How To Celebrate Your Birthday By Your Damn Self

The single most selfish day of the year.

For Mussarat

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Lemon cake with lemon cream cheese frosting. For me.

My birthday is the 30th of June. I’ve always loved that day, nice even number, beautiful summer sun. Fourth of July tends to make traveling for it a pain in the ass, but I deal.

I don’t really like loads of attention (you can imagine the emotional challenge of my Bat Mitzvah), but I’ve always had a certain degree of anti-attention guilt when it comes to my birthday. I’m supposed to do something, right? A gathering, a dinner at least—something to set the day apart from all the other days I wasn’t born on.

My mitigation of this guilt typically results in some kind of extremely casual group hangout all day long at a venue with spectacular outdoor seating options and beer that tastes like watermelons. People can come and go as they like, bring friends, bring babies, everyone is welcome and no one is in any way inconvenienced. I did my job, I celebrated, but I also circumvented allowing anyone to pay for my dinner or sing to me while I try not to burn my bangs off with candles.

This year though, my birthday came at an inopportune time. I had moved two weeks prior, I was feeling incredibly overwhelmed about money as a result, and for weeks on end it felt like I hadn’t had any time to simply be still, unafraid, and calm. I was in need of an un-frazzling, and my birthday was really the first opportunity for it.

A friend recently asked for advice on celebrating her birthday when you’re not anyone’s “most important person.” I felt that question physically. I know what being no one’s most important person feels like. It feels like shit. It feels like being forgotten. It feels like you’re going to have to plan all your birthday parties for yourself, that’s what it feels like.

I get that it sucks, but I don’t want it to. I want single women to feel less sadness and shame around situations where someone else maybe should be doing things for us, but since someone else doesn’t exist, we have to handle fucking everything. These feelings peak around holidays and celebrations, and I think the more we share ideas and options with each other, the more we’ll start to look forward to these days, even and maybe especially while we’re single.

Yes, I will suggest things like cooking (or ordering, who are we kidding), your favorite foods, watching your favorite films, listening to your favorite music, and using the “good” sheet mask you’ve been saving—you know the one. But really all of those things come down to one centralized idea that I would really like single people to keep in mind: be selfish.

When’s the last time you operated 100% selfishly for an entire day? When you only thought about and did the things that make you, and only you, entirely happy? Completely ignoring societal and social expectations and just being fully your indulgent self for 24 whole hours. No chores, no errands, no responsibilities, no “have-tos” as far as the eye can see. That, my friends, is a gift.

I baked a cake. A whole one. For myself. It’s lemon flavored. No one likes lemon. No one but me. The frosting was lemon too. I hate birthday candles. This cake didn’t have any. I took a bubble bath. I wasn’t supposed to use the entire bubble bar. I used the whole damn thing. I drank champagne all afternoon in stretchy pants and watched Moonstruck three times in a row. I had a cheese plate for dinner. I left my dishes in the sink.

As a single woman, I ironically find myself people-pleasing a lot. I find myself making other people feel better about my single status. “Oh, it’s okay—I don’t mind going alone.” “This is a lot less sad than it seems, I promise!” But this 37th birthday, I didn’t give even a small shit what people thought about the birthday plans I had that only included me, and didn’t involve leaving the house.

The thing I had to get over was the idea that staying home on my birthday was “doing nothing.” I didn’t “do nothing.” I treated myself to activities and indulgences that were completely tailored to me. I let my nervous system rest. I took no one else’s preferences or feelings into account, I didn’t even permit myself to justify my lack of plans to people who asked. I told them the truth, and I didn’t care if their voices took on a sad tone afterward. My day only had to make sense to me. And it did.

Solo birthdays aren’t the norm. Yet. They’re not what friends and family want to hear when they ask us “what are you doing for your birthday?” But we don’t have to make other people happy with our answer. We don’t have to do something that’s going to make other people happy on social media. We don’t have to assign any “have-tos” to our birthdays at all.

Parties and cakes and candles and big-deals about birthdays are, for many people, cultural norms. But for single women who don’t have the baked-in community of celebrations being made for them, birthdays can feel like failures. It’s in the reframing of how we look at them, and the letting go of how other people look at us, that we can begin to customize the way we celebrate special days. In my experience, the best way for a single woman to celebrate her birthday is selfishly. Her day, her choices, her favorite things—and hopefully through shedding prior ways of thinking, entirely new ways of enjoying our time as singles can be born.

Happy Birthday.

NPR once called me a humor essayist, let’s go with that. Host of A Single Serving Podcast. shanisilver[at]gmail

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