Birthday Question
August 28, 2007 10:01 AM   Subscribe

My significant other does not want to spend her birthday with me. I find it really strange. Am I being too "irrational"?

I've been living with my girlfriend for 6 months. Her birthday is coming up, and we had planned to take a trip together to celebrate. She kept changing plans and finally told me that her birthday is not "that important";she did not care for "those things". Two weeks ago she told me she had to go back home on a business trip (she left last week) and will be staying there for her birthday and, most importantly, for her brother's birthday, which is "the one that matters". I offered to fly up there to be with her, but she said that it would be preferable if I came up a week after her birthday for a family get-together. I have this gut feeling that things are not right, and told her about it, but she just gets upset and dismisses me as "irrational".What should I do?.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (47 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I guess the real clue would be whether your girlfriend is usually so logical. There are a lot of people who don't care for birthdays, tradition, or social norms in these matters, instead preferring pragmatism and logic. She probably doesn't see her birthday as anything important and if the family get together is considered important, then by her logic it makes no sense for you to spend time out until the more important event.

The question is.. is she that much of a logical person usually? If she is, it might be a trait you have to get used to. If she's not, then you might be getting the cold shoulder.
posted by wackybrit at 10:06 AM on August 28, 2007

Some people really dislike celebrating their own birthday. That doesn't mean your gut feeling is wrong, but it is something to consider.
posted by grouse at 10:10 AM on August 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

what did she say last birthday about it? Personally I like to spend my birthday with my family only
posted by Large Marge at 10:12 AM on August 28, 2007

My gut reaction would be that she had a better (in her opinion) offer from someone back home to spend her birthday with, and she is running off without you to spend it with him, rather than a business trip. But he is not a long-term prospect, and so she is fine with you coming along later.

I don't have any evidence to back this up, of course, and you know her best, but it does sound fishy.
posted by misha at 10:13 AM on August 28, 2007

Ask her if you can see her ID, as she might just be hiding her age.

Hmmm. It's possible. Perhaps even she is a vampire.

Anyway, I've known people who don't like to celebrate their birthdays. But none of them leave their significant others for weeks, tell the s.o. that they can't follow them, and then say, "Hey why don't you come up for the last weekend?" It doesn't smell right. If she's not cheating with someone in Cabo, then perhaps she's going to LA to get more age-defying cosmetic surgery? Either way, she's being very uncommunicative as to what the big deal is, and that's the real problem. Well, that, and not wanting anything to do with you on her birthday.
posted by billysumday at 10:15 AM on August 28, 2007

My gut reaction is twofold: first, it's reasonable to not like birthdays. Some people don't.

Second, she's having a fling. Not because of the birthday thing, but because of her trip and how she reacts to your attempt to join her.
posted by aramaic at 10:18 AM on August 28, 2007

Have you tried to have a conversation with her about it? I know that you said that you "told her about it" when you sensed that things were not right, but have you actually gone for a full-blown discussion? Because discussing things with your SO is not irrational, or something for either partner to get upset about. It's the way you sort these little things out, so they don't turn into big things later.

I'd recommend having a talk, just to get you both on the same page. It could be nothing. It could be big. You won't know until you both share your feelings about it in a dialog. Explain that celebrating her birthday is important to you (it's obvious that it holds some importance to you), and ask if she has specific reasons that she would not want to honor that, or if it's just circumstantial, or whatever. Ask questions (without grilling), and explain yourself. You'll probably learn more about her, she'll learn more about you, and you'll both be better off for it.
posted by Brak at 10:19 AM on August 28, 2007

I offered to fly up there to be with her, but she said that it would be preferable if I came up a week after her birthday for a family get-together.

Not much information to go on. I'd suggest you be patient and then use the family gathering to better suss things out - how her family reacts to you, meeting her brother, etc.
posted by vacapinta at 10:19 AM on August 28, 2007

If you came on the birthday would you be able to spend a week there and still stay to attend the family gathering a week later? I'm just trying to give her the benefit of the doubt. Is it possible that you could only be there for ONE event - birthday OR family gathering but not both (because of your schedule) - and she'd simply just rather have you there for the party?
posted by bunnycup at 10:22 AM on August 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

How long have you been dating (i.e. including when you weren't living together)? After 6 months, I don't feel that this is entirely unreasonable.
posted by unknowncommand at 10:30 AM on August 28, 2007

I gather from what the OP said that he has already tried to discuss it with her and she has said something to the effect of "Look, I've said its better if you come up for the family gathering! I've said my birthday doesnt matter to me! Why are you pressing me on this??"

If she's cheating on him, all he's going to get is more evasiveness. I do agree that evasiveness is a bad sign but without more information its impossible to know what exactly she is hiding.
posted by vacapinta at 10:31 AM on August 28, 2007

My gut feeling - she wants to spend some time at home with her family and friends. (It sounds like it might have been more your idea than hers to take a trip to celebrate?) She would like to do this by herself but doesn't want to hurt your feelings - it doesn't automatically mean something is wrong between the two of you.

You asked her about it, she answered - let it go. Unless you have some reason for not believing her - a reason better than you thinking that she should feel a particular way about her birthday - then you may be overreacting.
posted by KAS at 10:34 AM on August 28, 2007

Oh, this is anonymous, so I cannot find out how long you've been dating. I think there could be a lot of reasons, especially if you haven't been together long. For example, have you met her parents and friends yet? If not, it might be too stressful to do that along with her birthday.
posted by unknowncommand at 10:48 AM on August 28, 2007

I certainly would not leap to the "s/he's screwing around on you" conclusion here. God in heaven. Most people do not conduct their illicit affairs in their old bedrooms under their boy band posters.

Here's as good a guess as any: it's a family affair, less about her birthday than the visit she's making. She doesn't get to see them often, and she's jealous of the time she gets to have with them. Maybe Grandma Fundie who does not approve of the modern habit of shacking up will be present. Maybe she wants to be able to be a jackass with her brother without worrying about whether you are entertained. Maybe after 6 months she wants a vacation from you.

That last bit can be awkward to say because a lot of people tend to hear a "because I don't love you" clause even where one does not exist. Her evasiveness might just be awkwardness because she doesn't know how to say "I want some time on my own, damn it!" without hurting your feelings.

You'll never know, at any rate, unless you talk it out with her. Ask her if it's just a cultural difference between you two (birthdays a BFD for you, not so much for her) or just a matter of wanting some time on her own. She's being rather jerkish with the irrational line so be quite rational about it -- it's not exactly shocking that you'd like to know her reasons and why she can't be more forthright about them without getting upset. Stay calm and non-accusatory and you'll have much better luck than if you start in with a lot of paranoia about what grievous sins she's longing to get up to without you near.
posted by melissa may at 10:49 AM on August 28, 2007 [2 favorites]

listen to your gut. ask her if something's up.
posted by thinkingwoman at 10:56 AM on August 28, 2007

For the past six years, my birthday celebration has been this: ...nothing. While a birthday is a great excuse for a celebration, I've never really seen any need to celebrate it. I can certainly understand not caring about plans specifically on one's birthday.

I also have a birthday only about a week away from my brother's. So, it's pretty easy for me to imagine having a huge family celebration encompassing both birthdays, which would be important, special, and worthy of sharing with a significant other. Especially as adults, there's a lot less emphasis on having a special day all for you and more emphasis on just having a chance to be surrounded by all of the people you love. If there's that great, beautiful celebration only a week away, why wouldn't she want you to be there for that instead? That, alone, doesn't seem suspicious.

All the changing of plans ahead of time seems a little odd, to me, as it probably does to everyone else... But just the fact that she prefers you to come to a large family celebration a week after her birthday instead of being around on her birthday itself, when there's no special celebration planned, seems perfectly comprehensible and reasonable.
posted by Ms. Saint at 11:09 AM on August 28, 2007

I gotta admit that it sounds fishy to me. She avoids nailing down plans for her birthday, then tells you she doesn't really like to celebrate it (why would you not bring this up in the first place), then announces the "business trip" that just happens to be at her home and just happens to coincide with her birthday? Sounds like old flame business to me. But you're in the usual boat: if you press it and you're wrong it's going to harm your relationship, if you're misgivings are correct but she's adamantly committed to lying, you can't prove anything unless you catch her in the act. You could call her job and snoop around about what she's telling them they're doing, though you're firmly in snoopy/mistrusting territory there. Or you can try confronting the issue, getting into the odd coincidences, when you are face to face. Unfortunately there's no really desirable approach to dealing with your misgivings.
posted by nanojath at 11:11 AM on August 28, 2007

You need to accept that she's not into birthdays in the way that you are. It might seem weird to you, but assume that it's true and honor her birthday wishes, now and in the future. If she said you were being irrational about the birthday thing, I'd essentially agree.

But apart from the birthday aspect -- is there still something that doesn't feel right? Was she calling you irrational because you wondered about all the times she changed plans, about the extended stay in her home town, about her vagueness? If so, that's a cause for concern.
posted by wryly at 11:15 AM on August 28, 2007

i'd like to cut through the creepy and vaguely sexist comments so far. your gf has the right to state her needs, and for them to be respected. not everyone has the exact same response to birthdays! and that is healthy and natural, and does not indicate any sort of deception on her part.

my sweetie is one of those whose birthday doesn't matter to them. yeah, the first time it came up (in relation to spending *my* birthday together) I felt hurt. But then I calmly explained what birthdays meant to me, and genuinely listened to what birthdays meant to him. And you know what? Six years later we are still together and its a strong relationship and i've actually grown quite used to not being together on my sweetie's b-day and frankly, even insist that he not be around!! It works out absolutely beautifully, and I developed a way to find a small, appropriate fun gift to give for his birthday when he gets back from his vacation or whatever he does when he's away.

heck, even i am starting to find that i am adopting the idea of low-key birthdays and, in fact, am probably going to be traveling on my own birthday this year!!

again, be a "good guy" and respect your gf's wishes. what better gift can you give than respect and love?!?!
posted by kuppajava at 11:15 AM on August 28, 2007

Whatever the reason is that she wants to spend her birthday alone, that's what she wants. You should respect her wishes. End of story.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:17 AM on August 28, 2007

Eh. I'd just like to echo those who say it sounds weird to me. But then again, I'm one who likes to have my birthday celebrated, and I get disappointed if it isn't. But still...weird.
posted by limeonaire at 11:53 AM on August 28, 2007

Why don't you just take what she said at face value? She doesn't care much about her birthday so if you're going to make the trip, she'd rather have you at the big family get-together.

Nothing about that strikes me as unusual at all. Neither does two weeks notice about a business trip. I'd ignore the at all of the "OMG SHE'S CHEATING!" comments, otherwise you do risk coming across as irrational.
posted by emd3737 at 11:58 AM on August 28, 2007

I doubt it's an affair. I suspect it's more like my ex: this is how she breaks up with you.

My ex went to visit her parents for something (I forget exactly, it was 2+) and the visit lasted longer and longer. Each day she was supposed to come back, I'd get a phone call late in the day saying she wasn't. On the first I figured out what was up.

But maybe your g/f is more mature than that.
posted by jdfan at 12:00 PM on August 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

I vote for the interpretation around wants to focus on her friends / stressful for you to meet her family / new relationship / not ready to integrate you into her entire life / wants some time to feel like a kid with her brother rather than playing hostess.
posted by salvia at 12:05 PM on August 28, 2007

Some people have the crazy idea that their birthday is the one day a year they get to do what they want to do, without respecting the wishes of others. This is a crazy idea but it is not without its merits.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:09 PM on August 28, 2007

Is it a "significant" birthday? (30? 40?) I spent my 30th alone in Paris for several reasons, leaving my guy back home. I knew I was going to be a wreck about turning 30 and didn't want to subject him to it.
posted by desjardins at 12:18 PM on August 28, 2007

I think you should start by asking her why her birthday isn't important but her brother's is. Sounds like there's a lot of pent up hostility there.
posted by Sara Anne at 12:46 PM on August 28, 2007

I'd like to see stats on how often the Mefi "OMG she's having an affair!!!11" response is correct.

I dunno, but to me, having a fairly new partner along during a trip to see my family would involve hosting him as well as trying to get along with my family. Too much work, too much pressure on a trip that's already going to involve tension.
posted by loiseau at 12:48 PM on August 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Does she have reason to NOT want her folks to know you are her beau, or might she have need to break the news of you to them and gauge their reactions before you actually show up? For example, are they Hindu, Jewish, Mormon, Religious, super-wealthy, or some other kind of thing that you are not?
posted by mds35 at 12:50 PM on August 28, 2007

Seconding desjardins, and not only if it's a "significant" birthday. My first thought was that she's not happy with whatever number she's turning for personal reasons.

If so, these reasons are generally either embarrassing or just too nebulous and complicated to explain, and even more embarrassing and difficult to defend, as you would undoubtedly try to talk her out of nixing her birthday celebration, whatever her reasons.
posted by desuetude at 12:50 PM on August 28, 2007

You feel something may be not right. Therefore you should ask her if everything is ok. If she brushes it off too glibly, remind her you were planning to spend her birthday together and ask her again, is she sure everything's ok. Ask her this without getting upset/sopunding hurt. Then, if she reiterates what she's already said, you have to take it at face value. You can add at the end there you feel a little sad, because you'd have liked the chance to celebrate her birthday with her, but so be it. Again, don't get upset. If she's not cheating on you in any way, she will be grateful to you for your civilised tolerance and also aware that she has, perhaps upset you (I think she should know that). If she is cheating on you, she'll feel awful that she's doing it to such a nice guy. and soon after I guess she'll either dump the guy she's cheating with or make a clean breast to you. Either which way, you are honest about your own feelings and fair to her.
posted by londongeezer at 12:52 PM on August 28, 2007

Hindu, Jewish, Mormon, Religious, super-wealthy != intolerant. wtf?
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 1:35 PM on August 28, 2007

I like when my bf joins me before or after business trips, but never during. I'm just too busy and stressed and if I get a free evening all I want to do is veg out at the hotel while he would want to go out, sightsee, etc. That may be part of her weirdness, in addition to a birthday-aversion.
posted by misskaz at 1:42 PM on August 28, 2007

If she is cheating on you, she'll feel awful that she's doing it to such a nice guy. and soon after I guess she'll either dump the guy she's cheating with or make a clean breast to you.

Sure. Keep telling yourself that.

Obviously, we're only getting the boyfriend's side of this, so if he's inclined toward paranoia there's no way to tell. Changing explanations, change in level of affection, etc points to something fishy going on.
posted by electroboy at 1:43 PM on August 28, 2007

Her changing plans like that sounds to me not like someone who doesn't care about birthdays, but like someone who's edgy about them. Otherwise, a birthday celebration trip is likely to be just a nice trip that may happen to involve some cake at some point; no big, nothing to get all flaky about.

It strikes me as weird that her brother's birthday is "the one that matters". Maybe it's just that he's still very young. But it may be uncomfortable for her to see a disparity between how the family values her birthday and his. (Or the difference between how she was valued at his age, and how he seems to be valued now.) There could be a good helping of shame there that she doesn't want you to see and definitely doesn't want to talk about. It wouldn't be the first time a daughter was devalued.

If that's the case, then she'll benefit from feeling like she has a haven from her family, even though she loves them. Stay calm. ("You're being irrational" is a big blinking neon sign that you're best off staying calm.) You sound like a warm, intuitive person; I'd say, play to your strengths. Assume that families are always very weird in some way, and be supportive without being intrusive. Let her know, simply and without making a big deal of it, that she matters to you -- not her birthday, but her, herself -- and that you miss her while she's away. You might consider doing some nest-building: if there's some small thing she's been bugging you to do around the house, do it and tell her about it.
posted by sculpin at 2:33 PM on August 28, 2007

This does sound fishy to me. The friends of mine who don't care about birthdays aren't usually so cagey about it. They just don' If you want to plan something, great, but they're not going to bother themselves.

She's hiding something.
posted by divabat at 3:26 PM on August 28, 2007

Lots of people have baggage about their birthdays. I'd let her do what she wants and see how she acts afterward. If she acts normal again, then hey, she's just one of those people who are weird about their birthday. If not, then you'll find out soon enough what's up. I wouldn't stress right now.
posted by christinetheslp at 3:28 PM on August 28, 2007

If you have a bad feeling about someone's behavior after six months, and they're telling you that you're irrational, you might be irrational -- or you might simply be right.

Let's say that you can't tell which. So what do you do?

You listen to your heart. You have to live with you, whether you're irrational or not. That means you have to make yourself happy. And if you're hooked up with someone who is suddenly behaving in a way that makes you suspicious, you have to treat that as a reasonable feeling, and investigate it.

So you raised it with her, and she was evasive and called you irrational. Then you sanity-checked your feeling with strangers who don't have a vested interest in the results (but whose view is colored by your own telling of the story.)

I'd say talk to a few close friends now. If they support the "you're not being irrational, something is up" theory, then proceed accordingly -- and if they say you're being irrational, proceed accordingly.

Personally, my gut says she has an old boyfriend with which she has a no-strings fling every year, she's had that arrangement for many many years, and she's not sure enough about you yet to end the arrangement...but wants you around enough that she feels she can't be honest about it without losing you.

Proceed accordingly. ;)
posted by davejay at 3:53 PM on August 28, 2007

Most likely she's done with you. Give her her space and start preparing yourself for the end. Detach.
posted by jockc at 4:57 PM on August 28, 2007

Man, your girlfriend seems so normal and unworrying to me. While there are a lot of details missing here, it seems like she would rather have you around for the big gathering and doesn't want you hanging around the old homestead two weekends in a row.

Have you stayed at her parents' before? Maybe finding room for you will be an issue and she doesn't want to have to put her folks through it twice. Do you know her parents like you? Maybe once you leave they call her and give her three hours of crap about your manners. Is she the kind of lady who generally doesn't want to impose on people? Perhaps she's trying to save both you and her folks some trouble. That is where I would approach from.

I can't believe the paranoia around here. Hope it works out, I think you guys are fine but I guess if you're getting a weird enough vibe to Ask, then maybe something is up. I don't think my boyfriend would find this behavior out of the ordinary whatsoever.
posted by crinklebat at 5:10 PM on August 28, 2007

Nobody seems to have picked up on the fact that she's asked the OP to join her for a family gathering. To me, that says she cares enough about you to want you to come and spend time with her family, even if she's not a big one for celebrating her birthday. If something were wrong with the relationship, I doubt she'd ask you to come to her family gathering.

I too would be upset not to be with my SO on his birthday, but it does seem more like she's avoiding a big celebration on her birthday (because she doesn't like birthdays or whatever), rather than there being anything wrong in the relationship as such.
posted by girlgeeknz at 5:12 PM on August 28, 2007

I've been living with my girlfriend for 6 months.

How long were you together before you lived together? have you met the family, etc?

Her birthday is coming up, and we had planned to take a trip together to celebrate.

"we had planned" meaning you had assumed and sort of imposed a plan, or she had decided what she wanted to do and been excited about it herself?

She kept changing plans and

about what you'd planned? so was it ever really planned? maybe she was never that into the idea of doing something?

finally told me that her birthday is not "that important";she did not care for "those things".

ah, there you go. why the "scare quotes"? maybe she doesn't really like celebrating birthdays. that's not hugely unheard of among older people - many people think of birthdays as something for the kids, still fun when you're in college, and then for some they continue to be an excuse for a party and for others they just don't. Some people even find them very stressful since they are a reminder you're one year closer to death and all that.

Two weeks ago she told me she had to go back home on a business trip (she left last week) and will be staying there for her birthday and, most importantly, for her brother's birthday, which is "the one that matters".

the one the family cares about or the one she cares about? how old is he turning? maybe it was an awkward way of saying she'd rather celebrate someone else's birthday than her own, 'that's the one I care about you being there for', as in, be there for the party, not the day i get to feel stressed out that i'm getting old.

I offered to fly up there to be with her, but she said that it would be preferable if I came up a week after her birthday for a family get-together.

she'd rather you're there for a family get-together than a random day she's not celebrating and you think something's not right?

I have this gut feeling that things are not right, and told her about it, but she just gets upset and dismisses me as "irrational".What should I do?.

aren't "gut feelings" by definition "irrational"? So tell her that she can't dismiss your feelings just because they aren't rational. You still feel dissed, because you love birthdays and you feel like you should be able to celebrate with your girlfriend. She doesn't get it because it's just another day, and you'll see her later at the family gathering, which will be more fun for everyone.

She shouldn't write off what you're feeling, but if you're responding like some of the people in this thread, and assuming that "something's fishy" or she's having an affair or breaking up with you because she's inviting you to the family gathering a week later than her birthday, she may be a little irritated with the whole thing.

I mean, who knows, maybe there's more to it, maybe she's being weird, I dunno - but from what you've provided, I don't see any evidence to assume what you seem to be assuming.
posted by mdn at 6:42 PM on August 28, 2007

I have this gut feeling that things are not right...

I am of the "listen to your gut" persuasion. If you feel things are not right, that's probably your subconscious telling you things are not right.

You, the one in the relationship, are going to be able to pick up on all sorts of cues from your girlfriend that we, metafilter, know nothing about.

Be sensitive and listen to her when she talks, don't be accusatory, and hope for the best.
posted by eleyna at 7:04 PM on August 28, 2007

I'd say you don't have enough to go on yet. Wait and see how it pans out. Keep listening to that gut.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:22 PM on August 28, 2007

Here's my take: there is an issue here, and it's not something as clear-cut as "she's cheating."

There's something I see in a lot of relationships where two people have small differences that turn into big differences because they keep pressing the issue.

Let's say that your girlfriend isn't that big on birthdays. She's not against them, but she's generally preferred dinner with a friend or two over a big balloon party. Let's say on the other hand that you're pretty into birthdays. You don't hire clowns and ponies, but you're used to it being a big deal and you like the plan things.

So you two start discussing her birthday. She goes along with your trip idea, but she's not too enthused about it. She sees you're enthusiastic, though, and that worries her. She thinks "Did I make a mistake agreeing to this trip? Is my significant other going to be disappointed if I don't have a wonderful time?"

Meanwhile you're noticing that her enthusiasm is waning, so you try to get her into it by being extra upbeat about it! It's going to be so great! You're going to have so much fun.

And that starts the spiral. She gets even more reluctant about it because she doesn't think she can live up to your enthusiasm. So you get more enthusiastic to try and get her into it, which makes her less enthusiastic, which makes you press even harder, and so forth. Before long she feels like she'd rather just skip the birthday altogether, and you feel hurt because she's decided not to do something special.

And, keep in mind here, the more you press the issue, the more she's going to feel justified in avoiding it. That's what I think the "irrational" comment is about, at this point she's starting to see you as this birthday-obsessed glom machine.

Neither of you are wrong here, but both of you are so invested at this point that you're both more emotional about it than you would normally be. In other words, it's not about the birthday anymore. It's about closeness versus space, independence versus couplehood.

Congratulations, this is now one of the themes of your relationship. I suspect you two are going to have the same problem in all sorts of venues. This time it's about celebrating her birthday, next time it will be about whether she goes camping alone with some of her friends, or whether you guys should share a checking account.

I'm not saying the relationship is doomed, not at all. All relationships have challenges, and this is yours. My advice is drop it in this case. Not because she's right and you're wrong -- I don't think there's a right and wrong here -- but because it's already escalated past an actual discussion about an actual birthday. If I'm wrong and it's a fleeting thing, then there's no harm in dropping it. If I'm right and it's a relationship theme, then you'll be running into it again soon enough, and you can approach it without the bad juju that's built up around her birthday.
posted by L. Fitzgerald Sjoberg at 9:16 PM on August 28, 2007 [2 favorites]

Ambrosia Voyeur, the answer is often yes that n=intolerant. In my experiences dating women from different religions or from insanely wealthy families, there was much pressure on the daughter to date only within the circle of their parents' expectations. I'm not generalizing that all persons of any given group are intolerant, but merely looking for solutions to the OPs problem in my own experience. The parents of women I dated were all fine and intelligent people, I'm sure, but often were unable to accept their daughter being involved with an "other." Ultimately this doomed the relationships, but not before I was asked to pretend to be friend of a room mate rather than the boyfriend I was, or to get lost when the parents came unannounced, or be disinvited from things like birthdays.
posted by mds35 at 9:52 AM on August 29, 2007

Of course. I know couples with that very problem to overcome. I still don't advocate such racialized defensiveness. Whatever the cultural reason, if they're intolerant, it's because they're assholes. Why pin it on their culture? They should be totally accountable.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:33 AM on August 29, 2007

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