I was an early adopter of social media. Well, not really. But early for someone my age, which is a newly-minted, very solid and foreboding 45. Halfway to ninety. Firmly middle-aged. A bonafide grownup. Sort of.
Anyway, I was among the first of my contemporaries to have a Facebook page. (Ref: “sort of” above.) For months, I had only about a dozen “friends,” but my paltry list grew exponentially when the rest of my demographic caught on. Like most people my age, I am “friends” with people whom I have not seen in 20 or 30 years. Some, I have never seen at all (weird, right?).
Which is why, about six months ago, I swore off sending happy birthday wishes via Facebook. They seemed a little silly to me, both obligatory and meaningless at the same time. If I don’t know you well enough to wish you happy birthday (or even know when it is) without the aid of Facebook, then you shouldn’t miss me. And if I do, then a Facebook wall post is a poor substitute for a more thoughtful card or phonecall or personal greeting. There was always the angst induced by having to catch everyone. What if I wished some people happy birthday but neglected others? What if mutual friends noticed and thought I was being selective instead of just negligent? Meh. It was too much trouble. So I made a small personal rule: no Facebook birthday greetings.
I had to add this to a list of other tacit policies I had adopted over the last couple of years: No status updates about the weather. No bragging about my kids (well, minimal bragging, anyway). No bitching about Mondays. No writing “LOL,” “u,” or any other non-language (obviously). No self-promotion. (Hahahahaha. Right. Just kidding.) No “apps” or games. It’s not easy being me, having to keep track of all these arbitrary rules. But that’s another rant.
For birthdays, I decided Facebook would serve only as a reminder to wish those nearest and dearest to me a happy day through more traditional channels. I admit that this new policy set me up for some additional problems. Occasionally, I’d have the urge to spontaneously send a bday wish through Facebook, but then would have to stop myself due to my new rule. What if a Friend A saw that I’d wished Friend B a happy day, but I hadn’t done the same for Friend A? I’d like to say I could rise above this nonsense, having navigated Jr. High Social Politics with aplomb over 30 years ago. But no, it bugged me. I figured as long as I was consistent and stuck to my guns, though, no one could find fault with my equal-opportunity Facebook birthday shunning.
Except today, I changed my mind.
Because today was my birthday. And while I (mercifully) grew up in a family where birthdays were special but not momentous days, and while I am perfectly happy not to be fussed over, I had sort of a gloomy day. I learned a few things about myself. First of all, it turns out that I absolutely require beautiful weather on my birthday. I am fortunate that April 19 is nearly always warm and balmy, sunny and springlike. I associate this date with the first days on my porch and the first long evenings. But today was not only crummy, it was Biblically horrible. It started raining just after midnight and continued for roughly 16 hours, during which flash floods plagued our city and nearly everyone’s basement flooded. Totally gross.
Secondly, I discovered (much to my horror) that I actually do expect the universe to behave itself for one day and for me to be comfortably at its center. When I did not get the story acceptance I had hoped for, the attention of editors I admire, or the final word on a gig I’ve been waiting for six weeks to hear about, I took it as a personal affront. “But it’s my birthday!” I wanted to shout at the empty inbox. “Why not today?”
All of this is absurd, I know. I am not a Princess by nature most of the time. It’s embarrassing to admit all of this, especially when on the plus side I have everything I could possibly wish for: a sweet husband and darling children who wished me a Happy Birthday at least one thousand times today, and who showered me with thoughtful gestures, gifts, and affection. A lunch date with my twin brother. A visit from one of my dearest friends, whose current battle with cancer is a daily reminder that advancing age is a gift and not a curse. Texts and emails and phonecalls from the people I care about most in the world.
And Facebook. Stupid, vacuous, meaningless Facebook. While I was busy feeling sorry for myself that more total strangers did not show interest in my writing, 70 some people wished me a happy day. Many were just simple greetings. Some were hilarious. Others were deeply nostalgic. I heard from my sixth grade boyfriend (who gave me a stick pin for my twelfth birthday); the girls I babysat in high school; my nieces and nephews; nearby friends, who, despite their proximity, I don’t see nearly often enough; college roommates; former students, who inexplicably still like me; two guys I had crushes on in high school; one girl who was mean to me one thousand years ago, and who has since proved to be a perfectly lovely human being; and hordes of other acquaintances and pals and honest-to-goodness friends I have somehow managed to accumulate over the past four decades.
So no more Facebook birthday shunning. And maybe no arbitrary Facebook policies at all. If I have learned anything at all in 45 years, it’s that life is too short for absolutes. And while on some days, it seems too short to spend diddling around online, today I felt like my one-word Facebook bio, posted way back when: “Lucky.”