How can I stop being so anxious about birthday parties?
June 1, 2013 10:02 AM   Subscribe

I don't mind getting older, but planning a birthday party for myself gives me severe anxiety.

There’s a cyclical pattern to my anxiety, moving between "yes, it would be nice to have a birthday party and spend time with a group of friends," and, "oh god, I can't bear to think about it." I’ll think, “Yes, I want to have a party! That would be nice. “ And then I’ll start constructing a guest list in my head. But then the anxiety builds: do I invite a bunch of people or just a few? Who do I want? Who do I not want? A lot of people I know have birthdays in the weeks before mine….why would they bother coming to my party, aren’t they fatigued of parties by the time they get to me? What if people I don’t want to see come?

Special snowflake detail that has been worked over plenty in therapy: at age 8, I had an enormous birthday party that my parents freaked out about for being too big, and I felt really guilty about it.

Please help a grown ass man of about-to-be 34 stop worrying so much about this.
posted by HeroZero to Human Relations (33 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
Stop having birthday parties. Take a few friends out for dinner or celebrate quietly at home and say people can drop by. There's no need to throw a party...it's not a law or anything.
posted by xingcat at 10:05 AM on June 1, 2013 [24 favorites]


Why do you think you need to have a party? I have never had a birthday party as an adult. I don't even remember going to one for anyone else, either.

If something makes you anxious, you're allowed to stop doing it.
posted by something something at 10:07 AM on June 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


It's just a get together. You can make everyone else bring the food and snacks. You just need enough cups and some kind of fun game.

Get a friend to help you. It's okay. It's supposed to be fun. Mostly all you need is enough snacks and booze, a cake and some candles.
posted by discopolo at 10:09 AM on June 1, 2013


Why do you think you need to have a party? I have never had a birthday party as an adult. I don't even remember going to one for anyone else, either.

Meh, I go to a lot of them. It's fun, and it gives people with friends a chance to get together, which everyone likes.
posted by discopolo at 10:10 AM on June 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


I haven't had a birthday party since I was 15. Most adults don't have parties. Personally, I like spending my birthday doing something meaningful for me, and have dinner with my partner.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:10 AM on June 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't know how old you are, but as I move into my thirties I've just decided on a default Approach To Birthday. This includes:

- Celebrating privately on the day by treating myself extra nice. Whether that's spending money or just indulging myself in general. This year, for instance, it was pizza and a good bottle of wine and bad TV on Netflix.

- Throwing a very small casual get together for only a few friends who I invite via email or text a few days prior. Usually in a bar or some other Not My House venue.

- I also like to plan a big "nice" thing to do for myself, like a largeish purchase or an outing. This usually doesn't involve others, and if it does, those people only tangentially know that. It's not really framed as COME ON A HIKE FOR MY BIRTHDAY or the like.
posted by Sara C. at 10:12 AM on June 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


Yeah, just skip it. Don't even bother to bring your birthday up to your friends: just let it slide..... and I say this as someone who has had a lot more of 'em than you: they're no big deal between, say, age 21 ("yay, I'm legal!") and age 100 ("yay, I'm antique!")

But if you really want *something*, take a group out to a nice restaurant, and you pay. If they ask why, just smile mysteriously and tell them it's your private celebration but you don't want to say what it's a celebration of. For extra fun, you can hand them small token (wrapped) gifts.
posted by easily confused at 10:16 AM on June 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Every year on my birthday, I do something fun that is a little more expensive or fancy or better than I normally would. This year, I'm having dinner at a restaurant I've always wanted to try, but that has always felt too spendy, with my best friend. Last year and the year before, I splurged on tickets to Broadway plays, once with a friend and once by myself. In other words, although I try to make it special, I don't try to make it enormous or complicated or party-like. Because I don't need that and I find it stressful to deal with. So I invite a couple of people I like to do something I want to do, and that's fun for me.
posted by decathecting at 10:21 AM on June 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Best answer: You don't need to do it on or near your actual birthday if you're worried about party fatigue, first of all. You can do it whenever you want, because it's your party for you. And if the overall idea of a party is stressful, well, there's no birthday police who will issue you a summons to birthday court for not having had a party! You can just do whatever you feel like doing, because again, it's your day.

NB my ideal birthday is doing the things I like best, which are avoiding humanity, hugging puppies, eating cake, and taking baths.
posted by elizardbits at 10:23 AM on June 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


My friends and I take a variety of angles on the birthday party, from the "we love throwing house parties" people to the "dessert and drinks for five or six of my closest friends" to my personal strategy, the "tell everyone on Facebook I will be at X dance club on X day and they are all invited to drop by and buy me a drink." I particularly like the latter because I don't have to massage the guest list, plan in any way, or worry about my friends not getting along with one another.

I usually also go to a nice dinner with one or two people as my private celebration, but if I feel like a party I don't have to do any damned work for it.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:23 AM on June 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I only know one adult who does the birthday party thing. It's absolutely not required.

If you enjoy throwing parties in general, why not do it for occasions other than your birthday? That should take the background stress out of it, right?

And for your birthday itself, just do something, alone or with one or more friends, that you enjoy. Personally, I go for a combination of denial and travel. Travel does not mean fancy vacation or even anything nice necessarily; one year I spent my birthday driving on highways and staying in a dodgy hotel in Charleston, WV, en route to somewhere else. I just think it's better to be out of your usual environment.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 10:29 AM on June 1, 2013


Try throwing a few parties that aren't birthday parties. Birthday parties have this whole extra level of added stress for invitees and planners that regular "I'm having a few people over for dinner" types of parties don't have, especially around social obligations and gifts. Plus, there's a built-in sort of deadline since your birthday party has to be around your actual birthday. Throw in the fact that you have a bad history with birthdays and I can see how it gets to be paralyzing.

So, let that go. The thing you like about throwing a birthday party is that it's a time to get your friends together. Do that. Do it in some month that isn't your birthday. People will still be happy to eat your food and drink your booze even if there isn't a reason for it besides 'you are my friends and I like you.' In fact, many of them will be much happier to eat your food and drink your booze when they're not being confronted with the social iffiness of gift-related situations.

After you've thrown a handful of non-birthday parties, you may find birthday parties seem less stressful. Or you may never care about having an excuse to throw a party again. Either is good.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:29 AM on June 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is why I leave town for my birthday.
posted by unknowncommand at 10:40 AM on June 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


I hate having birthday parties. I have rarely had a good one. Lately I have really tried to do something that people could just join in on, and it would be fun for me even if no one shows up.

Example: This year I went to the aquarium with my husband. I invited my family that lives out here, told them what time we would go in if they wanted to join. No one joined, but I still had a pretty good time without them.

So, can you go somewhere that people can just show up for?

What about a new movie that's coming out or something? That way if people want to show up, they can, if not, you still have fun.
posted by Crystalinne at 10:48 AM on June 1, 2013


I officially give you permission to not have a birthday party. They're an awful lot of trouble, honestly.

Just spend some time with your friends - whoever can and wants to come, will come. The less of a big deal you make of it, the less anxiety it should cause you.
posted by SMPA at 10:50 AM on June 1, 2013


at age 8, I had an enormous birthday party that my parents freaked out about for being too big, and I felt really guilty about it.

Here's how to deal with it: (1) pay attention to your mood regarding the party and be aware of when you are feeling anxiety about it; (2) when you notice the anxiety, tell yourself--I'm still reacting to those memories and I can accept that reaction for what it is; (3) return to whatever it was you were doing right then; and (4) repeat this everytime it comes up until your birthday has passed.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:53 AM on June 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I always just invite my good friends out for drinks at a usual spot and call it a "Birthday Celebration" even though it's the same thing we'd do on a normal weekend except that people buy my drinks for me. No stress and I get to check "celebrate birthday" off my yearly to-do list.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 11:19 AM on June 1, 2013


Last year my birthday coincided with my fiance's grad school graduation. His family was in town and it was exhausting, and they insisted on taking me out to dinner for my birthday on Sunday evening. I was also on Weight Watchers and it was really stressful trying to eat well when going out for every single meal! On Monday, my actual birthday, I went to work as usual, came home, made myself a healthy dinner, and sat on my couch and watched Glee and painted my nails. It was perfect.
posted by radioamy at 11:40 AM on June 1, 2013


Got any friends with a birthday around the same time of year? Personally, I like to celebrate my birthday at home alone with a good book and whatever junk foods I have not had recently. But a few years ago I had a joint birthday party with another friend, and it made the whole things much more fun than if I were to have organized one for myself. We had a bunch of friends in common, plus many others who we did not both know and made the evening even more fun.
posted by whatzit at 12:15 PM on June 1, 2013


Best answer: I don't have an answer on how not to be anxious about it, because I'm socially anxious and terrible at this stuff. I just wanted to say:

You are allowed to have a party. You are not too old for parties. If you want a party, that is a perfectly good reason to have a party. It is not weird or narcissistic to have a birthday party as a grownup.

(I love other people's birthday parties! I am going to one today!)
posted by ansate at 12:15 PM on June 1, 2013 [9 favorites]


I see you are from Chicago and likely single. Please do not listen to all of the encoupled suburbanites with social anxiety telling you that "grownups don't have parties." You are a fun young professional living in one of the greatest cities in the world. You get to throw parties and have your friends over and hang out drinking to the wee hours of the morning. Your friends have busy schedules and don't have much time to socialize. You know what they would really like? They would like to hang out on a Friday or Saturday night at a party where they will get a chance to hang out with you and your friends, which they usually don't have a chance to do because they are busy. It will be lots of fun and everyone will have a good time.

Have you done something like this before? Do you know how the logistics of sending out invites works? Is this just about anxiety, or do you really have no idea how to organize a party and are looking for suggestions?
posted by deanc at 1:14 PM on June 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


Please do not listen to all of the encoupled suburbanites with social anxiety telling you that "grownups don't have parties."

Just for the record, this single urbanite without social anxiety would like to reiterate that it is very, very common - and in fact in my experience the norm - for people in their 30s (and 20s, 40s, 50s) who are single, dating, married, rural, city-dwelling, whatever, to just have dinner out or take the day off work and go to the park on their birthdays. You do not have to have a birthday party if throwing birthday parties stresses you out.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 1:51 PM on June 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Whether you have a party or not, try to accept that there's absolutely nothing that the 34-year-old you can do, say, or deprive yourself of that can de-stress your 1987-era parents. Let yourself off of that particular hook.
posted by headnsouth at 2:15 PM on June 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


i don't understand why you think you need to throw yourself a birthday party. I've never heard of that. In any case, it's your day. Do what you want.
posted by Linnee at 3:29 PM on June 1, 2013


I had a big party for my fortieth and plan to have one for my fiftieth but none in between. Mostly we just go to a fancy restaurant.
posted by octothorpe at 3:43 PM on June 1, 2013


I am a grown-ass adult who loves to throw myself birthday parties - nay, some years I go so far as to delight in it. And generally, my friends love to come to them. And I have gotten this way as I've gotten over my own childhood-related birthday anxiety (in my case from having my folks forget a few of them, as a matter of fact). I started throwing myself birthday parties when I realized that it alleviated my anxiety about whether I was important enough to people for them to remember it independently, and then it just got really fun and I've continued. My point is, the worries about worthiness are a thing that I absolutely empathize with.

Do I invite a bunch of people or just a few? Who do I want? Who do I not want?


This is really all the same question. What kind of birthday do you want to have? Given the constraints of not controlling or guilt tripping other people, or expecting them to shell out a bunch of cash, or read your mind, what would your ideal look like? Remember: you don't have to have the uber-birthday-event! You get another one next year! Things I have done have included organizing a potluck with backyard games, renting pontoon boat for a day and inviting people to come fill it up, inviting a bunch of people to meet me out at the bar, theme cooking competitions, raging dance parties, quiet dinners for two, et cetera. What I do not do is start with a theme of it's mah birfday let's stop the world and celebrate meeeeeeeee. Instead, I often frame it as "hey, my birthday is coming up, and I'd love to do X - who wants in?" I don't ask this question of folks I don't want to have around.

A lot of people I know have birthdays in the weeks before mine….why would they bother coming to my party, aren’t they fatigued of parties by the time they get to me?

They'll come to your birthday gathering for any of the reasons you ever go to any gathering... and they'll skip it for any of the reasons you might have skipped out on something in the past. You could easily do a group birthday thing, which definitely takes some of the pressure off of taking it personally - but you'll want to take the lead on organizing it if so, so that your birthday celebration doesn't become someone else's job (this is the adult part of this). Ask a month or two ahead of time (essentially, in excess of the standard planning lead time in your social circle).

What if people I don’t want to see come?

Dude. It's your birthday. Why are you inviting people you don't want to see?

And the question I didn't see, but that I imagine is part of it: What if the people I want to see don't come?

You learn to roll with it. If they're your friends, it's likely not personal (they hate lawn games, or they get seasick, or had a fight with the bartender at the spot you picked, or are out of town, or their dog's sick, or whatever). You learn how to have fun with the folks who do come, and hey: maybe they'll be able to make it for your 35th!
posted by amelioration at 4:15 PM on June 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Best answer: I think I feel your pain on this. A couple of years ago I described myself as having a mini personality disorder centred on my birthday: a lot of conflicting desires, and emotions that I had a surprising amount of trouble keeping control of. For me, it boiled down to wanting to feel *a little* special on my birthday, but feeling that asking for that or orchestrating it would make me a bad person. The story from your childhood makes me think a similar thing might be going on for you - a fear that you will be shamed for doing something big and grandiose.

These days I am generally calmer about my birthday, and some of the things that have helped are:
  • Part of the reason that I feel so conflicted about celebrating my own birthday is that I'm not normally someone who draws attention to myself, but that's why it feels so important to celebrate once a year, dammit! But I've realised that if I throw a party, the thing that really gives me satisfaction is making sure that everyone else has a good time, and that's also part of who I am. So focussing on helping everyone else to have a good time is what makes it a good party for me, and that also takes the pressure off me.
  • My partner now knows this is one of my quirks, and that while intellectually I will agree it's fine for him to go to the new X-Men flick on my birthday because we're having a party on the weekend, in reality it will just be a world of pain for both of us if he tries it!
  • I don't need to throw a party every year. Some years I will just have a nice dinner with my partner, and that's OK. I think that doing something at least a little special on the actual day of my birthday makes this OK.
On the practical matter of whom to invite, I find that tricky too. I would suggest identifying the maximum number of people you're comfortable with, and unless your groups of friends include people you really dislike, try to include whole groups of friends, so you don't have to worry about excluding people. But not every party has to be enormous - a good dinner party is great fun, and it sometimes means you can spend less time cooking and more time enjoying people's company - win! In that case, invite as many people as will fit around your table. I am less concerned about excluding people from a small group than a large one, but I have copped some flack from individual people who weren't invited to an 8 person dinner party one year - I suspect that's more about the insecurities of those particular people, and I can shrug off that snark more easily.

...why would they bother coming to my party, aren’t they fatigued of parties by the time they get to me?
I don't know about you, but I don't usually feel that an invitation to a party is a demand, I always think it's an offer. If your friends are tired of parties, they don't have to come, but I suspect this is your insecurity speaking and not a realistic fear.

I hope you have a lovely birthday, whatever you decide to do.
posted by Cheese Monster at 6:29 PM on June 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


For the record: single, urbanite, no social anxiety. If anything, being a single urbanite makes it more stressful.
posted by unknowncommand at 7:41 PM on June 1, 2013


This thread seems to have been derailed by a bunch of birthday party naysayers.

Birthday parties are awesome! But it can be stressful to plan one for yourself, figure out all the details, and be the host, when you are the one who is supposed to be relaxing and having fun.

Never underestimate the power of asking for help.

I suggest you get a good friend (or a few friends!) who will help you plan the party. You don't need to give them a whole list of tasks to do, but you can ask them for advice on party size, who to invite, food to be served - and ask them to pick up a few items, or come early and help you set up.

Not only will that take some of the load off your shoulders, but you will have an automatic group of people that has your back and is committed to celebrating your birthday with you, no matter who else shows up.
posted by emoemu at 8:02 PM on June 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


Do a last minute thing. Then you can tell yourself that if people don't come, it's because they didn't have enough warning, and you can also lower your own expectations. It's what I do. I sometimes think about planning a proper party or a dinner party, and it usually ends up being too overwhelming, so I procrastinate until it's too late, and then on the day of my b'day or the day before I ask people at work or over email if they want to go to the pub for a drink that evening. Sometimes I ask them instead if they want to come back to my place after work for a drink. Sometimes we end up spontaneously going on to get dinner after the drinks. There's always been at least three or four people who come, and it's been fun, laid back and low key.
posted by lollusc at 8:37 PM on June 1, 2013


I had this ridiculous loathing of my birthday for years. Years and years. Sometimes I'd throw a party, it'd suck. Do nothing, it'd suck. Do something small, it'd suck. It all just sucked.

So I stopped caring for a few years, not even acknowledging it. Then I did a few small things with my partner, and my daughter. Last year they were away at a friend's house so I had a whole day of doing shit I liked and it was fantastic. This year I'm planning to have breakfast out, drink coffee, movie and drinks with my partner and my brother in law and his partner and that's it. The planning is: what weekend is free. That's it.

The key has been this internal switch where I said "OK, it's my birthday therefore I can be selfish therefore I can do what I want therefore I'm going to do X" - even when X is weird (see: no partner or child) or not a thing (see: just like every day). The correlary is this though - birthdays are for my family and friends to be happy I'm here. That's why my partner likes to celebrate my birthday, because to him it's this awesome day when I came into the world. So I try and think about it like that before I go all "GRAR" or self-effacing.
posted by geek anachronism at 5:08 AM on June 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Since I turned 30 as a single dude alone in a Casino (mad depressing), I have thrown 5 birthday "parties" for myself, none of which was really a party. I just decided to not worry about how it looked anymore and just take advantage of the day to do something I always wanted to do.

One year I invited some people over and we had a seance.
One year I invited some people to a rooftop bar and every single person had to bring a cake.
One year I went to an amusement park and only one dude showed up and we had an awesome time even though the car broke down and we actually spent the day at the mall.
And so forth. I get to think about it for months in advance not anxiously like "Oh no what if nobody likes me!" and more like "Oh shit I'm really excited about playing Lasertag!"
#Iwillnotbeshamed
#HatersToTheLeft
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:42 AM on June 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


If you do decide to have a party, remember that almost everyone will be having a great time and they will all be really happy for you. Don't sell yourself short.
posted by sidewalkchalk at 7:01 PM on June 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


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