favorite way to be touched is.
6 | Make something —
Nothing makes me feel more connected and less alone than when I’m doing something tactile or creative. It gets me out of my head and into the forward movement of creation. Maybe it’s getting back to an old hobby or learning a new skill. This year I signed up for an acting class, herbalism workshop, writing workshop, and an improv class. It’s the gift that keeps on giving by getting me out of my house weekly, meeting new people, and developing new parts of myself.
7 | Do one thing every day for a week —
Rather than having the stress of planning one big party or event, try coordinating one small special hang each day for a week around a milestone birthday. This will make for one-on-one meaningful interactions that might not be possible in a large group setting… plus it takes the pressure off of nailing everyone you love in your life down at the same time for the same type of activity. One night can be oysters with a few friends, fancy lattes another day, a movie the next, a concert, and a small cake party to close the week of celebration.
8 | Take a solo day off the grid —
Carve out one day where you won’t see or hear from anyone. Get off your phone, allow yourself to indulge in whatever impulse you have whether it’s having pancakes for dinner, driving around aimlessly, or going to the movies in the middle of the day. It’s a complete day off with zero plans and expectations, and allows whatever feels good to unfold without anticipation. This simple act of clearing your calendar from all work and social obligations will give you the space you need to spend a day as you truly wish.
Katie Dalebout is a writer, host, and founder of Let [a podcast] Out, a workshop that helps people DYI podcast. Since 2013, she has interviewed over 250 people on her long-form interview show Let It Out. Her first book Let It Out: A Journey Through Journaling is a collection of personal essays and journaling prompts and was published in 2016. She now writes about her feelings in her monthly Let It Out Letter. Katie, her feelings, and all of her plants live together in Manhattan.