How do you cope when you hit a milestone birthday solo, and life isn’t exactly as you’d planned it? With a comparison culture rife on social media, it’s quite easy to fall into a spiral of thinking you’re not good enough and feeling the need to ‘keep up with the Insta-gang.’
Writer, Faith Fox talks about her impending 40th birthday and the anxiety this can bring when you’re planning a milestone birthday as a solo.
I started panic eating when lockdown started; with the same ferocity as people were buying toilet roll and pasta. The only thing I could control was my eating, so I played my part, staying at home, protecting the NHS and eating white chocolate chip cookies.
By May, six weeks into lockdown and carrying an extra ten pounds, my thoughts began to turn to my impending birthday. With forty approaching, I was single, feeling fat and old.
Every year, as my birthday approaches, I feel birthday phobia. My birthday is in late August, and it has always been a thing for me because birthdays stress me out. And this year, the stakes are even higher as I turn forty and we’re in the midst of a pandemic.
Carrying a little lockdown weight
There was only one thing I could easily change – my weight. I follow a ketogenic diet on and off, so eight or so weeks later, I’m over half a stone lighter and almost back to my game weight. I’m pleased with this, and with just under one month until the big 4-0, glad to have taken action, and to scrub off feeling fat from the list.
Single on a milestone birthday
Let’s talk about being single as I approach the milestone birthday of forty. I’m a single mother to a young child. I’m not living in my dream house, and don’t have a nice car, 2.4 children and a happy marriage. It’s not for me at this time. I remember my parents turning forty, especially my mum, who had a big party.
We were living in their ‘forever family home’ and by the time my parents turned forty they came across as proper grown-ups. Whereas, I feel as though I’m pretending to be a grown-up. Sometimes genuinely believing I’m still 24 (but with a small person to look after). I always felt that by forty, I would have children (more than one) and a lovely husband. We would what love stories are made of – the couple everyone envied.
Instead, I love running my own business and own (half) of my house, which I’m growing to love. I’m mum to a hilarious, beautiful boy (who I adore and love to the moon and back). He’s my child, counting myself as incredibly lucky to reach this age, having the privilege of being a mother.
Single and hitting forty during a pandemic
So, I’m single. During this lockdown period, I’ve remained single and haven’t downloaded a dating app. The universe will present the right person for me when I’m ready. (Universe, if you’re reading this, can you please send either Jamie Redknapp or someone who looks just like him, please? Thank you!).
I’m actually okay with being single. Dating during a pandemic is not a good use of my time. Instead, focusing on my interests and being productive in my business. However, being single does leave me with full responsibility for planning my birthday. As I’ve mentioned, my birthday is in late August.
Cue birthday anxiety
Looking back to my school days, by the time my birthday rolled around, six weeks would pass since I last saw my friends. In the late 1990s, we didn’t have the benefit of What’s App, so there was always a dilemma around invites. Should I send my party invites before the end of the term? What if people forget because it is six weeks away? What if nobody turns up?
Should I give out my party invites three weeks before my birthday? How would I deliver my invitations? What if they get lost in the post? Most people are away (especially as my birthday often falls on a bank holiday). So, should I push celebrations back to September…..no, no I thought, everyone is turning thirteen now – nobody will care I’m only twelve.
As you can see, the birthday anxiety started young. Many people experience birthday anxiety. I believe it’s worse amongst people whose birthdays are around key dates, such as Christmas or New Year.
Still, for me, my birthday falling on a summer bank holiday is what makes it worse. Everybody’s priorities are focusing on holidays, the bank holiday weekend or getting kids ready to go back to school. I have googled ‘August birthday anxiety’, but nothing comes up. Maybe I should add a scientific study looking at which birth month gives the most birthday anxiety to my list of things to do? (I’m joking).
A catalogue of birthday disasters
Over the years, notable things have happened around my birthday (which by the way, I happen to share with Macaulay Culkin):
- Childhood friend moves to Australia. (age 14)
- Princess Diana died. (age 17)
- I was so drunk I injured my eye. (age 20)
- Yet again, I was so drunk my brother had to drive me home from a nightclub at 10.30 pm. (age 21)
- A trip to Alton Towers (arranged by my now ex-husband), left me experiencing motion sickness all day. (age 24)
- My best friend’s wedding day – mind you, that was a good one! (age 29)
- My best friend felt guilty and arranged a birthday meal as a surprise for me the following year. Unfortunately, my dad ruined the surprise by showing me the “food choices for Faith’s birthday meal” email on his phone just before the event. (age 30)
As you can see, birthdays during my first three decades generally had some kind of disaster-theme associated. Some of the birthday disasters were within my control, (i.e., the drinking), others were acts of god or commissioned by secret service (depending on what theory you choose to believe!).
As a consequence, throughout my thirties, I would play my birthday down and keep it simple. I’d aim to be on holiday, or my now ex-husband would arrange a meal. Manage your expectations so nothing will go wrong. Invite the people you know will turn up, and you won’t have birthday anxiety.
As birthdays get progressively worse
Not one of my birthdays aged thirty-one to thirty-five were particularly memorable, but thirty-six certainly was!
It was eight months before when my marriage had ended, and I was two months into a relationship with Nathan, the covert narcissist I mention in my first post. During the ‘love bombing’ phase, Nathan talked endlessly about buying me a present. He had stress dreams about my gift saying he had bought me a present but sent it back because it wasn’t right. He talked about it a lot!
Now, on the day of my birthday, Nathan had already booked and pre-arranged a trip away with his children. We arranged to see each other on Saturday night, two days before my birthday (I recall him being very vague and non-committal then), and he also joined us on a family outing the following day. Again, I wasn’t sure if he would turn up.
We did have a nice time in the end and the day before my birthday (when we said goodbye), would have been the perfect time to give me the present he’d talked about so much. All I really wanted was a card, but while driving away, I found it odd that on the eve of my birthday, there was no gift or card from my boyfriend. I was hurt and confused.
Maybe he had forgotten, and he would drop it round later that evening. Nothing.
Too many tears
I woke up on my own on my thirty-sixth birthday but to a lovely text message – HAPPY 36TH BIRTHDAY with lots of balloons, cakes and party poppers. It must have taken him a while to type and design.
I cried on my way to work.
I cried in the toilet at work.
I cried on the fire escape when someone was in the toilet.
I just felt crushingly disappointed. Now, owing to the love-bombing from dear Nathan and my co-dependency, I was utterly addicted to him. The gift to demonstrate how he felt about me never materialised on my special day. It was as if I was not able to get the fix of whatever it was I needed from him. And I needed confirmation of how he felt about me. And it wasn’t there on my birthday.
I cried for the duration of my family birthday dinner. When I got home, a bill from my divorce lawyer was waiting for me. To make things worse, I had been horribly ungrateful for my loving parents’ efforts. I ghosted Nathan. He’d text, he’d call and I ignored him all day.
Eventually, we did speak and I broke up with him. Sobbing for the rest of the evening and telling him we were incompatible. I wish I left our relationship there.
Oh no. The red flag ignored. After a twenty-four-hour communication break, Nathan came over the next day, and we made up. Having spoken to various friends, I believed I overreacted. Two months later, for his birthday, I took him for lunch, arranged VIP tickets to a popular TV show and sourced a rare piece of 70’s TV show memorabilia.
My thirty-seventh birthday turned out to be another teary-eyed day. My son was sick in his bed that morning and then in mine. After washing the sheets, the day was spent at home worrying he’d caught a sickness bug. All plans subsequently cancelled. Neither did it help that two days earlier, I fell out with my mum after Nathan had been incredibly rude to her. The meal arranged for my family and Nathan’s family (keeping it simple, remember), was a disaster. Nathan was late, and my mum refused to come along as she was (quite rightly) angry.
I didn’t cry as much as I did the year before, so all things considered, would we say thirty-seven was a relative success?
By the time I reached thirty-eight, well, I had learned my lesson, and this time I was going to get it right – a family holiday with Nathan and our children. We had a good day at the waterpark; Nathan tipped my rubber ring upside down on the lazy river, hurting my nose, but luckily there was no bleeding. Nathan’s eleven-year-old son insisted on holding his hand all day (I suspect Nathan arranged this knowing I liked holding hands). By setting the bar so low nothing could go wrong and I wouldn’t be in tears all day. And fortuitously, I didn’t have a broken nose.
By thirty-nine, Nathan was no longer a feature in my life, by which time I really did manage to get birthdays just right. It turned out to be a lovely day together with my parents and son sitting on the beach and swimming in the sea. Absolute bliss.
Acing my 40th birthday plans as a solo!
Now the big 4-0 looms; the pressure is there to arrange something marking the milestone occasion. But what? Even before the pandemic, rather than a large gathering, I decided I would celebrate with all the lovely people in my life by organising a series of small gatherings.
Celebrating the big day
On the day itself, I will be holidaying with my parents and son at my favourite place on earth – hoping to take a boat trip or try out paddleboarding for the first time. We will be staying near the home of Jamie Redknapp’s parents (universe, have you taken note?) Whether Jamie Redknapp falls in love with me or not, my plans for my birthday make me happy.
Celebrating with friends
In the two weeks leading up my birthday, there are events lined up with friends. I’m so pleased this will ease the pressure releasing me from the usual birthday anxiety. Large gatherings stress me out. My house isn’t huge, so having a large number of people over at the same time just isn’t possible. The prospect of arranging a party venue or restaurant is more stress and another financial commitment too much to bear at this moment in time.
I have amazing friends. One of the things I love about my life is the eclectic mix of people I’ve gathered along the way. With them, I’m hoping to be at open-air concerts, enjoying dinner and afternoon tea in the garden and hosting BBQs. All going well, I’ll be organising a mini yoga retreat.
However, one thing lacking when you are a birthday single can be a beautiful gift. Friends have received designer handbags, trips to expensive jewellers and romantic holidays – but without a partner, you can feel as though you’re missing out.
Instead, I’ve commissioned a jeweller found on Instagram to design a bespoke ring. It will be my 40th birthday present to myself. Giving my creative input towards designing the ring means I won’t be feigning pleasure for a gift I hate. (I’ve been there and done that before).
My son will give me a necklace that I will help him order and have sent to my parents. They will help him wrap my gift and choose a card for me. My parents have paid for our holiday too, and I’ve been looking forward to our trip throughout lockdown.
As forty looms, I’m not fat, and I’m okay with being single. Reaching the ripe old age of forty with so much positive stuff in my life is a good reason to be excited! This year, if the birthday curse strikes, I’ll be resilient enough to create another plan keeping birthday anxiety at bay. I deserve to have a great birthday, and no matter what life throws at me, I will make sure it will be good, suitably marking the occasion and one to remember!