Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: Should I tell my boyfriend of eight months that I want him to do something for my upcoming birthday? I just realized I’d like some gesture of let’s-celebrate-that-you-were-born. I’m not looking for a streamer cannon. Going out to dinner or a gift (in the $5-$20 range) would be great. I want to see what he does on his own, but I know I'll be disappointed if it’s nothing, and I don’t know if I’m setting him up for failure. In case it matters: I took him out to dinner for his birthday.
Wait and See?
Let him handle your birthday his way, so you can see who he is. Maybe his way isn’t what you would have wanted, but instead even better, because it’s in his voice.
If you’re disappointed, then next year you say something – around his birthday, though, versus yours: “I love a nice dinner or small gift on my birthday, so that’s what I did for you last year – but I’d rather do what (BEG ITAL)you(END ITAL) want. Which is ?”
This answers the surface question. The deeper question is, if you are good together, then how much do birthdays, etc., even matter?
I’m eating lunch, and this question made me a little sick. Carolyn, I think you should have weighted your answer more toward the last line. So many adults think their birthdays should be some glorious celebration for the absolutely stunning accomplishment of being born. It really isn’t that important. How she feels they work as a couple the rest of the time is what’s important.
True, but: Milestones can be interesting and useful messengers. I can’t make a letter-writer not care about them, but I can advise someone to see what a partner’s behavior around milestones is saying.
The information doesn’t go one way, either. Sometimes a person who blows off milestones is grounded and knows the difference between a perk and priority, but sometimes too the blow-off person is self-absorbed and doesn’t even bother trying to figure out what his or her partner would enjoy, need or appreciate. As long as it all gets put into the proper context of how well they work together as a couple, it’s good information.
And too, of course, someone can love birthdays and other milestones without being frivolous. That’s also a matter of context.
(BEG ITAL)– Why do you have to grow out of birthdays? And why is it frivolous to want someone to remember yours? Someone who’s big on celebrations and someone who’s not can work, but only if they relax and learn to appreciate how the other wants things done.
– I grew up in a family that celebrated birthdays, adults and kids alike. More than anything, it was an excuse to have a nice meal, some cake, and lavish a little extra attention on a loved one. My husband doesn’t want a big fuss, so I don’t do one. He knows I like a cake. So he makes one.
– I find that birthdays are a great chance for me to do something nice for myself. It might be easier on people if they focused on giving themselves a good time, rather than expecting it from others.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.