The Art of Crying at your Birthday Party
Editor-in-Chief Alice Graham pens her thoughts
Birthdays are hard. They just are. Whether it’s the impending sense of doom that links the arm of ageing, an old photo your mum sent you, the reality of growing without feeling the growth, or just a booze fuelled "I love you bro"; we’re all familiar with crying on our birthdays.
You might feel guilty for the attention you get, or even guiltier for the lack of attention you get. You might feel guilty all day. You might not know what to do with your hands when people sing Happy Birthday to you. Maybe no one sings Happy Birthday to you at all.
Yet this guilt, anxiety and bizarre loneliness sits alongside, swells restlessly against, a strange, filmy, timeworn gratitude. As much as we might resist the feeling of gratitude, resent it, yearn for it, it; it’s there, lurking in the slashing of sellotape and the stirring of cake mix.
Gratitude for being alive, for making it through another year, for friends, for family, for birthday cake and wine. All these little gratitudes insisting themselves on this one day. Gratitudes elbowing each other, piling up in the corner of the day until they’re creeping, leaking over your legs and into your ears and worming, shambling through you and, yep, there it is, you’re crying in the bathroom at your birthday party.
How could you not cry for the people who hug you, say "happy birthday you old fart", "how’s your day been", "how does it feel to be a year older". These people guardedly selecting a gift for you which they pay for and fold into paper laboriously, attentively, wrangling with tape and maybe even ribbon, scribbling on the back of a receipt to make sure the pen works and writing a little kind self-conscious message and licking an envelope and tucking the envelope under the knotted ribbon and delivering it to you: saying "oh stop it’s nothing", "oh shut up don’t be silly it’s your birthday", it’s your birthday! Happy birthday!
Doing some or all of that, just to communicate to you their gratitude for your being born.
How lovely. How vastly, crushingly bloody lovely is that.
And if that isn’t enough to make you cry, there’s the people who you might not speak to anymore, or enough, or at all, who rear their heads unexpectedly. There’s the fact someone might have bought (or worse, BAKED) a cake for you based on your preference. Someone who has remembered your favourite cake and gifted it to you to make you happy. Blown up balloons, pressed little candlesticks into icing, watched you blow them all out.
All because you happen to have been born on this day twenty-two years ago.
I recently turned twenty-two, and I realised that my birthday is one of the most overwhelming days of the year for me. Yes, I am a crier. And yes, I have been known to indulge in a drunk cry. But I’ve been washed with relief to learn that, actually, it’s not just me.
Over the last year or so I’ve noticed a rise in digital dialogue about crying on your birthday.
Gorgeous gorgeous girls cry on their birthdays. Do you cry on your birthday every year or are you normal? Normalise crying on your birthday.
You know the tweets. As god awful as they may be, perhaps this narrative is being accepted, celebrated - dare I use the word normalised - for a reason.
Birthdays drench every one of your relationships in fierce, uncompromising light. There is nowhere to hide from the reality of who you are, how old you are, who loves you, and worst of all, who doesn’t.
There’s a lot of beauty and a lot of sadness in that.
So really, it’s perfectly okay to cry at your birthday party. It’s your party, cry if you want to. You’re allowed.
Words: Alice Graham