Crying on your birthday



Birthdays never live up to the standard that others seem to hold them to.

Eric Fogle, Opinion Editor

Although it’s an annual celebration of being born, an arbitrary mark of another passing year, birthdays are generally expected to be happy occasions. Regardless of month, one can count on each birthday to come with gifts, cake, maybe a dinner and, unless you’re me, a really cool birthday party at the now extinct Pump it Up in Middleburg Heights. Recently, another birthday staple has been brought to my attention: tears. 

While it may be hard for people to believe, I don’t cry on my birthday. Most movies and some songs can summon tears from me. Further, as many people know, numerous Futurama moments will break me down to the point of incapacitation. Annual occasions, however, including birthdays, don’t generally make me emotional. My motivation for writing the column came from hearing that so many people have prominently negative responses to birthdays. 

Two primary answers emerge: either the anticipation for the day itself causes the day to be underwhelming or each birthday acts as a reminder that we are one year older, one year different. Either the yearlong buildup lets us down when the day passes like any other or we lament the fact that another year gets added to the pile of years we can’t get back. 

A third possibility could be synchronization with “sadder” parts of the year, such as fall and winter months. Some with birthdays in December or May might celebrate their birthday during finals week or during another otherwise stressful part of the year. This possibility will be ignored for the length of this article as I want to focus on the birthday itself as the cause of negative emotions. 

Since the idea for this column has been slowly escaping my mind, I’ve been asking people left and right whether they cry on their birthdays. As it turns out, most of the 20-21 year olds I talked to don’t love their birthdays. It would make sense that as we grow, birthdays fall victim to diminishing returns. Some people I talked to didn’t feel strongly. Others admit to either having cried or understanding why someone might cry on a birthday. Others openly hate the concept in general.

“I hate birthdays,” Morgan Garan ‘24, a coworker of mine in the Writing Center, told me during one of our shifts. While not a birthday cryer herself, she did say of birthdays: “If I could obliterate them I would.” I think many people would join her sentiment. When the big day comes around each year, the person of the hour is simultaneously the center of attention while not deserving it. 

Personally, each of the past ten or so Christmases have been very lackluster. I think a tangible shift happened when I found out the truth about Santa and his reindeer. While I still love the season, the movies, the music, the Hershey’s Kiss commercial, the day itself falls very flat. I would argue that the 25th day of Christmas fundamentally cannot live up to the expectation. Unlike Christmas, however, birthdays are a personal holiday. That distinction, however, puts the spotlight singly on the celebrator. Like Christmas, birthdays germinate for an entire year, drum rolling all the way to one of the most disappointing days of the year.

I talked to my fellow RA Leanna Nasrallah ‘23 about the first explanation for birthday sadness, that the anticipation for one’s birthday to be an exceptional day causes insurmountable pressure. “To put that expectation on it makes it daunting,” she said. “It never lives up to that, no matter how much you want it to.” 

There are a few other variables that might justify, if not explain birthday tears. I have no problem saying that having a cake with a candle stuck in it while a convoy of restaurant employees sing a 75 bpm death march is ferociously awkward. It also takes a very particular sort of person to enjoy being the center of attention. Past a certain age, strangers stop singing to you, you’re scheduled to go to work, you (should definitely) stop wearing the “Birthday Girl” crown. 

My own birthday is in the beginning of July. I’ve never had school on my birthday, the weather is usually nice, there’s usually a baseball game on. Circumstantially there’s very little to be sad about, but I found my birthdays being disappointing precisely because of what this column discussed. It feels wrong that it doesn’t feel exceptional. For the past few summers I’ve worked on my birthday, doing my best not to let others know that it was happening. I wasn’t particularly sad about it, but I was painfully aware of how happy I was supposed to be. 

From what I’ve gathered by talking to people about this, I realized that the general response to birthdays, children excluded, is neutral to negative. I didn’t cross paths with one person who loved their birthday, who demanded that people stop in their tracks, sing the song and wish them well. My main takeaway was that birthdays are entirely arbitrary, deserving of recognition, not celebration. But I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade. From TCN, happy early, if your birthday is coming up, and happy belated if we missed it.