How I stopped being a jerk and learned to like my birthday

The Internet doesn’t make people crazy. It simply draws out the crazy that’s already there.

So I can’t say social media made birthdays weird for me, because I think I’ve been weird about them for some time. When my birthday comes along, I’m torn between wanting it to be ignored entirely and hoping for a surprise party of Kim-Kanyesque proportions. Everything in between makes me feel squirmy. This probably makes me a covert narcissist, a label I slap on myself after a quick, inexpert Google search, which is exactly the kind of behaviour you’d expect from a covert narcissist.

If I’m conflicted about real-world birthdays, I’m doubly so for virtual ones. On Facebook, I see notices all the time about who is celebrating a birthday that day. Some of these people I know well, some are acquaintances, some are supermodels who haven’t returned my calls even after I sent them my credit card information.

Some time ago, I began to feel resentful about these relentless birthdays, and not just because of the sheer volume. Each notice became a social quandary: do I know this person well enough to wish him a happy birthday? Plus, what if I missed an important one? I think to myself: won’t that person wonder, “Hmmm, I received 958 birthday wishes – every one of my ‘friends’ except that Murray fellow. And yet he wished happy birthday to that Facebook so-and-so.” Of course, that’s exactly what a covert narcissist would think.

And then there’s my own birthday. Getting inundated with Facebook greetings, all these people wishing me health and prosperity. My God! Who are all these positive, generous freaks! But I know that most of these people aren’t remembering my birthday; they’re being reminded of my birthday. There’s a difference. It’s like thanking Grandma for the socks and being told to thank her, even though they’re itchy.

Clearly, social media is modifying birthday behaviour. The only thing I like modified is corn starch, so, pushing back, I imposed a blanket ban on Facebook birthdays. Like a horrible person, I began ignoring all birthday reminders, and I changed my setting so that my own birthday would not be visible. No one would receive a reminder, and therefore everyone would be off the hook. No obligation. Take that, social media oppressor!

This past Monday, I turned 49. As my obituary will state if it all goes south in a hurry, I am now in my fiftieth year. It’s not a round-number year, but my sister did point out that I am a perfect square. I’m hoping that’s a math reference.

My birthday passed quietly but not entirely unnoticed. At the school where I work, my daughter stood up during morning assembly and announced, “Today is Mr. Murray-slash-my dad’s birthday.” There was polite applause but no Kardashian-level adulation. Still, it felt… nice.

Through the day, a few students and teachers called out, “Happy Birthday!” as they passed by. “Thank you,” I said, and I meant it. One of my co-workers and I chatted about how the forties are the old age of youth but the fifties are the youth of old age. Another co-worker walked into my office and offered the cheeriest birthday wishes imaginable. You could just tell she loves birthdays.

“All that positive energy and good wishes coming at you!” she enthused.

And that’s when I realized I was being a jerk. Most people – normal people – actually like offering birthday wishes. They enjoy cheerfully congratulating you for surviving in this world another 365 days. It’s not a burden to them at all, regardless of whether they remember or are reminded. And for the recipient, it’s lovely and touching – a small round of applause for simply existing. How often does that happen? Once every 12 months, as it turns out. So thank you, everyone, for your kind and thoughtful birthday wishes, in person or virtually.

But here’s the creepy coda to this sorry birthday tale. Even though my birthday was blocked on Facebook, my niece remembered it and posted a “Happy Birthday” on my timeline. This post then showed up in other people’s feeds with a notice like, “Hey, Ross’s niece just wished him a Happy Birthday!” And then these people wished me happy birthday. Before long, Facebook had organized the greetings for me, complete with a little graphic of a birthday cake: “Dear Ross, here are all your birthday wishes. Resistance is futile.”

The Internet makes me crazy. But that’s exactly what a covert narcissist in his fiftieth year would say.



About rossmurray1

I'm Canadian so I pronounce it "Aboot." No, I don't! I don't know any Canadian who says "aboot." Damnable lies! But I do know this Canadian is all about humour (with a U) and satire. Come by. I don't bite, or as we Canadians say, "beet."
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36 Responses to How I stopped being a jerk and learned to like my birthday

  1. Elyse says:

    Happy belated, Ross.

    For 10 years I got horribly depressed around my birthday. One of my sisters died that day, and I was just heading out the door to celebrate. So I had good reason.

    But after 10 years passed, well, I figured that saying “thanks ” to birthday wishes instead of bursting into tears is better received! So I’m no longer a jerk, either.

  2. Paul says:

    Happy belated birthday Ross! My opinion of birthdays seems to change regularly – sometimes I don’t like to be reminded, other times i look for a bit of recognition for having survived this far. It can change from day to day. If you ask me about birthdays and don’t like the answer, then try again tomorrow as the answer will undoubtably be different.

  3. Happy Not-Dead-Yet Day! Yeah, I am a jerk about birthdays. I let my birthday pass quietly since I figure it’s only significant to me and my retirement plan. I get to pick a family activity for the day, though and force my family through bookstores and museums – and they have to pretend they’re happy about it. It’s a fabulous present.

  4. goldfish says:

    I don’t like the attention. I’d rather it pass as just another day. The worst part of any birthday is when people insist on singing it.


  5. I would argue that the number of birthdays you actually remember are quite small and that there’s nothing inherently wrong with being reminded of someone’s birthday, which is what I think you’re implying. Why does that cheapen it?

    I never admit my birthday, especially out here in the ether. Don’t judge me. It’s my thing. Some folks watch reality TV. Some smoke. I’m hung up on my age. So what. As Bukowski said, “scramble two.”

    Happy birthday, Ross. Like it or not.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      I think it’s all wrapped up in ego. “What do you mean you don’t remember!” But if ever there was an ego day, birthday is it.
      As long as the students here keep thinking I’m younger than I am, I’m golden.
      Thanks, Mark.

  6. markbialczak says:

    Happy Birthday, Ross. Thanks for this post so now we all can send you our belated wishes! I know they are a difference maker in your good cheer now that you’ve adjusted that attitude. Well done.

    Wait until you turn 50. I, too, relatively well-adjusted at 49. …

    Just joshing. You’ve got a couple of great years left, one or two average ones … I might be in a mood because I turn 57 in December.

  7. List of X says:

    I’m glad that you stopped being a jerk, because it frees me to become one, take the reminder and wish you a happy birthday. Also Thanksgiving, which I know you’re a couple of months or a few miles away from actually celebrating today

  8. Ned's Blog says:

    At first I felt kind of bad for not knowing it was your birthday, Ross. But thanks to this post, I realized it was really Facebook’s fault for not insisting you keep the Birthday setting. That said, I wanted to take the time to thank you for not only relenting and admitting it was your birthday, but also for revealing your age. Being 48, having friends who are older than me is becoming more and more important.

    Mostly, though, I truly want to wish you a belated happy birthday, my friend. It may have been YOUR birthday, but we’re the ones who receive the gift of your wonderful writing.

    Cheers, Ross.

  9. franhunne4u says:

    So happy Survival-Day – I always celebrate survival day as neither my mother nor her mother made it to 40!

  10. Yahooey says:

    Happy belated Ross!

    I’m not sure how I would have handled it in my early thirties when there was no FB and I didn’t celebrate birthdays. Now, I enjoy collecting the Facebook wishes and I take them for they are.

  11. pieterk515 says:

    The only thing I’ll remember about this post is that you are turning 50 next year…hehe

  12. ksbeth says:

    glad you got over it and glad you had another birthday – best to your ross )

  13. Not a word about natal days, I promise. But I’m particularly fond of the observation that the 40s are the old age of youth, and the 50s are the youth of old age. I might have to steal that some time.

  14. Someone told me that 49 is the age that a man considers dying his beard and then thinks better of it. I don’t know whether that applies to a covert narcissist.

  15. Letizia says:

    I googled 49 year old writers and found out that Mark Twain was 49 years old when he wrote “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”. Google also pointed out that you had turned 49, no wait, that was
    Facebook 🙂 Hope you received many lovely gifts.

  16. byebyebeer says:

    You inspired me to remove my birthday from facebook. Mine is next week and every year I get the usual well wishes from a mix of people I consider real-life friends and those I haven’t seen since high school and wasn’t friends with then. I rarely wish anyone a happy birthday on fb, so it felt disingenuous to get birthday wishes from others. It felt a kind of relief to take it off the table. Thanks for the timely inspiration.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Ha. I’m not sure how to feel about all this power, but I’m glad I made you think about it at least. “Disingenuous” is the perfect word. I wish I’d thought of it. And early happy birthday…

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