If I Take My Birthday off Facebook, Does It Even Happen?

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I remember the first year my birthday was marked on Facebook. It was around 2008, when everyone my age seemed to discover the site and rapidly started reconnecting. I received birthday messages from people I hadn’t heard from in years. This is amazing, I thought. The girl who tortured me throughout my youth is taking the time to wish me a happy birthday! It’s a miracle! And here’s my high school crush. I didn’t think he even knew who I was and now he’s hoping I have the best year ever!

Each year I received more and more messages, particularly when Facebook started noting the birthdays of friends right on the top of our timelines. 

One year I received nearly 200 good wishes. It made me so happy. 

But as the years went by, I started to see these once-a-year messages as a burden. How should I respond? Is it okay to just like these posts? Or should I love them? Do I need to write a comment back? Surely it’s bad form not to respond at all. 

I agonizingly tried writing a personal remark on every birthday message I received. I just didn’t know what to say. Should I try to write something clever? Mention something personal? Just say “thank you”? Maybe I could come up with five original responses and rotate them through? But what about the Facebook Friends who are all Facebook Friends with each other? Will my messages to the others start showing up in their timelines and then they’ll all see that I wrote the same thing and be exposed as the complete and total fraud that I am? 

It was exhausting. 

Soon, that birthday section on my Facebook feed started to become a tell-tale heart, thump-thumping at me as soon as I logged in. I’d feel obligated to post something because they’d posted something for me. I tried to be a good person. I really did. But then I’d miss one and start a giant shame spiral that usually ended in a tub of butter pecan. Then, I tried averting my eyes from that birthday section when I’d log in and pretend I didn’t see it. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. I couldn’t escape it.  

As the years went by, I came to dread my birthday — and not because my age keeps getting higher while my breasts keep getting lower. I found myself dreading all those birthday wishes. Think of all the lonely people out there who crave friendship and attention, and I have scores of people — some of whom I’ve never even met — taking time out of their day to wish me happiness and prosperity on my birthday. 

I am an ungrateful, rapidly sagging witch. I just couldn’t handle the guilt anymore. I didn’t want to feel like I had to post messages on birthdays I didn’t typically mark. But — what about me? Did my birthday really mean something to all those people who wrote on my timeline?

I wondered: Would anyone wish me a happy birthday if they didn’t see it on Facebook? What’s that old adage about the tree falling in the forest? If my birthday doesn’t happen on Facebook, does it happen at all? 

The mean girl from childhood may not have invited me to her birthday parties (despite asking me to pass the girl behind me an invitation. … It’s never come up in therapy, I swear), yet she said happy birthday to me on Facebook. That had to signify something, right? 

Like Charlie Brown charging the football, ever hopeful that maybe, even 30 years later, she would see me as something other than the awkward, homely girl from fourth grade, I replied to her birthday post on my timeline.

And — crickets. I had landed with a thud. Again. 

Then one day it finally dawned on me. Maybe she really just meant:

Happy.

Birthday

And that’s it. 

She wasn’t looking to reconnect; she didn't want to be friends. She just wanted to wish me a happy birthday because she noticed it on her feed. I was piling on meaning when there wasn’t any to be found. 

If I could take away her onus to comment on my birthday, I could free her from an obligation she probably doesn’t even think twice about, and, more importantly, free myself from hours of second-guessing and self-doubt. And the same for all my Facebook friends.

So, I took my birthdate off my profile. 

And I waited. 

The first year, I received some messages from a few folks; I imagine because their Facebook Memories reminded them that they had posted something in the past. The next year, there were fewer. The following year, fewer still.

And then this year it happened: No one mentioned my birthday on Facebook. I still received texts and phone calls from good friends and loved ones, as well as grubby brat-hugs I cherish even when it’s after baseball practice. 

So, I guess my birthday did happen, after all. But in a way that felt better for me. It felt more authentic. And, if I’m going to dye my grays, stuff my rolls in a girdle, and crank my Zoom filter up to maximum, I really should try to keep something real. 

I couldn’t hide it from everyone, though. I found my feed flooded with more ads for wrinkle cream and solutions for female incontinence. Facebook, like Baskin-Robbins, always finds out. 


Tags: Friends, Self Care, Social Media

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Written By

Becky Hepinstall Hilliker

Becky Hepinstall Hilliker is the co-author of Sisters of Shiloh (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015) and a freelance writer. See Full Bio

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