Monday, March 28, 2011

Birthday Part I: In Which I Thought The Day Would Suck, But It Didn't

You know how sometimes you have the same birthday as one of your coworkers, and most of your coworkers remember it's his birthday but not yours, and they have this big to-do for him, but not for you? Yeah, I hate that.

My birthday last week started off alright. Alright for turning 35, I mean. When I got to work, I found that one of my coworkers had left me a box of Reed’s Ginger Chews, which she knows I love. Good way to start the day, right? I sent her an email to say thank you, and in response, she came into my office to tell me happy birthday in person and to apologize for only giving me one box. She's sweet like that.

Right before she walked into my office, I had started checking my email. So as Ginger Chew Coworker is telling me happy birthday, I saw an email from another coworker with a subject line that says "HAPPY BIRTHDAY." So at first, I think, how nice! And then I reread the subject line of the email, which was sent to the whole office, and I noticed that it actually says "HAPPY BIRTHDAY JOE.”

There was no corresponding “HAPPY BIRTHDAY [JLR]” email.

That of course made "HAPPY BIRTHDAY JOE" seem more like, "AND WE DON'T CARE IF IT'S ANYONE ELSE'S BIRTHDAY BECAUSE WE ONLY CARE ABOUT JOE." 'Cause why would you single out ONE coworker for a birthday wish if you liked both coworkers equally, or if you were willing to put on a front to the rest of the office that you liked both coworkers equally. It's like when both RR and I get hair cuts around the same time, and the next time someone sees us, they remark, "Oh, RR, I really like your hair cut." It's hard not to turn that into "I really like your haircut," right?

Then yet another coworker (we’ll call her “round-up coworker”) came by my office to tell me and Ginger Chew Coworker that we needed to head over to the break room “to sing Happy Birthday to Joe.” And, apparently, someone had brought him a cake. So I had *a* coworker wishing me happy birthday, and Joe had the entire office wishing him happy birthday. And also singing to him. And he had cake. And balloons. And a birthday hat.

Ginger Chew Coworker kindly pointed out to Round-Up Coworker that it was also my birthday. From her face, it was apparent that Round-Up Coworker had not realized it was my birthday (awkward!), despite her having signed the obligatory "from everyone at the office" birthday card at some point. She looked a little embarrassed and uncomfortable for a moment, and then came up with, “Yeah, but you’re not turning 40.” Well, she had me there. Good recovery, Round-Up Coworker.

I declined to go sing happy birthday to Joe because Joe is my friend, and I knew Joe would point out to people that it was also my birthday (this is a topic he and I joke about pretty much all year long), and then everyone would feel uncomfortable, and there would be an awkward, “um, happy birthday to you, too, we totally did NOT forget!” from everyone. Plus, they’d feel compelled to direct singing at me, and I didn’t want that.

Then I logged onto facebook and saw that my sister’s coworkers had decorated her office for her. My coworkers, on the other hand, didn’t even remember to give me the office birthday card, the one that everyone always gets on their birthday from the rest of the office. No worries, though! Someone remembered to deliver my card to me the day after my birthday.

And pretty much all day long, that’s how my day was.

Why did I care about all this? Did I really expect my coworkers to spend their day telling me how great I am? Not at all. The thing is, when it comes to birthdays, I don’t need a lot of hoopla or attention. I don’t actually care if people don’t remember my birthday. We all have tons of information we have to keep in our heads all the time--does remembering my birthday mean you're a better friend than someone who doesn't? No way. If someone is a friend, he or she has proved that to me in a million ways that actually matter, and not remembering my birthday doesn't take away from that. It's not even on the list of things that prove you are my friend. Just like remembering my birthday can't cancel out you being a jerk to me, either.

So it's not that there wasn't a big deal made about my birthday that bothered me. My problem was, it makes it hard not to take it personally when you share a birthday with a coworker and they make a big deal about him (more so than they usually do for people on birthdays), but for you they don’t even remember to say happy birthday. The contrast is noticeable, no? So for about an hour on my birthday, I felt a little sad. Ok, a lot sad. It felt like my coworkers were telling me what they really thought about me, and it wasn’t flattering.

Then I guessed (correctly) that it was an intern who is also one of Joe's students who brought the cake and balloons. That didn't explain the getting together to sing Happy Birthday, which we've never done for anyone before in the four years that I've been there. But then I reminded myself that Joe talks about himself a lot. I mean, a lot. A LOT. In your whole life, you may never have met someone who talks about himself as much as Joe does. He’s a really, really nice guy, so instead of being annoying, it's mostly just part of his charm. But there’s no denying that he spends most of his conversation time (and the guy talks a lot) relating the epic tale that is “The Amazing, Unbelievable True Story of Awesome Joe and his Awesomeness and Amazing Accomplishments,” starring Joe. There’s no possible way that people could be unaware of his birthday. He'd have told them a million and half times. It would have been built up into a birthday event.

And I am the opposite. I only mentioned to a few people that my birthday was coming up, and then just in the context of having plans for the weekend. And I didn’t even mention the exact date---people would have had to go through the trouble of looking up on the employee list to see exactly when the date was (or, you know, looking at the birthday card they signed). That made the fact that several people did remember my birthday so much more meaningful. So although it felt like an intentional slight at first, and a crappy way to start the birthday, I snapped out of it and was able to enjoy the rest of the day.

And all of the people that I’m actually friends with at work all wished me a happy birthday. Another coworker brought me a beautiful orchid, and some others took me to lunch. Still another told me that she had planned to decorate my office but her whole morning had gone wrong, and she couldn't get there before me in order to make it happen. I really appreciated the thought. Knowing her, there was just no way she would get to work before me, so the fact that she had planned to do it meant a lot. So basically, I was sad over nothing, and once I realized that, my day was pretty good. You know, for turning 35.

And then I had a great weekend, which I will tell you about next post. I will end this with part I of my birthday celebration with RR, which involved this:

Look look look!

Yeah, that's right. My copy of The Man From Nowhere came in, and it's still awesome. Kim Sae-Ron still makes me cry. Won Bin still looks good. Still can't shake that image of him in that hideous designer shirt.


RW said...

Um... Happy Birthday, I meant to write that on your blog, you know, last week and all but my car broke down and my left leg fell off. But, I mean, you know, 35's not so bad. I actually have a scar on my left hand older than that. Er... Happy birthday!

JLR said...


Thanks for the belated birthday wish. :) The "left leg fell off" bit actually made me laugh out loud.