Associate Mosaic Editor
As Taurus season kicks into full gear and I update the birthday countdown on the huge whiteboard in my apartment, I have come to the realization that I may be subconsciously building unattainable expectations for that day. This habit that I seem to fall back into every year as the calendar hits April always negatively affects my birthday in a way I had not realized until recently.
I always look forward to my birthday, hence the aforementioned countdown. I love the attention. This thirst to be in the spotlight is undoubtedly the largest reason for my inevitable disappointment. I create expectations that no one can possibly live up to. I expect every instance in my life to be as dramatic and show-stopping as my favorite movie would be, furthering these unrealistic expectations.
No matter how excited I am, I have a tendency to cry on my birthday. Don’t get me wrong, I have always had great birthdays but I almost always somehow end up disappointed. This is a common theme in my life. Leading up to almost every important event, I build up in my head that it is going to be the best time ever. Thinking back, I don’t think there has been a single event that I did not build huge expectations for and end up even a little disappointed.
This tendency of mine has frustrated my mother to no end, and upon growing older, I have realized why. Realistically, every event I experience in my life is not going to be this picture perfect moment that I may envision. It must have been so disheartening to try and do nice things for your daughter who always seems to end up disappointed.
It also does not help that I am a self-proclaimed control freak. If I do not know every single detail to a specific event in my life, I will not be a pleasure to be around — a huge character flaw of mine. As I’ve never been able to relinquish control, I’ve never allowed anyone to surprise me on my birthday, or any other day for that matter.
When I build such high expectations for the day, it often can make people not want to do anything to celebrate me because they assume I expect. No one wants to do something nice for someone when they believe that the person is expecting something, myself included.
Last year, like many others, I spent my birthday in quarantine (it was so early in quarantine that drive-by birthday parades had not yet come to fruition). Due to these extenuating circumstances, I had no expectations for the day besides having a nice day with my family. This lack of expectations opened my eyes, and ironically, this quarantine birthday was the first one in years where I did not cry.
Crying or feeling overwhelmingly disappointed on your birthday has become a phenomenon entitled “birthday blues,” and it has been backed by many mental health professionals.
Dr. Debra Kissen, a clinical director of a cognitive behavioral therapy treatment center, told Refinery29 that it is completely normal to feel anxious, depressed, or anything in between on your birthday.
Although this time is generally meant for celebration, I am not alone in setting myself up for disappointment. During a time when we are supposed to be happy, the center of attention and showered with love and affection, it is hard not to feel less than if some of those things do not pan out. If someone you thought you shared a connection with doesn’t reach out, your birthday can become riddled with frustration and discontentment.
It is completely normal to expect a plethora of different things of a specific day, and then have your attitude shift when only some or none of them come to fruition.
A way I have found to counteract these seemingly inevitable feelings of disappointment is to try to go into the day with no expectations. This year was my second birthday that I celebrated in a global pandemic, and I thought that I was in for another year of lackluster celebrations. The weeks leading up to my birthday were plagued with dread.
In an attempt to downplay any expectations, I decided to relinquish most of the control of my birthday celebrations (or lack thereof) for a multitude of reasons. If we ended up not doing anything, the blame did not fall on me, and I would not feel nearly as bad. This was an incredibly freeing feeling, as I have always felt pressure to make each birthday the best yet.
Although I did pick the restaurant for my lunch reservations (I couldn’t let go of that much power), I had a very memorable birthday with minimal pressure. This tactic that I was forced to adopt due to a pandemic will be adapted into my behavior for any special events in order to allow myself to be less disappointed when I should be excited about different life experiences.
A birthday without expectations was so liberating after years of trying to plan the perfect day. I wish I could tell my past self that all it took to free yourself of the crippling expectations that became inevitable disappointment was to relinquish (most) control. Being a control freak has served me well in many areas of my life but this is one where it was vital for me to back down.