Someone close to me was sad that many of her friends declined her birthday party invitation (I guess it’s because they’re on vacation or have other appointments, I’m not sure).
She felt her friends are not her real friends and that they didn’t really care for her, else they’d find a way to make time for her birthday (and her conclusion was that she must be a terrible human being, else she’d have more loyal friends). It’s not uncommon to internalize disappointment in this way (even though some people externalize their frustrations and will never question their self-worth – instead they might go on Facebook and post something like “all my friends are assholes” – I kind of envy those people).
It’s almost impossible to find the right words in this situation and I wasn’t really able to make her feel better (but I tried).
First, I emphasized that people in general are incredibly unreliable nowadays. People are “flakey” and will bail out of plans you had previously agreed on – I’m not sure why that is, maybe it’s the “Tinder generation” of non-commitment, maybe the opportunity costs have increased, maybe we lost our social skills (but this seems to get worse with younger generations, I’m told).
Second, what I found out is that the party-thrower doesn’t even enjoy throwing parties, really, but felt like she had to do it because it’s an “important birthday”.
Why do something you don’t enjoy, though? I don’t get it (plus it’s expensive and really time-consuming).
Shouldn’t you try to make your birthday fun for yourself? If a fun day to you means organizing a party (for others to have fun at, mainly), then sure, go ahead. But many people (myself included, probably) would rather spend the day chilling, maybe doing some outdoor activity or playing a video game and eating at a nice restaurant alone or with one person you care about – why not just do that? I think we should let go of these idiotic expectations that “a birthday has to look like THIS and life in general has to look like THIS to be good” (the birthday-party is a good metaphor; You could substitute it with any other activity or “milestone” accompanied by societal expectations, like marrying, having kids, loving your parents by default, having to babysit other couples babies, etc.).
You’ll have to have the balls to be honest with yourself and others though and communicate your needs. If a pushy family member or friend wants you to throw a party, politely tell them “no thanks, I’m good”.
My guess is that about half of the people throwing parties do so because they think “that’s what I’m supposed to do” or “this way I can show everybody that my life is great and that I’m popular” (I know it’s embarrassing to admit, but we all have these lowly motivations to some extent).
The problem with these motivations is that it can backfire – if the party isn’t that fun or if only few people show up, those people might be devastated and fall into a real dark place. (“So everybody does hate me after all and I have no real friends” – I’ve seen this type of thinking quite a bit – especially with people who don’t have a lot of intrinsic self-worth or who have been bullied).
If teenagers think like this, I get it (being cool and popular is THE most important thing then, after all). But if adults are still in this mode, I find it somewhat sad. I remember comedian Tim Dillon saying something to the extent of “if you’re in your 30s and have more than 5 friends .. something is seriously wrong with you”. I know, he said it for comedic purposes, and a lot of extroverts will disagree with me – but could there be some truth to this? Can you really know more than 5 people well? And who the hell has time for dozens of good friends as an adult? Of all the people I know, there are probably less than 5 that I really, genuinely enjoy spending time with (so why would I have more than 5 friends? To show off at some party? No thanks).
In your late 20s and 30s, ideally, you should come to terms with who you are and how you want to live (and how much social activity you need). Sure, you don’t live in a vacuum and if somebody invites you to a party or if your parents want to see you on Christmas, it’s fine to show up even if you don’t feel like it.
But don’t let anybody coerce you into throwing a party when you don’t want to (or, for that matter, live your life in a way you don’t want to). I’ll still invite a few friends over for a beer or for a meal when I feel like it – but I’ll probably never throw a big party in my life again (and yes, this includes weddings or my 40th and 50th and 60th birthday, if I even make it this far).