It recently occurred to me that, in less than five weeks, I will be turning thirty years old. May 8th, to be exact – I was born on the same day that New Coke was released into the global marketplace with infamously lackluster results. It was also the 40th anniversary of V-E Day, the 101st anniversary of Harry Truman’s birthday, and (for specialists in arcane history) the 27th anniversary of the day in which Vice President Richard Nixon was nearly murdered by an angry mob in Lima, Peru.
Considering my introspective nature, I’m a little surprised that the ramifications of this impending milestone have taken so long to set in. Then again, this probably has something to do with another unusual aspect of my personality – namely, that I’ve never thrown myself a birthday party.
The birthday party is a more or less universal ritual. Different cultures obviously have their own ways of celebrating the anniversary of when one began the adventure of life, but there are few that don’t at least make note of the event. Yet I’m hardly alone among Millennials that I know in taking a casual approach to the traditional birthday party, as observed here in the West. More and more often, it seems to me, people our age prefer a casual approach – meeting up with a few friends, drinking some beer, watching good movies.
For the past five years I’ve had a very distinct ritual of my own. It was May 8, 2010, less than two months after the messy conclusion to a long-term relationship and a little more than two months before I began my Masters program at Rutgers University – Newark. Needless to say, I was in a state of great flux, and so what I desired more than anything at that time was some equanimity. Consequently I met up with a few very close friends – Adam, Tommy, Brian, Andy, Sean, Jen, Tommy M. (as distinguished from the first Tommy) – ordered a huge bucket of fried chicken, and watched an episode of “Mystery Science Theater 3000.”
That was it. A simple little ritual that I have thus far reenacted without exception for every subsequent year. It may sound silly, but in the interim that has passed since I have lived a packed life: I’ve completed my MA degree, made significant headway in my PhD program, become a published author, and met countless fascinating people as significant others, professional colleagues, and friends. After my older sister had a child, I even became an uncle – an entirely novel experience for me.
I guess what I’m saying is that, when your day-to-day life is packed, it’s easy to view the ordeal of organizing and throwing a birthday party as just one more exhausting burden. By simply surrounding myself with a few good friends and unwinding, I not only avoid turning a celebration of my life into another stressor, but pay respect to what I really want on my birthday, which is some time to myself. When I was a little child, I liked “fun” in its archetypal manifestations, and as a teenager I became more ambitious in my party plans. As an adult, though, it seems so… well, frivolous.
Of course, I may have to make an exception this year. When one of my friends invited me to a 30th birthday bash she threw for herself with characteristic panache, I began idly chit-chatting about whether I should do something special for myself this time around. That said, I wonder if there are more people out there like me. After all, our generation is one of the most put-upon in recent history. We came of age in the aftermath of 9/11 and the Great Recession, spend more of our time worrying about making ends meet than any other group of Americans since the Great Depression, and thanks to the digital revolution, we are better informed about everything that’s wrong in the world around us than any of our predecessors.
In short, we are a generation that is chronically stressed out. Am I alone in finding birthday parties to be more trouble than they’re worth?