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Let's Party! (But... Uh... Could you show me how first?)
December 22, 2010 8:45 AM   Subscribe

Help me throw myself my first real birthday party.

Alright. This is really embarassing.

I need to throw myself a birthday party because I haven't had a birthday party in years. I'm turning 23. We're talking more than a decade of disastrous birthdays here. I know this is silly. I know this is kind of pathetic because it's just a birthday. But I cannot tell you how much having one successful birthday will mean to me.

Rather than dwell on the negative, I've decided to be determined to have a successful party so I can be a normal human being and enjoy the fact that I have friends who love me enough to spend time with me on this lovely day. My plan is to have a birthday dinner out at a really nice restaurant, and I've invited about 20 people I love very much because I figure at least some will be able to make it and that should be great. I'm even willing to foot half the final bill to make this all work.

The thing is that I have no idea what I'm doing and what will happen the day of the party. Last year I tried this very scenario and so many people bailed at the last minute, didn't even call, or completely blew me off that I just panicked and canceled everything because I was so, so depressed about not being cool enough to some of my friends to even have them celebrate my birthday. Now I have this overwhelming fear that the same thing is going to happen again and that I'm going to spend the entire damn day being sad about the people who can't come than being happy that I have friends who can, will, and are spending the evening with me. I feel weird enough about having people come to something that's just for me in general, you know? Like... Why are we focusing just on me? Do I even deserve this? Do I not understand how birthdays work? Augh.

What can do to help myself prepare for my first real birthday? What will make me a pleasant hostess? How can I navigate the commingling of my many separate social groups? What makes for a really good birthday party, and are there things I can incorporate now that a time and a place have been set? Tell me about the best birthday dinners you've been to and why they were good. :)

Another thing I sort of need to work out is my disappointment about never having had a surprise party. My the three people I would call my best friends are always throwing birthday parties for each other, but they've never made the effort for me. This doesn't diminish their best-friend-ness, but it sure does sting. How can I stop feeling bitter about this so that I can just have a stinkin' party?
(Just to give you an example re: the anxiety... I've already sent out invitations on Facebook and 10 people have actually RSVP'd YES and I want to throw up, either with joy or total terror. Yes, I go to therapy. Yes, I thought I'd worked through this. Yes, I still need your help.)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (35 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
Don't do a fancy restaurant, especially if you're only 23. I've skipped out on good friends' birthdays because they had it at a fancy restaurant and I didn't want to spend $30+ on dinner and then also be expected to go out for drinks. Invite your friends out to a pub or something more low-key. Low-key birthdays are always the most fun and people will sometimes just show up that maybe weren't even directly invited because others will bring them (this is usually a good thing).
posted by elpea at 8:48 AM on December 22, 2010 [12 favorites]


a few logistical things -

maybe you're not making the scope of the thing clear, and people feel awkward? Generally when you invite people to a gathering, you pay. You don't pay half, and you can't really invite a bunch of people to a fancy restaurant and then expect them (or just some of them?) to pay their own way. That's not hosting a party, that's organizing some people to get together. This *may* not be true in your circle of friends, but people may be feeling the weirdness of the situation, are not sure of their own ability to pay, or whatever, and bailing. Not nice to do at the last minute, but nicer than not being able to cover the cost of their meal.

When is your birthday? Would you consider doing something at your place instead? That way you can actually *host* the party.
posted by peachfuzz at 8:53 AM on December 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Elpea speaks truth. A good birthday party is not about everyone fawning all over you--it's about you having a good time because all of the people you care about are together and are having their own good times. This is much easier in a bar or at a houseparty where everyone can mix and mingle and drink and dance than around a table for 20 at a fancy restaurant. Save the dinner at a restaurant for your parents.

Don't sweat it! This is going to be totally fun. And don't invite 20 people to sit at a dinner, invite--seriously--40, 50, 100 people to get a drink at a bar or party at your house. Figure maybe 50% RSVP yes, and of that 50%, 15% flake out. The more the merrier! WHEEEeeeEEEE!
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:54 AM on December 22, 2010


I've invited about 20 people I love very much because I figure at least some will be able to make it and that should be great.

Make sure you have some sort of an RSVP system -- Facebook is good for this -- so you can get at least a casual headcount a few days beforehand. Restaurants need to know these things when you make a reservation.

What will make me a pleasant hostess?

Being cool. Not like hip-cool but really chill about everything going on. Something goes "wrong"? That's cool, you'll deal with it, and you'll deal with it calmly. Ask a good, organized friend (sort of a birthday maid of honor) who you can rely on to help you with this stuff. When I had to do the same thing, I was freaking out to my best friend who told me "griphus, just say 'I need you to help me organize this' and I will and you will not have to worry." Again, pick someone who offsets the problems you have with organizing people, not just someone close to you.

How can I navigate the commingling of my many separate social groups?

Unless you're friends with a lot of dicks, this will be fine. People will mingle or they'll hang out in their own groups and both things are okay. It's not the Sharks and the Jets and I can assume because they're all friends with you, they'll have at least a little something in common even if they don't know one another.

Why are we focusing just on me? Do I even deserve this? Do I not understand how birthdays work?

You're overthinking this. If you need to, pretend it's not for you and it's just a party. So have fun at this completely-not-related-to-you party where people keep buying you drinks and telling you that you are awesome.
posted by griphus at 8:56 AM on December 22, 2010


Why are we focusing just on me? Do I even deserve this? Do I not understand how birthdays work? Augh.

Birthday parties, even if they're about "celebrating" you, are really just an excuse to have a party. Your friends will have fun going to a nice restaurant and having interesting conversations with friends of yours they've never met before. They may try to together pay for you or they may get you presents - either is perfectly cool, as long as you're willing to reciprocate when their birthdays come around.

What makes for a really good birthday party, and are there things I can incorporate now that a time and a place have been set?

Great birthday parties for adults are: a) really chill, b) involve doing something the birthday person really likes. Whatever you do, make sure the restaurant you go to is either one of your favorites or some place you really want to try (people will ask). Like playing pool? Go to a pool hall. Like the jukebox at this funky bar down the street? Go there, etc. Again, the reciprocity comes when you go to other people's birthday parties and do what they want to do for their birthdays.

Last year I tried this very scenario and so many people bailed at the last minute, didn't even call, or completely blew me off that I just panicked and canceled everything because I was so, so depressed about not being cool enough to some of my friends to even have them celebrate my birthday.

Don't take this personally. Lots of people bail on events they've RSVPed for - they have to work late, or they forgot about their cousin's christening or they just got the flu. In my experience, you can only really count on about a third of people who RSVP showing up. If you've invited 20 people, that seems totally fine - 6 or 7 people is not a small birthday party, by any means.

Another thing I sort of need to work out is my disappointment about never having had a surprise party.

Sounds like you've got some social anxiety, no? Many people with social anxiety (not necessarily you) would hate having a surprise party, and I'd guess your friends don't want to freak you out. Asking them to throw a birthday party for you, even a non-surprise one, isn't totally ridiculous or out of the question - just tell them you don't know where you want to go or you want to be surprised. Let them do this for you in place of getting you a present.

Good luck!
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 8:57 AM on December 22, 2010


I disagree with peachfuzz's comment that when you invite, you pay. That's true if you host something at your house, but I go out to dinner or to drinks for friends' birthdays all the time, and I always pay my portion. (25 year old Bostonite here, FWIW.)

That said, unless fancy restaurant birthday dinner is the norm in your circle, I'd go more in the cheaper-pub-for-drinks-and-apps or the out-to-a-bar-for-drinking-and-dancing or have-friends-over-for-chili-and-beer direction. At 23, you probably have some friends who have fairly good salaries, and some friends who are in grad school and living on loans, some unemployed friends, etc etc. If not everyone can afford the fancy dinner (or could afford it, but is saving up for a car), you might get a better RSVP rate if you went somewhere less expensive or hosted at your house.

That said, if it's the norm among your buds, go for it! You'll have fun. A birthday is just an excuse to get together, I hope you can put a bit less pressure on yourself.

And happy birthday!
posted by teragram at 9:03 AM on December 22, 2010


A pleasant hostess has no expectations.

Sometimes when you try to plan too much, try to make it too perfect - it creates more problems. Don't be a birthday Bridezilla.

Make your plans as best you can, then just let it roll - find the grace to accept whatever happens, because the plans never go smoothe in party planning. Decide now that you will be happy that day, no matter what comes your way.
posted by Flood at 9:04 AM on December 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


I don't want to rain on your parade, but: "Last year I tried this very scenario and so many people bailed at the last minute," That sort of thing happens because birthdays aren't that big a deal after the age of 10 or so, except for your 16th, 18th, and 21st in the U.S. (Maybe also your 13th for Jews, 15th for Latinas, etc.) I understand about rotten birthdays, I had a string of them (including the all-important rite of passage of my 21st!), but the key to getting over it was lowering my expectations and realizing my birthday does not actually matter to other people. Now it's fun!

"the three people I would call my best friends are always throwing birthday parties for each other"

Have you ever thrown one for them? Party-throwing is a pretty reciprocal thing.

I agree with elpea, low-key is probably better. Low-key and you being able to foot the entire bill is even better; especially in this economy, people aren't huge fans of having to pay to celebrate another adult's birthday. It's not a day that's important to them. A bar gathering (perhaps in a private room) or a houseparty (with liquor) that's more casual will go better. Foot the bill for beer pitchers at the bar, and let people buy their own mixed drinks, or for the whole thing at your place.

Your best bet to getting a lot of people to take your party seriously is to tell them how direly important it is to you. Since most adults are not particularly hung up on birthdays, they're probably treating it like it's not a big deal, since it isn't for most people; for you, it clearly is. If you want people to treat it like a big deal and an unbreakable commitment, you're going to have to TELL them it's a big deal and that they have no idea how much it will mean to you.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:05 AM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


As one Christmas baby to another - this time of the year is absolutely crappy for organizing a birthday. People are caught up in the preparations for Christmas, most workplaces are trying to get loads of things done before everyone heads off for the holidays. It's just a really bad time to ask people to focus on a birthday. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of birthdays I have ever had in my life, because my birthday falls during the Christmas holidays. It might be one reason why you're not getting uptake from your friends, either to organize something or to attend.

My suggestion? Wait six months and organize an "un-birthday" party for yourself. You'll likely have more uptake, and you can do silly themes like Reverse Solstice or something.
posted by LN at 9:09 AM on December 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


One last thought -- since you're very hung up on the "real birthday party" thing, would it be at all fun to reserve a shelter at a local park and host a Saturday afternoon cake-and-lemonade-and-party-hats-and-goodie-bags gathering with kids games and beer (if the park allows beer)? A throwback birthday might be a lot of fun.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:10 AM on December 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


Another thing I sort of need to work out is my disappointment about never having had a surprise party.... How can I stop feeling bitter about this so that I can just have a stinkin' party?

You sound a little like me. I go back and forth between "hey it's not a big deal" and "gee I'd really like to have some sort of event or thing" I disagree with other posters that adults don't have birthday parties. Some do, some don't.

I had to really dig deep and think that the reason people didn't have surprise parties for me is because, at some level, I don't enjoy surprises and am not what you'd call an easygoing person. I have many other fine qualities, but I think I'd be difficult to give a party for. You do not sound that different. That may help you move past this part.

So, on to other strategies. I'd be very very wary of coming to one of your parties if I was invited last year, blocked out time on my calendar and then you cancelled it at the last minute because you had a freakout. I also have that "omg no one is coming to this thing!!" feeling from time to time and I think that's just the anxiety squirrels talking and I try to ignore them. So here are some tips.

1. get people to RSVP for the most part. This helps you reserve a table someplace [and I agree I'd suggest a comfy cozy place that isn't too spendy and that isn't a sit down meal] and quells your nerves about who is coming
2. do not split your friends into cool people and not cool people. The cool people are the ones who are coming to your party. Period. As others have said holidaytime is hell on planning and that's just the cards you are dealt.
3. the one thing I would suggest is tell people not to bring presents. I don't know about you but I don't need presents and that sort of thing does make it seem like more of a "get me stuff!" event than just an "I want my friends to get together and share my special day with me" thing. Also if there are people you don't know so well, not having to bring a gift makes it a lower pressure occasion
4. Have a friend or two who you KNOW are going who can help you with some of the logistics [maybe people need rides, maybe someone could ask the restaurant to have a little cake, that sort of thing]. It's not planning your party, but then worst case you're having a nice dinner with a few close friends which is a nice way to spend the day, no?
5. as far as being a hostess, be low key, have low expectations, thank everyone sincerely for coming and try to talk to everyone who shows up even if it means you have to cut some conversations with people short. Introduce people who you think will like each other "Hey Bob, this is Tama, Tama is working on the same sort of thing that you are working on. I've got to go get another round of drinks going, have fun" If it were my event [and I'm a little older than you] I think I'd buy everyone a round of drinks or something [or go someplace cheaper and pay for a few pitchers and some pub food] just to say thanks and hey I'm glad we're all together.
6. Haters gonna hate. If you have friends who are balking at the place you choose or the way you're deciding to do this, there's not much you can do.Obviously it's good to be accomodating to people [a place with vegetarian options, a kid friendly place if people have kids, whatever] but it is your day and you can make choices. That said you'll have to accept the fact that some people won't be able to go or don't want to go and that's just how these thigns work.
7. Do not make your anxiety about this event into everyone else's problem, however you need to do that.

Best of luck.
posted by jessamyn at 9:30 AM on December 22, 2010


1. Ask one of your friends to co-host. Their duties:
* making sure people show up (in terms of giving people directions to the restaurant over the phone twenty minutes after the party began because SOMEONE didn't google it.)
* making sure there's some sort of cake thing
* making sure there's enough booze
* introducing people to each other
* handling paying the restaurant. You don't want the job of coordinating that, even if you end up paying for the whole thing yourself.

2. In your invitation, say something that nods to the fact that you're in your twenties, but this is still important to you. Last birthday I went with, "It would mean a lot to me if you could come; I'm really looking forward to celebrating another great year of my life with the people who made it wonderful."

3. Call everyone you invited to follow up. Facebook is good for tracking invites, but there's a lot of noise. I called twice - once right after I sent the invitation, once three days before the party.

4. The expensive restaurant v. less expensive really depends on how your friends do things. My friends usually do the middle-of-the-line restaurant, with everyone paying their way and pitching in for the birthday person's. I'm not comfortable with that, so I went with a cheaper restaurant (yay, Indian buffet!) that was BYO, and I paid for the whole thing. Do what you're comfortable with.

5. My party was a two-parter - at the restaurant for dinner, then back to my place for cake and drinks. This made it more manageable for a lot of people - some of them could do one but not the other, and this provided a natural place for people to jump ship or come on board.

6. Drop your expectations. I was working myself up into a tizzy until my best friend said, "Punch, the worst thing that happens is that no one shows up. You and I will have a delicious meal, and then get drunk and eat cake. Doesn't that still sound great?" Be happy with what you get - people have a lot of demands on their time.

6. Re: co-mingling: your friends are adults; you'll probably be amazed at how well they do this. Or they won't, and they'll stick to their pre-established groups. And you know what? That's okay. People will find a way to make sure they have a good time.

7. Remember that this party is for them, too. I nearly canceled my party, and a couple people called and said I couldn't, because this was a chance for them to show me how much they loved me.

Good luck! I know you're worrying a lot now but everything will go better than expected. Have fun with it.
posted by punchtothehead at 9:35 AM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Just want to drop in to suggest you rethink the fancy dinner. I've gone out for fancy birthday dinners for friends where the bill has been more than $100 per person (and where we pay for the birthday-haver's portion) and I really couldn't do that often. Even the $50 birthday dinner is a bit much. People will often say they are coming and bail at the last minute because they really, really want to do it, but finances won't let them. And if you tried this last year and it didn't work, you should really think about another approach.

I also vote for a house party or bar night where you invite a whole bunch of people. Folks can drop in for awhile, so even if they can't commit to the entire night, they can have a drink, wish you a good one, etc.

As for getting over never having a surprise party -- I've never had one either, but last year when I turned 30 I knew I wanted a big party. What I did was tell a couple friends that I wanted this, and had them organize the party. All I had to do was make sure everyone who needed to be invited was invited and show up in a pretty dress. It was amazing and fun and better than a surprise. Sometimes, if you want someone to organize a birthday for you, all you need to do is ask.

Tell your three best friends that you want to have a proper birthday party this year, rejig it so you aren't having it at a restaurant, and get them to help you out. If they are also invested in throwing a successful party, you are more likely to have a successful party. And tell them that you don't know how to do birthday parties "right" and that's why you are asking for their help. They're your friends, they'll understand. Then when their birthdays roll around, you'll be able to get some practice by helping plan parties for them as well.

Relax, buy a pretty dress, and get some help. And happy birthday!
posted by Felicity Rilke at 9:35 AM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Just want to second (or whatever number it is) that I don't think it's expected that you pay for everything if you go out to eat somewhere, but you should not choose somewhere expensive. I hosted a birthday dinner at a Thai restaurant last year where the main courses generally run under $10 and found that people were fine with paying and even tried to chip in to pay for my dinner (which, alas, I had already paid for). This was in New York, so I feel confident that wherever you are, you can find something affordable. Maybe you could have dinner at a restaurant with a few of your closest friends then go back to your place for drinks or something, if you want to allow for more flexibility in RSVPs. It did drive me a bit crazy that people ditched and showed up to my dinner at the last minute, but the restaurant was accommodating.
posted by mlle valentine at 9:39 AM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


20 people eating out sounds like no fun to me. First, you won't really be able to mingle or enjoy your meal. Second, it is HUGE pain in the ass figuring out how to split the bill, especially if people are drinking and if people don't know each other (I'd be more inclined to split evenly amongst a bunch of friends rather than some people that I don't know.)

You might be better off reserving a section of a bar that also serves food and tell people to come. This means that you're not so stuck on everyone arriving on time to order and people can manage their own food and drinks. Also people that know each other can hang with each other. Then you can mingle. This will be cheaper for you too.

I've done this for my own birthday and it worked out really well.

Birthdays aren't a big deal to most people - just an excuse to hang out/party.
posted by k8t at 9:46 AM on December 22, 2010


I threw myself an old-fashioned birthday party when I turned 27. I was a little nervous about doing so, but I decided to go for it and was over-the-top enough in the invitations ("It's my birthday, come celebrate it with the enthusiasm of a seven-year-old!" "No gifts please, just watching you have so much FUN is present enough for me!" ) so that the invitees got a good laugh out of it and overlooked the unseemliness of me hosting my own bash. I served sloppy Joes, potato chips, Neapolitan ice cream and birthday cake. I'd gone to the dollar store and bought a bunch of cheap party favors to put by everyone's place setting, along with really tacky birthday paper plates and cups and hats. I also bought a bunch of miscellaneous junk (like pick-up sticks, a can of sardines, oddball things like that) and wrapped them in tissue paper for a grab-bag. We played silly games and the winners got to choose a present from the bag. People were laughing and having fun even before we broke out the beer. Overall the whole shindig didn't cost me that much, either....probably around $50 total for the food, favors and beer.

If you don't have room at your place for such a party, consider having it at a Chuck E. Cheese or similar restaurant; you can pay for the pizza and they'll allow you to bring in your own party favors and such. I think the promise of a goofy fun-filled evening that won't cost them anything will attract a nice-sized crowd. Good luck, and happy birthday!
posted by Oriole Adams at 9:48 AM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


re: EMcG's throwback party - I did this for my SO's Sweet twenty-Sixteen. We had a ton of fun. It does require some nice weather though.
posted by k8t at 9:50 AM on December 22, 2010


Could you rethink the strategy? Maybe a few close friends and a cake at home would be an easier first step for a non-disastrous birthday -- no high expectations to meet, little RSVP awkwardness, inexpensive. If you're determined to have a real party, I agree with the advice above to invite as many people as possible, don't get too hung up about who shows up and who doesn't, and make it low-key.
posted by chickenmagazine at 9:55 AM on December 22, 2010


I finally figured out how to have an awesome birthday this year after pretty much hating birthdays my entire life-- I invited my close friends to get cheap Mexican food and even cheaper margaritas at a location convenient for everyone (weighted for those most likely to flake out due to travel time), and it was great, no pressure, and cheap. There were about ten of us total-- more would have been overwhelming for the restaurant and for me.

Birthdays are all about expectations-- if you want a festival thrown in your honor, well, that's probably not going to happen. But if you just want to carve out some time to enjoy good conversation with people you love, that's not so hard. Framing it as "I want to use my birthday as an occasion to enjoy your company" tends to go better for everyone than "Why won't you go out of your way to celebrate me?"
posted by oinopaponton at 9:59 AM on December 22, 2010


26-year-old San Franciscan here.

The two ways to go are: small and organized (you can count on your four or five closest friends to make it to a fancy restaurant at a particular time) or big and loose (if it's casual and flexible and people feel like they can bring their own guests, you'll have a much better turnout). I like to have house parties for my birthday because I love hosting house parties; many of my friends like intimate dinners because that's what they like.

Generally when you invite people to a gathering, you pay.

I guess this depends on your social circle, but at every birthday dinner I've been to the five or six of us pick up our own tab plus change, because when the host reaches for his pocket we say, "No, no, your wallet doesn't come out on your birthday!" And this is in a group where I'm pretty much the only one with a reliable salary (whereas most of my friends are waitresses, students, broke, et cetera).

That sort of thing happens because birthdays aren't that big a deal after the age of 10 or so

OK, so no one counts-down days until their birthday anymore and gifts are rarely exchanged, but it's OK to make your birthday a big deal (cue New York Times article about prolonged adolesence among urbanites?). Certainly many of my friends prefer just to have a quiet dinner with their SO, but the idea of the birthday itself is still important to the group (i.e. I'll make an extra effort to see you and remind you how awesome you are—and if we get coffee or a drink, it's on me).

Just relax! And happy birthday!
posted by rafter at 10:07 AM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Rule of thirds. However many people you invite, only around third will turn up. I invited 45 to my last birthday and 17 came along. I had a great night.

I'd just find a good bar somewhere that serves both beer and cocktails (for the men and ladies) where you can reserve an area. Even better if the place in question can do food for those that really want to eat although I tend to find a selection of platters works best.

This caters for everyone.
posted by mr_silver at 10:12 AM on December 22, 2010


If you do the nice dinner thing, you can make it late enough that people can eat before and just booze/snack at the restauraunt to save $$ and deal with picky eaters.
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 10:25 AM on December 22, 2010


I just celebrated my 34th birthday on monday and it was a great party. I used to have the same "no big deal but it would be nice if somebody did something" attitude. It does not really work because people don't know what you want or expect. My formula is more specific to my idea of a good time but I did the following:

Location: the art studio that I share with 5 other friends.
People: I invited like 40 people, good friends, more casual friends, colleagues, former colleagues, artsy acquaintances, etc. And I said to please bring other friends.
Music: I got 2 musical friends to DJ.
Booze: I bought 3 crates of beer and a case of cheap (but drinkable) champagne. I did suggest that anyone who wanted something special BYOB.
Food: Gotta have some snacks, vegetarian is best for a mixed crowd. Cheese, bread, chips, dip, olives etc.
Invite: I think a nice, funny email is better than facebook as it has more of a personal touch and is not as easily lost in the flood of status updates and such.
Outfit: I put on a colorful, slightly over the top outfit with a tie.
Decor: We rigged up a slide projector with some absurd 60s vacation photos and dimmed the lights.

I also said not to bother with presents. This takes the pressure off. But some people showed up with some nice little things anyway.

As far as being a host goes, I made sure to watch the door to greet people and give them a hug as they came in. Early on, I did the rounds a bit and made sure to catch up at least briefly with everyone as well as introduce a few people who did not know each other. Otherwise I got a bit drunk and danced around like a fool and generally enjoyed myself. I was really moved when they stopped the music and sang happy birthday at midnight. We were carrying on til way late and it was probably my best birthday to date.
posted by mr.ersatz at 10:27 AM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm also in favor of rethinking the fancy restaraunt idea. Throwing yourself a birthday dinner at a fancy restaurant is basically insisting that your friends buy you an expensive meal for your birthday. Even if you are willing to pay for half, it still is potentially sticky--does everyone know that you will pay half the tab, will they feel guilty about attending, can they even afford to pay for half their share of food and drinks, etc. A fancy restaurant sounds like a good place to celebrate your birthday with a few close friends, but not 20. Something more casual at your house or at a bar, where people can more easily mingle and fit into their schedule (it's easier to commit to stopping by for a few hours over the course of an evening than committ to a sit-down dinner starting at a specific time) sounds like a better bet.

As for your friends not planning parties for you, freaking out and canceling plans last minute and being depressed on your birthday may send the message that you'd be happier NOT celebrating, or that whatever they would put together for you wouldn't make you happy. My friends never planned parties for me, but it's a combination of me acting just like this and my birthday being right around July 4th, so no one is ever around.
posted by inertia at 11:34 AM on December 22, 2010


Just so you don't feel too icky, I consider myself a well-liked person, and for my 30th birthday, that I THREW FOR MYSELF, every single person bailed, including my "best" friend and my roommate. Painful and lonely, that was my 30th.

For my 35th, I ramped it up a bit, made it more obvious that it would mean a great deal to me, and had a much more successful party (heh, it had guests, that alone made it a success).

If you want to throw a party, you can't be too shy about it, a lot of people just have a hard time going out of their comfort zone, (especially when it comes down to the last minutes before they have to actually leave their house) so you sort of need to impress upon them that their coming to your birthday would be a big deal to you.

Happy Birthday to you, Anon :)
posted by Grlnxtdr at 12:04 PM on December 22, 2010


Tell me about the best birthday dinners you've been to and why they were good. :)

None of my birthday dinner gatherings that had lots of people (eg, 5,15,20 people) involved "fancy" places. They were all brewpubs/family dining/etc. They were good because it was a chance to see my friends all in one place when I didn't normally get a chance to see them often or all at the same time. it also helped to have collaboration: yes, I might have emailed my friends to invite them and see who was willing to come, but friends would also remind each other, "hey, that dinner deanc is having is tonight. You coming?" "Fancy" dinners for birthdays involved either an SO or a few close friends whom I coordinated closely with so we knew exactly how many people were coming and what we were in for, financially speaking.

Normally, though, what I do is buy some alcohol, buy some "party foods", and do a decent amount of cooking and invite lots and lots of people over to my apartment for a party. Even though many people on the invite list won't be able to make it, I still get a good turnout and a chance to see and socialize with my friends.

I feel weird enough about having people come to something that's just for me in general, you know? Like... Why are we focusing just on me?

They're not focusing just on you. They're thinking, "Hey, it's anonymous's birthday! It will be good to see him. Plus I can see our mutual friends whom I haven't seen in a while, and I'll get a chance to get out and socialize this week!"

What makes for a really good birthday party?

Food, drinks, and a good group of people, including people I know and like to see as well as people I might not have met before that I will find interesting. But I'm pretty laid-back about this stuff. Look at some of the Christmas party suggestions for general ideas about how to have a decent party.
posted by deanc at 12:08 PM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Okay, OP decloaking here. Thanks for all your responses so far.

RE: fancy restaurant... This is a popular restaurant that my friends and I all love, so there is no issue there in terms of price or popularity. My friends like the place, I like the place, we've had birthdays before, and the prices are actually really reasonable. I am not worried about the location.

My original question has to do with my personal hang ups regarding birthdays as I have not had a party for myself in a decade. I have, however, attended many and thrown many and the best one I've been to in a while was at the restaurant I have chosen for my day. That's why I chose it. Known quantity. It's me that's the variable.

Also, I don't drink, and I don't like cake, but I chose the place we're going to because it will provide those options to people who want it.

I just feel weird about throwing myself a party in general and I would like to get over that because I have friends who love me and I deserve to be able to enjoy that. Hopefully that clarifies a few things. :) thanks.
posted by patronuscharms at 12:47 PM on December 22, 2010


"I just feel weird about throwing myself a party in general "

Well THAT'S nothing to feel weird about. People like parties. Throw more of them! Celebrating whatever you feel like, including yourself!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:22 PM on December 22, 2010


It's common in my group of friends to send out an email saying "Hey, my birthday's next weekend and I want to go out to [X] place and then come back to our place afterwards to hang out. Let me know if you're coming so I know how many to make the reservation for" or "I'm throwing a LAN party for my birthday! Everyone's invited!" Nothing to feel weird about.
posted by telophase at 1:40 PM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Isn't it a rule that everyone splits the birthday person's dinner cost? I've never heard of the birthday person having to pay for their own dinner, my friends just don't allow that to happen. Don't mention "I'm willing to foot half the bill if people come out" in the invite, that's just awkward.

Most importantly, don't stress about it!! People will show up, it will be fun, make sure you thank everyone at the end of the night for coming, and give them a hug (if that's not awkward for you and your friends). It's totally normal to want to celebrate your birthday, and people enjoy going out to dinner to celebrate stuff, so I'm sure your friends will be happy to have a reason to come out.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 4:38 PM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


It sounds weird, but the simplest mental hack is just to reverse it.
For your birthday, you've decided to throw a party for all of your friends instead of the other way around - you're giving them something. Keep your wants out of it and do your best to make it a good time for everyone. (But avoid anxiously cornering people and asking them if they're having enough fun?!?! 'cause that's a turnoff.)

I knew someone in a similar situation to yours; Birthday close to Xmas, party-throwing anxiety, and sad/resentful that no one had ever thrown them a party. So she reversed it by starting to throw an Un-Birthday or Opposite party.

Every year at the opposite end of the calendar from her birthday, she'd find some underpopulated bar and arrange to pre-buy the first keg of beer and case of wine (cash bar after that), invite everyone she knew, and even got some of her besties Un-Birthday presents.

Mentally making it the opposite of a birthday party worked for her; she gave freely rather than expecting to get, did not care if no one showed up or the party failed ('cause a bad party is a great Opposite party, right?), and in general gave her whatever it was she needed to reverse the neediness/resentment/whatever that messed her up about her bad/nonexistent birthday parties.

Not only did she stop stressing about throwing parties of this and all other kinds, but these things turned out to be pretty awesome parties. (Even when they failed; the second year almost no one showed, but she'd already laid out enough money to basically buy everyone who walked through the door a couple of free drinks, and she actually made some real new friends that night, partly because she was so non-bitter about being stood up!). And her friends and the other regulars eventually got together and realized that they owed her a good party in return, and ended up throwing her the surprise party she always wanted!

Might or might not work for you, but the mental trick of reversing - "I'M throwing YOU a party 'cause it's MY birthday and what I want is to have fun with my friends" really worked for her and carried over into some other things in her life. Part of it came from her breaking the image most people had of her being an uptight perfectionist who did a lot of things really beautifully. People would be too intimidated to throw a Martha Stewart type a party because you'd never match her standards, right? But if you went to a couple of parties thrown by her in a dive bar with a buffet of chicken wings and jello shots, and watched her laughing her ass off and having a great time, you'd change your mind and reconsider.
posted by bartleby at 5:19 PM on December 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Bartleby, that was EXACTLY what I was looking for. That's what I'm gonna do from now on, especially because that's really what I wanted to do in the first place: express my love for all my friends.
posted by patronuscharms at 6:55 PM on December 22, 2010


patronuscharms: "I just feel weird about throwing myself a party in general and I would like to get over that because I have friends who love me and I deserve to be able to enjoy that. "

Can one of the friends throw you a party instead?

Just FWIW, hopefully not anyone in your circle of friends, but I see on Etiquette Hell all the time that people think it's bad manners to throw yourself a party. Just so you know, the real manners snobs might think this. And also since it's not a milestone birthday... many people think adults should really only have parties every 10 years. I am not trying to discourage you; rather I'm trying to warn you away from inviting manners snobs, lol. I don't agree with them.

And what bartleby said. :)
posted by IndigoRain at 12:58 AM on December 23, 2010


I know this is kind of pathetic because it's just a birthday. But I cannot tell you how much having one successful birthday will mean to me.

I know this isn't an answer to your question, but as someone with a birthday coming up real soon now, I've never had a party anywhere near my actual birthday. I've even been visiting relatives and had people forget it was my birthday. Sometimes I think it would be nice to have a party, even if it's at a different time of year -- and I've had people who make a big deal of their birthday every year run me down for even suggesting it.

Go forth and birthday party! Party for your right to birthday, party like it's 2010 (or 2011).

Just accept that things won't be perfect, because the most pathetic thing I've seen at an adult's birthday party was the birthday girl insisting, while sobbing loudly, that everyone had to be nice to her because it was her birthday. She also complained about not getting presents from some people. Feel free to not feel pathetic so long as you are doing better than that.
posted by yohko at 4:02 AM on December 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Happy Birthday!

I just want to address this: "I can be a normal human being and enjoy the fact that I have friends who love me enough to spend time with me on this lovely day".

I am speaking to you as someone who has cried on every birthday, not because I was having a terrible time, but simply because I consistently set my expectations really high for this special day, and consistently feel at least a little let down or disappointed. Even when I've had great birthdays, I think the anticipation and expectation just gets built up too high, and something ends up making me cry, even if it's just that the restaurant is out of black forest cake.

Maybe you're not as prone to tears, but try not to invest too much stock in pulling off a successful and fabulous party. Just make sure there will be at least a couple close friends that you love with you, and then whoever else shows up, that's a bonus!
posted by whalebreath at 8:08 AM on December 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


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