Welcome to Sounding Off, where writers have the chance to express their, ahem, unique thoughts on the food & drink world. These opinions belong to the writer, not Tasting Table.
The year was 1999. I'd picked out the decorations, donned my Little Mermaid costume and invited all my friends, fully expecting them to come bearing gifts, eat my favorite snacks and sing "Happy Birthday" to me before watching me get the first slice of cake. Back then, this kind of behavior was still acceptable. But 16 or so years later, things have changed.
It was once OK to expect friends and family to drop everything and dish out cash to celebrate the day of one's birth, but we're adults now. While someone might think throwing a birthday dinner with 13 of their closest buddies is a nice way to keep the celebratory tradition going, I'm here to tell you that you have been gravely misinformed.
The truth is, your birthday dinner isn't fun for anyone but you. Sure, catching up with folks you haven't seen in a while could bring a smile to your face, and there's always those entrepreneurial opportunists who see these soirees as networking opportunities (or hookup opportunities at least). But in reality, just about every single person you've invited sees birthdays as pure obligations.
Let's examine the evidence. The birthday boy (or girl) is asking the people he loves to give up their precious weekend time to eat at a restaurant he has chosen for them, where they will likely share some plates of food he has picked out, resulting in everyone getting a very small portion of food while politely insisting they're full. And at the end of the night, they'll inevitably have to pick up the entire tab, piling 13 different credit cards onto the check and drunkenly attempting to work out the nightmarish math that goes along with splitting the $500 bill. Trust me, it's a whole thing.
Afterward, of course, you'll take this party to a nearby bar, where (surprise!) even more friends join the party. Odds are the birthday boy hasn't reserved a special section for the 40+ people invited, planning instead to let guests fend for themselves among sharp elbows and precariously perched beers around the invariably slammed establishment. Everyone will have to shout at each other in order to be heard while spending even more cash before eventually making the trek home at 2 a.m., exhausted and significantly poorer than they were previously.
Please. Stop the madness.
Here's the thing: Up until the golden age of 21, birthday dinners are still acceptable. One hasn't truly reached adulthood or even graduated from college, meaning the friends one invites will probably still be excited to party with them. After all, everyone wants to see their bestie order their first legal drink. However, once those mid-20s roll around, it's time to let this thing go. As sad as it sounds, our adult friends are just too busy to pencil in your six-hour-long celebration. And with grown-up responsibilities like rent and Blue Apron subscriptions looming over our heads, we likely can't afford to splurge on every friend for simply turning another year older.
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying we have to forget about birthdays altogether. There are actually plenty of pain-free ways to carry out the festivities. Let's review.
① Should you have a significant other, go out for a romantic dinner at a fancier-than-normal restaurant. Split a bottle of wine and a dessert (no candle needed), then go out for cocktails, to a movie or just go home for a couple's night in.
② Keep your birthday dinner intimate with a few good friends and actually insist on splitting the bill. If your friends want to bring you a gift to celebrate, let that be their choice. Their company should be enough.
③ If you still want to throw a big birthday bash, try inviting your friends over for a wine and cheese night or a rowdier house party instead. You provide some drinks and snacks, asking friends to add on what they can, and create an atmosphere that's actually conducive to chatting, catching up, meeting new people and getting pleasantly buzzed on drinks that don't cost $14 each.
Sounds like a piece of (birthday) cake, right? And when all else fails, remember this — there are far worse things in life than having too many plans to celebrate with good friends.
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