Invisible Birthdays
January 20, 2019 11:47 PM   Subscribe

So my partner forgot it was my birthday. Like, literally forgot. I really don't tend to make a big deal of birthdays, for Reasons To Be Boringly Explained Below, and I knew that we had nothing planned for today, but this has happened before (with this partner and with others) and I know it will probably happen again (with this partner, who is a Permanent Partner, and who is extremely not good at remembering birthdays). I'm not on social media, and a recent move means I don't have a lot of close in-person friends right now, so I don't really have anyone else who will be taking up the slack and remembering my birthday. Part of me wishes I didn't care so much. Part of me actually really doesn't care that much. But part of me does care. What do I do with my feels here?

My birthday ambivalence is due to the fact that people close to me have, for whatever reason, never ended up caring about my birthday. I was raised by a single parent who would often forget to plan anything for my birthday, or forget about it all together -- though said parent would become verbally abusive and very angry if I did not remember their birthday (I got the silent treatment for the better part of a week after one birthday where I offered breakfast in bed, a gift, and a homemade cake, but forgot to include a card, to give you an idea of the dynamic there).

Moving on from that time of my life, I have had good relationships with people who I know genuinely cared about me, but none of them have ever managed to remember my birthday. When they do eventually remember -- or rather, realize they forgot -- they do apologize, or tell me they feel terrible, but doing emotional labor for someone to help them feel better about having forgotten your birthday is worse than just having them forget, frankly. If schedules permit, they'll maybe take me out to dinner or something as a celebration, or tell me the present they plan to get me to make up for it. Sometimes said presents materialize, sometimes they don't. Only once in the past years have I gotten an actual present on my actual birthday -- last year, when my partner came home from work, realized they had forgotten, ran back out, and got me a bottle of something nice. (Then our cat ate the ribbon they'd gift-wrapped around the bottle and we had a series of frantic calls to the vet and, uh, that was not a very good birthday at all, actually, what with the panic and the crying and the fear of massive vet bills.)

I have only ever had a birthday party once, and it was a "surprise" thrown by an ex I'd just broken up with in an evident attempt to win me back, and I ended up having to do part of the cooking *and* all of the cleaning-up since they threw it at my house, without giving me advance notice or asking my permission or consent, and they mostly invited their own friends, some of whom ended up crashing on my couch, also without my permission or consent. (My roommate let them in to our home to undertake this cockamamie plan. They did not win me back. This did not improve roommate relations much, either, as you can imagine.)

I am really not a party person, and I don't even want something elaborate or expensive, but a dinner or a little treat or a letter or something would be nice. I always remember my partners' birthdays, and it's something I enjoy doing, but I don't really understand why none of them have ever managed to reciprocate. I'm not sure how to ask without feeling whiny, and part of the reason I feel bad is a general sense that I must not be worth remembering, so going to a great deal of effort to remind my partner seems like it would feel even worse. This year I did add a reminder to our calendar, which my partner noticed, but they still forgot. I reminded them in a teasing way this morning -- they asked me for a favor and I jokingly replied by saying "Hey, it's my birthday, you should [do thing] for me!" I know they love and care about me, and I know they felt bad, but I minimized my disappointment, and they've now pretty much gone back to their usual routine and in the wake of this *I* started feeling bad, and now I don't know how to stop feeling both annoyed and sad. They've said they would like to surprise me later with a night out, but I don't feel very sure this will ever happen. Our schedules prevent me from deciding we should both go out and spontaneously Do A Thing today or tonight, and having to be the one to Plan The Thing wouldn't make me feel any better anyhow, so I feel pretty stuck. Should I say anything to my partner? If so, what? (Please no DTMFA advice; trust when I say this is not a relationship-killing problem.) If you have been in this situation, has planning out your own birthday made you feel better or worse?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (34 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I feel weird reminding people I care about that my birthday is coming up. But I also hate it when I don't do something at least a little special on my birthday. The solution I've come up with is to plan my own birthday! It's never a big deal. I too have recently moved to a new town, and my birthday was last week, so I just sent out a group text to like 10 folks I'd love to see saying "Hey! [Resturaunt] on Thursday for my birthday! Come if you can!" and like 75% of them came to a no-pressure round or two of drinks and I got lots of hugs. It made me feel great. I highly recommend it.
posted by Grandysaur at 11:55 PM on January 20, 2019 [33 favorites]

Dude. That sucks and I am sorry. Happy birthday from the internets! Yes, you can say something: “Hey, it turns out this is more important to me than I would really like to admit. I have pretended it is not a Thing for me but actually it is making me sad. Tonight I am doing X for myself. Can you please plan a night out for me on date Y when we are both available? In the future, it is important to me that you remember. Would you put some reminders on your phone calendar now for next year?”

My husband is not a rememberer/planner or a good gift giver, and he is good enough at other things in our relationship that I have decided not to care (he also does not care if I do not do anything for his birthday). Usually I make a reservation for us for a nice dinner, and he drives and pays and that works fine for me and it does not make me feel bad. If it’s important to you that things go a certain way, and it’s not a crazy demand, it is fine to ask that he find a way to remind himself- it is 2019, for god’s sake- and do better in the future.
posted by charmedimsure at 12:07 AM on January 21, 2019 [21 favorites]

The thing is, birthdays, and birthday needs, are intensely personal things. We range from those who really do want them to pass unnoticed, to those for whom the birthday is virtually a test of other people's love and loyalty.

No one can guess what a birthday is to someone else, especially not if - as in your case - the 'someone else' is actively *hiding* what a birthday means to them and how they would like it celebrated.

Tomorrow, find a moment to say to your partner that you want to change the way you do birthdays. That you've always found them disappointing and you've been let down a lot, that you want to change the vibe, that next year you'd like to be surprised with a meal out (or whatever suits you), and that it would mean a great deal to you if they could manage to do that for you. Ask them how best to remind them, if they need you to do that for them.

Step 2: have a nice birthday in 2020.
posted by AFII at 12:08 AM on January 21, 2019 [25 favorites]

You need to advertise your birthday if you are an adult and you want people to remember - even partners. "My birthday is coming up! I want you to take me to a surprise dinner. Also here is a link to 3 options of gifts I want." As kids we want people to remember on their own. As adults we need to be our own best advocate.

Happy Birthday!
posted by Toddles at 12:37 AM on January 21, 2019 [51 favorites]

Aww, I’m sorry your birthday wasn’t great. Something you said really caught my attention. You were raised by a person who wanted a Big Deal made of their birthday and they were abusive when you failed to exactly read their mind. Perhaps you have a tendency to go too much in the opposite direction now, for yourself, in order to make sure you are nothing like the abusive parent? You want to be easy-going about your birthday and demand nothing. But there’s probably a middle ground. Maybe if you sit down with your partner and really explain how much it would mean to you, how valued it would make you feel to have your birthday be special? If your partner knows about your past, a little conversation about how reluctant you are to appear self-celebratory would go a long way toward shining a light on why you didn’t ask for much, but really do need more, and need your partner to meet you halfway. Thus, you can be more assertive about your needs, and also your partner can help you feel that they want to meet those completely reasonable needs.
posted by Knowyournuts at 12:41 AM on January 21, 2019 [32 favorites]

As with lots of things in life; to get what you want you have to tell people what you want.
posted by Middlemarch at 12:42 AM on January 21, 2019 [10 favorites]

I'm so sorry you've had so many people forget your birthday! I want to buy you a gift and give you a hug. Happy birthday!!

Tell your partner that having your birthday remembered and celebrated (in whatever fashion you like) is important to you. Surely they can find some way of remembering? How do they keep track of other important dates, things they need to not forget? Some sort of calendar/phone reminder has got to be possible here, it's really a low bar in terms of what to expect from a partner. I really don't think you should need to remind them about your birthday going forward.
posted by sunflower16 at 12:49 AM on January 21, 2019 [4 favorites]

For those who never felt entitled to anything growing up, a birthday is a day of the year where it is socially okayed to want something, and to miss it if it isn't there. Especially when it is ignored by people with whom you want to build a trusting, significantly 'held' relationship. I think what your partner's behaviour is rubbing up against [and I'd be feeling like you do right now, big time] is that this set of feelings is duplicating those you had as a child.

I think you gradually build up your ability to state your needs authoritatively as an adult. Part of that is believing you have the right to ask for what you want. Therapy can help you figure out what and why your needs are what they are, but having the need for extra holding isn't something to be ashamed of. The self knowledge can help you figure out what your emotions are, and why they are. Others around you don't have to agree with any general birthday politicking, but understanding yourself can help others meet a need *you* have.

I said to one partner, when I had gradually pieced my emotions together, 'I envy people who felt secure and loved as children. I don't think they mind being forgotten on their birthdays or important days. I didn't have that robust sense of being held when I was a kid, and birthdays were often a yearly site through which this sense was made obvious. When my birthday falls flat each year, I am still that unnoticed, neglected, forgotten child, now in adulthood. I want to feel like my partner knows this about me, and wants to 'hold' me and make me feel special. I want that to be you, and I want you to hear me tell you this vulnerable thing so that it makes a difference to how you deal with my birthday this coming year. It's important to me, can you do this for me?'
posted by honey-barbara at 12:54 AM on January 21, 2019 [88 favorites]

knowyournuts and honey-barbara have it. I'm sorry and HAPPY BIRTHDAY. It's my birthday today and my husband has his photography class tonight so I arranged a meal for Friday and I'll be opening my presents on my own and showing them to him tonight. And I feel a bit sad about that. Fortunately I am on social media and that has done my emotional labour for me in telling the world ... I tend to tread on the world and my expectation of friends and family lightly and don't give a crap about Christmas, but I do feel sad if my birthday isn't marked much. And it's OK to feel like that, I promise.
posted by LyzzyBee at 1:22 AM on January 21, 2019 [4 favorites]

I love my birthday. I am absolutely shameless when it comes to reminding my partner that my birthday is coming up. He appreciates the reminders and always does things to make me feel special. Reminding my partner doesn't make the birthday any less special. If you feel squeamish asking out loud, maybe organise a low-key event, like a birthday dinner or drinks with friends, and put it in a shared calendar in the lead up to your birthday? There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking out loud for things you want.

I also love other people's birthdays, and I must admit that social media makes remembering birthdays a lot easier. Every year, when I crack open a new diary, I end up having to text my sister to get her to remind me of when her birthday is, my nephew, my BiL. It sucks that I can't seem to remember, but I'd rather ask in advance than miss it altogether!
posted by nerdfish at 2:45 AM on January 21, 2019 [5 favorites]

When my husband and I started dating we actually had a conversation about the gift-giving holidays. We are both not so great about remembering them and it was helpful to both of us to have the conversation about expectations.

I put a reminder for him in the google calendar a week before my birthday and another one the morning of. I did the same for myself for his birthday.

Setting the reminders was done years ago. They’re still there and they still pretty much work.

It isn’t whiny to ask to be celebrated on your birthday.

Happy birthday and big hugs.
posted by sciencegeek at 3:43 AM on January 21, 2019 [6 favorites]

I don’t think your reasons are boring, but heartbreaking. I feel so much for younger you, expending all that effort on your mum’s birthday and getting treated poorly...being young and having your birthday ignored by your own mother.

I wish your partner were amazing at birthdays! But no, so you need a plan.

I think you may gradually shut down over your joyful day, getting tense and fraught inside. This is so understandable! But it may not help someone like your partner, who not only needs reminders but, if they’re the person in the cat and ribbon story, might have feelings coming up too. And also us January babies have to deal with a certain amount of social exhaustion left over from Christmas. So there’s a bit of why-does-this-happen?

Adults without that baggage kind of do share in the planning, I think, at least I do.

I would sit down with your partner and share your feeling. Tell them straight out “I need to tell you something and I really love you and it’s not a dealbreaker and I do not want to have to reassure you after I talk to you about it. So here’s a hug now!” And then “I really need you to remember my birthday! It’s over now. So please pick a day in the next 3 weeks. Don’t tell me the day. And treat it like a birthday, with cake, a present, and however else you think we should celebrate. Ask your friends for advice if you need some, don’t ask me. Just make it happen.”

And then after that happens and your partner is happy for pulling it off and you are a bit aglow (it’s still not the same as The Day), then you get next year on his calendar.

This will be hard because you are opening up a vulnerability, something I am sure was not safe growing up. But this is how you and your partner can connect meaningfully. You are giving your partner the gift of growing and learning how to make you a special day. You can look forward to doing those things for each other, sometimes messing up, mostly not. You can even share this answer, or these answers. But it is okay to ask for what you need in this. And it won’t be the perfect party that inner child wants, but it will be a step through life supported and together.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:20 AM on January 21, 2019 [18 favorites]

P.S. I have some of that baggage. Or did but now I share in the planning just fine.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:21 AM on January 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

I know it sucks and I don't want to excuse your loved ones - but I think the timing is a part of why people forget. My sister's birthday was a few days ago and I have to try really hard to remember because its so close after Christmas, we're still recovering from that emotionally and financially then you're getting back into the swing of work and then all of a sudden its her birthday and I can't think of anything to get her since I got her everything for Christmas already. I had the same problem when I was at school, since my birthday was so close to the start of school, all my friends were emotionally and logistically dealing with that and so I got forgotten. That's what I tell myself at least, because the alternative is that they just didn't like me - they didn't forget anyone else's birthday.
These days I just don't celebrate my birthday, there are so many birthdays around the same time as mine and its just depressing to try to have a party but no-one can make it. It makes me feel very unloved and unwanted so I just don't bother anymore and I'm happier for it. My partner and family always remember though so that helps.

My advice would be to plan a party and if that doesn't work then just stop celebrating your birthday.
posted by missmagenta at 4:47 AM on January 21, 2019

My husband and I share the same birthday, so he can't forget mine.

However, he is not big on figuring out gifts or planning what to do. We don't do cards anymore, they're just not that important to either of us, but we will have a contest to see who remembers to say "Happy Birthday!" first in the morning.

I can't remember what we did last year, sometimes we will go out to eat, usually for a lunch, as neither one of us likes to drive in the dark. Sometimes I will make a fancy dessert, a cheesecake or something, and we'll get a bottle of champagne (his favorite).

Instead of buying each other gifts, we tend to get what we want for ourselves, when we want it. Last fall, I was obsessed with getting new bed covers, because no more cold feet was my goal, after years of cold feet and being shocked if he put his cold feet on mine. I ended up with a $30 comforter from Burlington, topped by a nicer comforter from Pottery Barn, which perplexed him, as he'd never had a comforter, but when he got into bed that night, he said, "oh, yeah! This is the best!"

Recently, one of his favorite shirts got mangled in the front-loading washer at the laundromat, which happens sometime (now I use a bigger washer), so I hunted down a similar one online and bought it for him, but I asked him first if it was something he'd like.

I did have a close sibling forget my birthday once, years ago, we lived near each other and would get gifts and cards on our respective birthdays, and one year, after I'd gotten her a gift, several months later, on mine, nothing. I finally called and asked about it, and she just rudely shrugged it off (she had a new husband who was very rude, and can only assume it had rubbed off on her, we are now estranged). I was super hurt, because one time my parents forgot her birthday and she was really upset, so I always made the extra effort to acknowledge hers, but oh well, I'm over it now, most people like me, so it's her issue, not mine. I've also had it ignored/forgotten by my adult children, but now they both send me cards/well wishes, and I will usually get cards and presents from my daughter at Christmas (so, one Christmas card, one birthday card, one each from my granddaughter, as they are busy so they send it all at once, since my birthday is in the late fall, and a package of presents like fuzzy socks and face masks, etc.).

This is the perfect opportunity for you to create your own idea of what your birthday should be like. I guess I am doing a lot of the work, but I don't care so much about the day, because when I want something special, I will get it when I want it, and I hate weird surprise gifts (like a plant when we had a plant-eating cat, and I felt like it was just one more thing to take care of, and why hadn't he asked me what I wanted, but I am sometimes crabby like that, so I just try to head that stuff off at the pass now, and say, "I really want some new earrings, lets go to the pawn shop" and then I pick out something I really like and it's not too much money, but it's to my taste).

I've been wanting a new DSLR camera for ages, and been hemming and hawing about it, didn't feel like spending the money on my birthday, and wanted to buy other people presents at Christmas (and the bed quilts), but the other day, he just said, "go ahead and buy it already!" So I did, and even tho' it's months past my birthday, I am super happy about it! And I feel like, it wasn't a forced gift, or just because he had to, but it just came about organically, and now he's happy that I'm happy and I'm excited to have a new toy in the dead of winter, so I guess it's whatever works for you, you have to tell him what you want ("make dinner reservations at XYZ restaurant, and get me this gift"), or maybe an experience gift like indoor rock climbing, or anything you like. People aren't mind readers, my husband really doesn't care about birthdays or holidays, but he's thoughtful in many other ways, so I do what I want and then we're both happy.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:50 AM on January 21, 2019

FWIW - in my relationship, I'm the "always remembers birthdays and anniversaries" one. I think it's because I grew up with a kind of romantic notion about them, which is funny because as I get older, I really couldn't care much less about my own. Figuring that 50 was significant, I threw a big party for that, but honestly getting an honest "happy birthday" from my kids is enough.
Mrs. Plinth, on the other hand, is more likely than not to forget our anniversary. It always falls at a time of year where we have a LOT going on. And honestly, it's really no big deal.
However, I totally understand where you are. You want to feel special. You want to be treated specially. You want to be with someone who does special things for you without being prompted, not a mechanical "I-HAVE-BROUGHT-YOU-A-CARD-BECAUSE-IT-IS-YOUR-BIRTHDAY."
I think the way to do this is to open up a dialogue with your partner. Think about it this way, if you want to go on vacation and want to see ride roller coasters with your partner, the chances of that happening on its own are slim. I understand that there is more social convention around birthdays, but without the dialog your partner won't get that you need to feel special once in a while and a little thing like that goes a long way to doing that. At the same time, you will also be learning what helps your partner feel special too, because discussions like this should be two-way.
posted by plinth at 4:54 AM on January 21, 2019

I'm sorry this happened and understand where you're coming from really well.

My last serious partner and I talked about birthday expectations early in our relationship and at that time I had said I didn't care about them much, not doing anything was fine, no big deal. It was true when I said it, but we dated for years and my feelings changed. I had been with an abusive person who was particularly horrible about birthdays and as it turned out, I was trying to still accommodate that when I told my new partner that I didn't care about the day.

I felt really silly and worried talking with him about this but when I did he was understanding and the last year we were together he made my birthday special by cooking a nice meal with me, which is what I wanted. He put a reminder on his phone so he wouldn't forget.

Please talk with your partner about this. It's ok that your feelings about this have changed. That's part of life.

And happy belated birthday!
posted by sockermom at 5:22 AM on January 21, 2019 [11 favorites]

‘...And it won’t be the perfect party that inner child wants, but it will be a step through life supported and together.’ Warriorqueen puts it beautifully. I do think that sharing your vulnerability is an act of intimacy as you go forwards with your partner, and a developmental step towards your own tender aspect towards meeting an archaic and important need, in healing parts of that wounded child.
posted by honey-barbara at 5:53 AM on January 21, 2019

I co-planned most of my birthday celebrations when I had partners, generally by saying, "Hey, what are we going to do for my birthday?" a few weeks beforehand. My own brain tends to remember the general time of year or the month of other people's birthdays but not necessarily the date, so I work on the (narcissistic!) assumption that that's true for most people, and I don't mind prompting people. Now that I'm single, I plan, or don't plan, my own birthdays and it's nice. It's nice to do whatever I want to do with whomever I plan to do it with, and make it a big deal or not, depending on my mood that year.
posted by lazuli at 6:53 AM on January 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

Oh no, I really feel you, and I'm so sorry this happened! Sincerely wishing you a happy belated birthday! You've gotten some excellent advice above to talk to your partner (and asking for what you want is not being whiny!)

My birthday is also in January (last week) and gets forgotten regularly by most people; I really only expect anything from close relatives. I think the combination of me not wanting a big deal made of it and it happening right after the holidays takes it off the radar for a lot of people.

The worst was 2 years ago when I had a BIG birthday (and I mean this was a big one for a man or a woman), and no one, not Mr. gudrun, and not my sister, did anything at all. Mr. gudrun and I have been together a very long time so he knows I would just have liked a card, some cake, and maybe a book or two, and maybe a meal out because this was a big one. He should know this after many years together, but he did not do anything. What made it worse was that his big birthday had been the year before and I had asked him what he would like and then we did that thing.

The thing is that I had thought that my "modeling" birthday behavior for his big one was enough, that he would do the same thing for me that I had done for him - talk about it and then we would do something. I realized later that he was not good that way, not necessarily good about saying to himself that gudrun did this for me so I should do something similar for her. This seems so instinctive to me that I really had a hard time grasping that it really is not instinctive for him, and that I was going to have to actually explicitly lay it out for him (something I am not comfortable doing either).

Anyway, we had a talk after this fiasco, and I tried to lay out what I wanted in birthdays - fairly simple but acknowledged, and acknowledged on the actual day of if possible, at least with an IOU - and was clear (but calm) that I did actually care about their being acknowledged and was hurt when they were not. He apologized sincerely, said that part of the issue was that he really does not care about his birthday, but resolved to be mindful that I did care a bit about mine, and he set up calendar reminders. He really is great in so many ways, and I know he loves me, and he had a really terrible childhood, so some of the things I think of as normal stuff do not come at all naturally. (But truthfully the whole thing still hurts a bit when I think about it, like now! ... I've just decided I need to move on, and my birthday this year was nice!)

Finally, a sincere offer, if you memail me I will trade mailing addresses with you and will send you a birthday card next year, if you send me one as well. I love to send and receive fun cards, either paper cards or ecards!
posted by gudrun at 7:16 AM on January 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

Back in the day, I would suggest you write "TODAY'S MY BIRTHDAY!" on the plain-old paper calendar that hangs in the kitchen, but now that would be about as helpful as suggesting you blow ocher through a tube onto the cave wall to make an outline of your hand.

However, this is exactly the kind of thing that shared calendars do excellently. If you both subscribe to the same Google calendar (or whatever shared thingie you like) you can include both your birthdays along with Ben Franklin Day and National Booyah Month and whatever else you and your partner would like to remember. Or just the birthdays.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 7:58 AM on January 21, 2019 [3 favorites]

Your partner doesn't have to trust their own memory on this. They can set a recurring reminder in a calendar or if they don't use one, have an email or other alert set up. I don't think that is asking too much of them.

I'd tell them a month or so in advance next year that you'd like to start going out to dinner on your birthday (or something small but fun). There are lists of things you can get from national chains for free on your birthday, so you could even make it a corny shopping mall date if you like.
posted by soelo at 8:05 AM on January 21, 2019 [4 favorites]

Adding to the pile I suppose, but after about 25 or so it's pretty much your job to let people know what you'd like to do for your birthday, and well enough in advance so other plans aren't made on that day. You can ask partner to help plan, and it's certainly not *unreasonable* to expect them to remember, especially after an initial bump a month out to get it in their head.
posted by aspersioncast at 8:12 AM on January 21, 2019

Chances are people are following your lead here, and since you don't make a big deal about it they don't. Tell him exactly what you next time. If hes a partner worth his salt, he'll listen.
posted by Amy93 at 8:16 AM on January 21, 2019 [3 favorites]

If you have a shared calendar, which it sounds like you do, don't just add your birthday. A week before your birthday, add "Anonymous's birthday is in one week!"

Do them both as a recurring event.

This is the only way I remember to send my parents birthday cards, ever. Because a reminder that only comes up when I look at the calendar on their birthday is a week too late to mail something across the country.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:41 AM on January 21, 2019

How do they remember projects at work? Tax day?

I would be mad about this and I'd make it clear that I was mad and that in the future I want them to remember my birthday and do a thing for it. You're way underdoing the mad because you don't want to be your parent, and that's understandable, but you put a reminder and still nothing? Ehhhhhhh. Be mad. It's okay.

And yes adults have to remind friends about their birthday, but partners? Come on. That's basic partner stuff.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 9:11 AM on January 21, 2019 [10 favorites]

I agree this is "basic partner stuff." Unless you have emphatically and persistently told your partner "my birthday is a non-event for me, don't make any kind of a fuss at all," your partner should know to make at least a little bit of a fuss, and should remember to do so ahead of time. It's a sign that you take up enough space in someone else's brain that they can do this without being prompted, and it's reasonable that you feel slighted when they don't. I like charmedimsure's script upthread.
posted by adamrice at 10:56 AM on January 21, 2019 [8 favorites]

Also, if your partner is bad at planning (mine is), go ahead and make reservations for your own birthday, or invite friends over, or whatever you want. I think that because of your upbringing, you 1. feel like you shouldn’t celebrate yourself because your parent routinely stole all the limelight, and 2. got a bit of an idea that birthdays are a thing that other people in your life do to you.

It’s totally fine and not at all narcissistic to plan your own event. It’s also totally fine and not at all narcissistic to tell your partner to step up their effort. You are not treating your partner the way your parent treated you by doing so, I promise!
posted by Knowyournuts at 11:56 AM on January 21, 2019 [5 favorites]

As someone with a (very early) January birthday, I came in to say what a few people have - I think January birthdays just get forgotten more often (my husband, sister, parents have all forgotten mine).

I'm so sorry for what your parent did to you on this (and likely other stuff). I don't blame you at all for having complicated feelings about it. Happy Birthday!
posted by Pax at 12:47 PM on January 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

It looks like a lot of people are missing the fact that there was already a calendar reminder for this year, and your partner missed your birthday anyway!

For this specific just-missed birthday, I think you should tell partner:

When you missed my birthday last week, I felt really hurt and disappointed. It felt like I was not important enough in your life that you completely missed it, despite the calendar reminder.

Your partner is going to feel really shitty. That's ok. Let them feel their feelings, you don't have to fix anything or make them feel ok!

If they say, "OMG babe I'm so sorry, I feel like a total heel!" you resist the urge to say "It's OK, no big deal I guess," and instead you say "Yeah I was really looking forward to a celebration with you and nothing happened." If they say, "Wait a minute, I thought we already had this discussion and you're OK with everything now?" you say, "That's what I thought, too, but then I realized that I was actually more hurt and disappointed than I originally let on. I really want all future birthdays to be a happy day of celebration and love, so I wanted to let you know how much this actually means to me, so that you know what level of effort to expend for future birthdays.

At some point, the conversation will turn to, "So, how can I make this up to you?" At this point, please own your wants and do not censor yourself! "What I really want for my birthday is a special romantic night where you do all the planning. All I have to do is dress up and be ready by a certain time, and the rest is a fun surprise. And then I want a sappy card that I can read and cry over when we get home. And an indulgent present, like earrings, not like a new hair dryer. Can you make that happen? I'm free Thursday this week."

Once you've set that clear vision and expectation with your partner, if they still don't deliver, then... that's a more serious "not meeting my emotional needs" conversation.

For future birthdays, and how to get more love from friends, I think you should own your desire for your birthday to be celebrated. From now on, you are unapologetically a person who cares about their own birthday, and wants it to be a THING. Don't worry about appearing whiny. As long as you're not making destitute friends pay for your fancy steak and champagne dinner on your birthday, it's totally OK and very human to want to receive acknowledgement and love on their birthday.

Since this is now part of your self-identity, start telling people! When the topic of birthdays come up, be ready with an example of what you like. "OMG I love celebrating my birthday! The best thing is when I get actual cards through snail mail from friends all over the world. Here, let me text you my address." Say it often - friends who pay attention will now know what to do for you. I would also suggest announcing it on social media, especially if you want more than the lowest effort "Happy birthday!" greeting on your Facebook wall.
posted by tinydancer at 2:36 PM on January 21, 2019 [11 favorites]

I’m sorry. I know how emotionally challenging this can be. But this is an area that needs to be dealt with In therapy, so you no longer feel sad about it. I’m a woman who does not do emotional labor, have no interest in doing it, and can’t remember a date to save my life. But, if you reminded me and asked for it, I would absolutely show up and do something cool. I think learning to ask for what you need will be really empowering for you!
posted by MountainDaisy at 5:52 PM on January 21, 2019

I also agree this is basic partner stuff. People who expect the world to stop because it’s their birthday are annoying, but you’re not asking for that! You’re asking for an acknowledgement from the person who loves you the most.

Let your partner know how much this means to you.
posted by jessca84 at 10:36 PM on January 21, 2019

So, your partner was reminded prior to your birthday and they forgot. They were reminded on the day of your birthday, they felt bad about it - but not bad enough to actually, you know, do anything for you given that they went straight back to their normal life (and then I guess you also had to do the emotional labour of making them feel ok about that) then said they would make it up to you later and still forgot.

Not only that, you going out further down the track involves you planning your own birthday celebration. Which really means them forgetting a third time.

Your partner’s kind of a shithead, isn’t he?

At this point, to me anyway, it feels like they’re not really forgetting. They know and they either really don’t care or they’re trying to make a point to you or both. It’s not about them not understanding what birthdays mean to you either, they’ve been reminded multiple times. I don’t know how you want to approach this so I’ll leave that to you.

I would celebrate your birthday though, in huge, spectacular fashion. Do whatever makes you feel good. Buy tickets to an amazing concert, go five star camping in the wilderness, go to a spa resort. Be spendy if you can afford it and it makes you feel better. If the money doesn’t stretch to the two of you, go alone for the whole weekend and when you come back and he asks why you didn’t take him, just shrug and forgot.
posted by Jubey at 11:22 PM on January 21, 2019 [4 favorites]

Oh dear. I'm so sorry about this. Yeah, I've been disappointed before when my birthday hasn't been what I hoped. So now in adultland, I proactively decide what I want for my birthday, and I make it happen. I think we should tell people we love what we want.

I am going to push back on something. You said, "I really don't tend to make a big deal of birthdays." I think you aspire not to care and not to make a big deal about your birthday. Maybe it feels silly or childish to care. But you do care, a lot. Have you been thinking or even ruminating about this for the past week? Because then you do care, and it's okay to care! It really is.

I always remember my partners' birthdays, and it's something I enjoy doing, but I don't really understand why none of them have ever managed to reciprocate. I'm not sure how to ask without feeling whiny, and part of the reason I feel bad is a general sense that I must not be worth remembering, so going to a great deal of effort to remind my partner seems like it would feel even worse.

We tend to treat others the way we want to be treated. Are you familiar with the 5 Love Languages? I suspect getting a gift/attention on your birthday is a way for you to feel loved. So that's what you are doing for your partners. But maybe they have other ways of feeling loved, so it doesn't occur to them to fuss over you the way you fuss over them.

It's not whiny to express our needs, to say what we want. It's mature and healthy.

Of course you are worth remembering! I would suggest, on a day that's not today, to have a conversation with your partner along the lines of, "I think I haven't communicated something well. I like to pretend I don't care about my birthday, but, honestly, I do. I would like you to make a mini fuss about my birthday. I would like dinner with friends and a small gift (or whatever it is you want). I want you to organize this. Is it okay if I remind you a month beforehand?"

But then this can't be set up as a test. Were you testing your partner this year? And they failed? You can't have this conversation and not remind them.

This last year, I organized my own birthday party. It was lovely, and I was so glad to have all my friends together in one place. My birthday was exactly what I wanted it to be, and it was great.
posted by bluedaisy at 4:29 PM on January 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

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