Ever since I turned twenty-one, each of mine has been a reminder that I’m nearer to the end but further from my dreams. I’ve just turned a year from forty, and finally given up on my dream of becoming a professional football playing astronaut firefighter.
These years, they also involve being reminded of my significant regrets, which are only going to increase as I age. The book contract I lost because I was working a ‘real job’, all the times I stayed out too late to prove I’m a ‘real man’, the pivotal comedy performances I messed up because I really like drinking.
“It has been said that a man at ten is an animal, at twenty a lunatic, at thirty a failure, at forty a fraud, and at fifty a criminal.”
That’s my favorite quote about aging, and it’s from The Book of Tea, by Kakuzo Okakura. A book that came free with the Kindle I got for my thirty-fifth birthday, and still the only book on it, because I never worked out how to connect the stupid thing to wifi.
During my thirties, and on my actual birthday I’ve done so much failing. I’ve been stood up, dumped, fired, had restaurants forget my booking, knocked back from nightclubs, stuck overnight at an airport, and caused a car accident. The only upside is that I’m genuinely looking forward to being a fraud.
Social media’s only added to my birthday agony. So many “friends” wishing me happiness, whose birthday’s I know I’ll never remember. So anytime I log on, I go birthday wishes bananas. Really, all the birthday wishes I get are probably just people returning the favor, and so continues the never-ending circle of obligation.
There are people in their thirties who still have birthday parties, and expect others to turn up. You know what these people don’t have? Children. And what they usually are? Single.
Whenever I’m invited to a birthday party for an over-thirty, I always say I might go, since I’m not clever enough to think up an instant excuse. Then I make my excuses when I finally think of something decent, or I just don’t show. The worst part is, the next time I see that person, I feel bad because I didn’t go to a party they threw for themselves, in an effort to feel okay about getting old.
Really, I already have more than enough obligations that I fail to live up to. I actually move cities every five years, to avoid accumulating too many birthday obligations, and never back to where I’m originally from, thus avoiding old friends and extended family.
Something I remind myself, anytime I consider having a birthday party, is that it’s a celebration of the final day of my mother’s nine months of agony, a day that I have no memory of, and certainly wouldn’t celebrate if I did.
My twenty-first birthday and all before it were amazing, but every birthday since has only tarnished those memories, which is why I think there should be an option to opt out after you turn twenty-one.
Children’s birthdays should continue forever, however, as they’re all magic shows, games, sugar, and plenty of other stuff adults aren’t supposed to like but secretly do. Also, there’s often free alcohol, and the sight of all those mini humans creating memories worth remembering is pretty good too.
Xavier Toby is a writer and comedian.
His second comedy memoir ‘Going Out of My Mined’ is available now.