Monday Roundtable: Our Worst Birthdays

Bad days aren’t ever fun, but they’re especially un-fun when it’s your birthday and you were picturing an evening filled with candles and cake and balloons and friends and gifts — or, at the very least, not crying. But it’s your party and you’ll damn well cry if you want to, especially if your birthday is as bad as our worst ones.

Heather Hogan, Senior Writer + Editor

When I was 26, my sister was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. She had two surgeries to remove her thyroid and then one long hospital stay where she received a heck ton of radiation to destroy any lingering thyroid cells left in her body. The first surgery she had was on my 26th birthday. We didn’t tell a lot of people what was going on with her, so in addition to being at the hospital all day scared out of my wits about her operation and every unknown thing coming after it, I had to keep answering phone calls and text messages from well-wishers, pretending to be excited that they were excited that I had survived another year while my sister was getting her neck cut open. My sister hasn’t had any recurrences of malignant thyroid tissue since then, but even now, 14 years later, typing this makes me feel like there’s a belt around my chest.

Riese , Editorial & Strategy

Okay this requires some background, bear with me: Hayden (not his real name) (most of the names in this story have been changed) was my gay best friend with whom I developed a somewhat unconventional and often, I realize now, unhealthy relationship. But he was my whole world. We were obsessed with each other. I often said that he saved my life.

He was very critical and controlling of me — honestly he just had a lot going on psychologically that he hadn’t sorted through yet and I ended up bearing the brunt of a lot of those unexplored issues. He eventually decided that, despite his sexual orientation, he wanted me to lose my virginity to him, and I wanted to lose my virginity in general, so, that’s what we did and eventually we became low-key boyfriend/girlfriend. This situation was, especially after he graduated from our boarding school and went off to college and I remained there for my senior year — non-monogamous due to him being, you know, gay (I had no idea yet that I was gay) and me wanting to be open to experiences with people who might be, you know, slightly more consistently attracted to me than he was. By the time school started that fall, we definitely no longer referred to each other as boyfriend and girlfriend, except maybe to his parents (he was in the closet). He would be dating boys at college, and I was expecting to do the same at school.

So, I’m back at Interlochen for senior year and within a few weeks, I hook up with this guy Joe, who Hayden had a grudge against because of a part Joe had gotten in a play the year before that Hayden wanted. (I’d actually forgotten about this grudge when I hooked up w/Joe b/c Hayden had a lot of grudges!!) My birthday is on September 23rd. I had a really great September 22nd — I went into town with a few girl friends and we did work at a coffee shop and had brunch and ran around downtown and I felt confident. I felt like I wasn’t dependent on Hayden anymore, that this year would be great and I’d make new friends and be my own person.

Then I told Hayden during our nightly phone call that I’d slept with Joe. He was… LIVID. He yelled at me and then he hung up. I had to call him back. He hung up again. I’d expected titillation. Instead I got, “I can never touch you again.” “I never want to speak with you again.” “Even if I ever forgave you, I could never sleep with you again, knowing you’ve had sex with Joe [lastname].” He called me a slut. He suggested I “get a cabin” for myself like apparently a promiscuous dancer had the year before (again, in retrospect I imagine this was one of those mythologies that swirl up around sexually confident young women!) for me to carry out my whoredom.

I kept thinking tomorrow is my birthday. At some point I switched from talking to him on the phone in the basement where everybody can see you to the private phone booth where I could sob more loudly. He told me he might never talk to me again.

I’m not sure that he knew why he was mad at me, either, to be honest.

The next morning — my birthday — I pulled myself out of bed, somehow, but couldn’t hold it together in the cafeteria, trying to be excited when Ingrid greeted me with HAPPY BIRTHDAY and trying to go over Spanish vocab with Gaia. “I can tell Senora that you’re sick,” she told me. Astrid said she’d walk me to Health Services, and I told her the story of the night before on our way there, sobbing, “And it’s my birthday!”

Astrid walked me through getting the day off, and then to my dorm. I told her I couldn’t be alone, that I’d never felt more alone in my life, and she promised my friends would take turns visiting me during their off hours. Everybody told me he was being an asshole.

“There’s no way Hayden can live without you,” Emma assured me. Everybody kept saying that. (They were wrong. He kept it up for six weeks, during which time Joe asked me to be his girlfriend and I said yes and it was really nice with him, it really was, and also I arranged my life in such a way that I was only ever alone while showering, b/c to be alone was to have to think my thoughts, and my thoughts were dark.)

That night, my friends dragged me to the cafeteria. They’d covered the tables in construction paper with messages for me in optimistic, generous crayons. They blared our favorite Puff Daddy song on Sheetal’s boom-box and sang to me until the boom-box was confiscated. I was overwhelmed by the generosity of spirit they had for a girl with puffy red eyes who could barely say “thank you.” They hugged me and I felt like crying more, like I didn’t deserve it, or anything. But what angels they were for doing that! How blessed I was.

What I didn’t know yet and wouldn’t know until many months later was that Hayden also spent my birthday crying in his dorm room in Bronxville — but alone — not sure why he felt how he did or how he would live without me. He loved me so much and wanted to love me in a way that would save him from the homosexuality his church told him was a sin — but he knew ultimately that he could not, which meant one day I might have another man in my life who’d sometimes take priority over him. It’s odd to think of it now, that homophobia ruined my birthday, but not in quite the way you’d expect.

Erin , Writer

Oh, poor Erin on her 21st birthday. It involved a quick cry alone for no reason in an upstairs room of my friend’s house, which is pretty quirky romcom character of me. I think there was a Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?” element to it, which is admittedly a very early age to be settling into that kind of truth! I do remember rallying, though. Back downstairs for champagne! Good for me!

Rachel Kincaid, Former Managing Editor

I am lucky to have not had any standout nightmare city birthdays, like where someone ended up in a holding cell or an emergency room, for which I am grateful! The birthday that it still makes me saddest to think about was the one where I was in a not-great relationship and I had really gotten into the habit of not ever asking to do what I wanted to do or insisting on my own priorities because my partner either flat out refused or would be so obviously bored and pouty at my thing that it wasn’t worth it anyway. For my actual literal birthday, I thought it would be okay to tentatively make some moderate asks: I wanted to to make a cute picnic dinner to eat by the lake and come home, make cute cocktails and watch a bad 80s horror movie (it was Witchboard, for those playing along from home). Instead, we… got ingredients for dinner and then my partner didn’t feel like driving all the way out to the lake and begged to go grab a beer instead; we ended up in a bar until it got dark. When we went home, I made dinner and then… watched the movie alone, because he was tired and didn’t think he’d like it. That was a sad birthday! Anyway, I’m single now.

Valerie Anne, Writer

I had a lot of shitty birthdays. A magician/clown traumatized me by making me think I broke his magic wand at my 6th birthday, and since my birthday was in January there were many over the years that no one came because of the snow. Including my 21st birthday, which ended up involving me and my little cousin going to Build-a-Bear with my mom. I also hate being put on the spot so a room full of people singing at me or watching me open presents was an anxiety nightmare. But definitely the worst birthday ever was my 19th birthday, which I mentioned in our 19 roundtable, because it was also the day my paternal grandfather died. Which I know technically has nothing to do with my birthday, it was just a coincidence of dates, but I didn’t feel much like celebrating that year. A close second worst birthday is when my friend Nic and I had a joint 30th birthday and about 80% of the people who attended got the flu.

KaeLyn Rich, Writer

This is very boring, as is fitting for my very boring worst birthday, which was kind of fine and not even worth writing a full paragraph about, honestly. For my 21st birthday, I was home on break from college (the unfortunate annual circumstance of an early January birthday). I didn’t maintain a lot of friendships back home, but my one best friend offered to take me out. Then there was this unanticipated horrific snowstorm and everything was literally closed or shutdown. We ended up driving very slowly and carefully to an empty, dismal Applebee’s where I had a very aggressively fine strawberry daiquiri to ring in my big 2-1 with my friend and her boyfriend. Bless her heart.

Ari , Writer

I was 12, my alcoholic grandfather had come to visit, and my mother bought Earth, Wind, and Fire tickets as a “gift.” Like, I’m 100% not sure why she thought 12-year-old me wanted EWF tickets (I should’ve but I was a 12-year-old shit), but when I did not express gratitude, she put me on punishment (I got grounded, for the white folks) for the night and they went without me! And because my grandfather was there, we’d gone to visit his cousins or something who also lived in CT that day — spending my entire birthday in Bridgeport at some apartment complex that smelled like cigarette smoke, beer, and mothballs. He was fucking wasted by the time we got back to my house, he fell asleep in front of the television in the family room, and I spent the night in my room, mad. I still can’t believe I got put on punishment on my birthday!

I had a masters degree in disassociation by the time I was four that I didn’t start unlearning until my early twenties, so remembering my worst birthday is hard work. I have managed to identify the birthday that I have the least memory of, so it was probably that one. My aunt Goldie died. I’m pretty sure the morning of my birthday. If not, it could’ve been the night before but I’m pretty sure it was day of. We had a whole party planned and paid for at Funscape, which I remember walking into but that’s where the memory ends. I’m not even sure how old I was, maybe 12 or 13. What a bummer.

Stef Schwartz, Vapid Fluff Editor

A couple of years ago, my ex girlfriend who had moved away (with whom I was still very close) came to visit for my birthday and we got in a huge fight! We decided to stop talking to each other altogether that very day and then I dragged my sorry, sobbing self to the shitty faux metal bar where my best friend was working the day shift. It was just about noon when she poured me a rye on the rocks and I swear on all that is holy, “Love Hurts” came on the fucking jukebox all by itself. I yelled “OH, FUCK YOU!” to nobody in particular.

Molly Priddy, Writer

Gotta say, my worst birthday was my 21st. I was working as a camp counselor in northern Minnesota, and I went out to party because I could legally drink alcohol, even though I’d been doing it pretty much religiously since I’d been 18. I went out and assumed all my practice up to that point could handle all the shots I’d taken, but no, noooooo. I ended up on the side of the road outside of Bemidji (curling capital of the world), wearing a yellow shirt with loons on it, puking my guts out in the light of the headlights while my buddies looked on.

Apparently I was upset, I was crying about how one person can hurt you more than anyone else, and suddenly everyone else was crying too, all of us on the side of the road outside of Bemidji because we couldn’t understand pain or loneliness. Anyway, the next morning just made it worse, because I woke up hungover and wanting to do anything other than camp counsel, and I had to sit serving scrambled eggs out of a huge bowl to the whole camp before someone kindly informed my bosses that I was hungover as shit and they relieved me of my egg duties.

My worst birthday ever was maybe two or three years ago? I went to a Christmas party at my best friend’s house and I just felt really shitty but assumed it was my usual anxiety at having to leave my house/be around people/not really be in control of how I move around. (I can’t drive yet. I mean like if the situation demands it I can, but the situation needs to demand it without checking for a license). But no! Turns out my inability to breathe was indeed an asthma attack and as we took the Lyft home, I was just really grateful to just lean my head back and try to grab air for the good ol’ lungs as my sister talked to the driver the whole way home.

I get home, and I have my shower turned up scalding hot, but I’m still freezing and I can’t stop shaking. I put on a lot of thick clothes so I can sweat out whatever I’ve got but it’s just getting a lot worse. So I text my dad and ask him to take me to the hospital. So, we’re in the hospital I’ve never been to which already gives me anxiety and I’m assuming it’s not the emergency room because they… kept asking me questions when I told them I couldn’t breathe. I’m sitting there with all my clothes on and it feels like years before they finally call me to see a nurse. He’s a white guy with a southern accent and he tells me, like we’re having Sunday tea while catching up on gossip, that if I had kept all my clothes on I probably would’ve had a seizure and that once you have one, you can’t come back from those, which, you know really helped my anxiety (did you know I have all types of asthma? Not just allergy and sports induced but ANXIETY INDUCED TOO).

He asks me if I was having any suicidal thoughts and obviously the answer is yes but thank God for two things: 1) The sudden reminder across my brain that doctors rarely treat black women right in medical settings ESPECIALLY in regards to mental health and 2) My dad was in there with me. So, I lied and said no. As I’m still trying to breathe while answering all these questions (DID I MENTION I CANNOT BREATHE, spots are flittering across my vision, I can’t feel my hands, etc. etc.). I try to hold it together when he says with a cheery smile, “Well, you know we’ve all got to go sometime” and then hands me an oxygen tank and tells me (WITH A SMILE,  “Now don’t drop it or you’ll kill us all!” and I proceed to go to the bathroom and cry my eyes out while trying to get a urine sample.

After a treatment, they tell me to go to the back, and I just sit in another waiting room with my dad, tears pouring my down my face ’cause I just turned twenty-four and I guess I’m about to die and I don’t know if I can get into heaven yet; have I been good enough? If I have, will my granddad be there? Will that mean I’m gonna have to wait for everyone else to come before I don’t have to be near him again? And all kinds of other fun thoughts that not-on-the-right-mood-stabilizer me is chock full of.

The nurse sees me crying and asks my dad, “Is she okay?” and I wave him off angrily and they move me into the hospital room where thankfully the doctors are nicer but they are men and so I won’t register that until my fear at being in a room alone with men I don’t know when I can’t get my screaming to work (again) turns its volume down.

I have another treatment and a black nurse is very kind when wheeling me to get an X-ray and just lets me cry in peace. He makes me chuckle when he takes my X-ray and says, “I really hope you get better soon, Alexis” as he closes the door to my room to give me privacy.

I came home and tried to write about it but just cried for the majority of the break (most everyone in the house is in some kind of school or another) while I put whole lemons and oranges in ginger tea-filled thermoses, and accidentally fell asleep with Hulu playing The Runaways and Steven Universe on repeat. It’s really infuriating when I just want to enjoy y cartoons and my entire chest is like REMEMBER WHEN YOU HAD PNEUMONIA AND THOUGHT YOU WERE GONNA DIE and it like doesn’t go away. And as you can tell, I’m totally over it!

Vanessa Friedman, Community Editor

I have cried on my birthday only two times over thirty years, which is a pretty amazingly excellent statistic for which I am extremely grateful. One time was because my girlfriend really hurt my feelings and seemed like she didn’t even care, and one time was because I really hurt a friend and I was so mad at myself for not taking greater care with the emotional well being of a person I love.

Mmm I’ve had some awful birthdays. I think the worst one was definitely the year I moved to America. I was in college and had a very abusive roommate who ended up trashing my dorm room and all my shit and I had to spend the evening before my birthday with all my stuff bagged up in trash bags in someone else’s dorm in their couch. It was December and cold, I had no friends, no apartment, I was away from home, had broken up with my then-girlfriend like a week prior — and to top it off, one of my abusers who is a family member decided to visit me as a surprise and complain that they didn’t have somewhere to sleep.

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  1. wow, Rachel I want to redo that birthday with you – give you the picnic you deserved gurl.

    My 21st birthday was similarly kind of shit because of my boyfriend at the time (who I’d been with for 6 years at that point, which is a lot of time to give someone when you’re that young!). I’d organised a small dinner and drinks thing with like 6 of my good friends at a brewpub I really liked, but it was a little out of the way and we had to drive there. My boyfriend was going to only have one beer so he could drive us and I could drink on my 21st, but sometime just before my birthday he had lost the physical copy of his driver’s license and hadn’t gotten a replacement yet (or one of those paper interim ones either, I really don’t remember why?). Since he was too nervous to drive without his license (like, fine, fair enough) he decided he would invite a friend of his, they got drunk and pretty much ignored me most of the night and I stayed sober and drove us back. I honestly can’t remember what happened after, I somehow have a memory that he didn’t want to stay at my place so he went home, but he must have if he didn’t want to drive. Maybe that was two separate weekends. We weren’t in a great place in our relationship at that point anyway and we broke up a little later that year.

    Then there was my 27th birthday where I almost became part of the 27 Club by ingesting some sketch party, um, enhancers, in a club bathroom so… PERSPECTIVE.

  2. Oh godddd my 21st birthday has to be the winner. A few days prior to it I got raped by a friend (a straight girl friend! woop) and so I was hiding out in a borrowed apartment being grumpy and antisocial. I had a friend-date with one of my buddies for my birthday, but I wasn’t in the mood, so I called her up and said “Sorry, I’m going to have to cancel”. She said “No, no, you HAVE to come” but I stuck to my guns – turns out there was a surprise birthday party for me at the bar that we were supposed to be meeting at. Surprise! I didn’t show.

    So instead, while my friends had my surprise 21st birthday party without me, I just got all dressed up in clothes I found in the borrowed apartment plus really big earrings and went out to a bar on my own, where it was the waiter’s birthday too, randomly, so we drank champagne, and then I went to a different bar and ended up lying on a piano while a lady in Quebec who built a shrine to me phoned me up and sang happy birthday on loudspeaker.

    …………when I write these stories down, they look really very odd.

    anyway I suppose it was an interesting birthday?

  3. My partner committed suicide a week before my 18th birthday and honestly that entire year is a blur of poorly handled grief and bad decisions; the week leading up to my birthday is still full of emotional whiplash even years later.
    The worst part is that I spent that birthday with my family, who didn’t know about my partner, and I had to put on a happy face and pretend I wasn’t crushingly miserable.

  4. My worst birthday was definitely my 17th. Three weeks prior, my grandfather had a stroke, fell, and broke his neck. He was in the medically induced coma for two and a half weeks. My birthday was on a Tuesday. He died on Friday and, being Jewish, we had to bury him immediately after.

    That kinda sucked.

  5. Everyone except my English teacher forgot my 10th birthday, and then I had a math test. Got an A on the math test and the knowledge that time is relative.

  6. I had a panic attack and threw up in a Buffalo Wild Wings at the mall the night before my 21st. I still thought I was straight and my (still) abusive (then) boyfriend chose the restaurant. he mocked me for being too young to legally drink and got annoyed when i asked if we could go home. we split a month later.
    a year later i had a girl friend and she took me to an art museum and out for thai food. so that was like 100x better.

  7. All my birthdays have been horrific. My earliest memory is of my dearly-hated progenitor telling me she wished she’d had an abortion ( I was FIVE) so you can imagine the rest of my years with those people/how it’s left me feeling about my birthday! It’s another birthday soon and I’ll be 52 and I STILL think OH FUCK.

  8. I’ve had a lot of “worst birthdays”, mostly because I’ve always been a social outcast, rejected by my peers. I remember clearest my 13th birthday, but most others followed a similar storyline: 13 was supposed to be somewhat of a “milestone” for me, since I was entering the world of teenagers. I had invited 10 peers whom I sincerely hoped would become close friends. I had filled the CD changer with Backstreet Boys, Spice Girls and Alanis Morissette. I even recorded a mix tape cassette from our local hits station, 93-3 FLZ, and we were going to play Name That Tune! My mom had made me a cake, and we’d prepared a table full of orderves. None of those 10 friends showed up. Instead three older neighbors came, and basically talked to my dad the whole time. When I wanted to put music on and dance, my dad quickly skipped through everything I’d prepared, and ended up playing smooth jazz. I barely had anyone with whom to share my cake, and all the little party bites went back in the fridge. Chewing on them the next day, I tasted chicken wings and meatballs mixed with salty tears. I still have a lot of pain and sorrow surrounding my birthday because of all these disappointing non-parties.

    • ugh, i too was an unpopular kid and have tamped down traumatic memories like these from childhood birthdays. there were a couple years where certainly the only other kids were my same-age cousins and my slightly-younger brother who were all needlessly cruel to me for our entire childhood because i was artsy and they were not. just going to keep that in the vault.

  9. I’ve had a lot of not great ones, being so close to and sometimes on Thanksgiving just does not make it easy to have any sort of birthday gathering. But two years ago was maybe one of the top worst, I had just moved back to where I’m from but didn’t really know anyone here anymore, I felt really distant from all my friends that lived elsewhere. I was in the middle of one of the worst depressive episodes I had had in a long long time. I didn’t want to spend my birthday with my parents, but I would have if I could have. But they were having my abusive brother come for thanksgiving and were celebrating the fact he was going to have a kid (something I thought/and still think is really really wrong and unsafe). SOooo couldn’t be with them, didn’t have anyone else, and just generally felt like I had ruined my life by moving away from my college town. I normally bake and make a nice dinner for myself at the very least, but I think I could only manage to make some ramen that day.

  10. One of my worst birtdays was a few years ago for like my 26th birthday when I was still friends with my ex friend(which had all the emotional toll of a dating situation). We were in Ann Arbor for the week as I was checking out a school I got into and she was visiting the guy she was talking to on JDate. We went to all the college spots for all the free and buy one get one free birthday shots(which I didn’t know was a thing). That was fine, but since I was drinking solo as dude showed me around Ann Arbor’s college bars. Took a nap and afterwards the dude and my friend were like let’s get food then go to a strip club. I paid for dinner cause his wallet went magically missing, and my friend didn’t have any money cause he promised her he’d pay. So, after we stop at his place to get money and a coat cause it’s April in Michigan. Strip club had a talent night included bad singing and two women doing some weird sicsorring sex act(I didn’t know any better as it was before I came out of the closet). Dude also promised to pay there but didn’t. The woman giving me the dance also asked me where I am from and I said SoCal, and she said I once dance there, and then started crying. I was not sober, and didn’t know what to say other than thank you and told another dance to check on her cause she was crying. While I was getting a dance my friend and dude were kicked out of the place cause my friend was sitting on dudes lap as he rubbed her stomach. I found out a day or two later while I was take a mid day nap my friend and dude had sex on the other bed at the hotel we were staying at, but then dude thought why not on the same bed as I was passed out.

  11. Is it just me, or is the 21st birthday winning out as the worst for most of us? I’m pretty sure I spent mine drunk yelling at a hotel desk clerk to let me get to the room where my equally drunk friend who I was secretly in love with was probably having sex/being raped by one of the older gentlemen on a business trip who had purchased most of the booze we’d drunk that night. Ugly crying ensued.

  12. Okay, after reading about so many bad bad bad 21st birthdays I think I’ll put my Virgo brain to work extra hard this year. Specially considering that it will also be my first birthday away from home.

    Yep, no way I’m joining the stats. Also, don’t think I ever had a really really bad birthday, the worst I can remember was my 10th when went to the hospital to see my dad after surgery, but, hey, I got my favorite ice cream after that, so, not that bad.

  13. First, I’m sorry so many of you had shitty 21st Birthdays – it’s an overrated milestone for sure, but that still hurts my heart.
    Anyway, my worst Birthdays are probably a tie between:
    My 15th, when one of my friends tried to kill herself and as a 15-year-old I didn’t have the emotional capacity to deal with it so I just cried a lot but tried to pretend everything was fine. (She thankfully didn’t go through with it but it all felt very real)
    My 18th when everyone bailed on my Birthday dinner and basically I gave up on having reliable friends who will make an effort from then on.
    OR, my 20th, when I was spending my first Birthday away from home and was super excited because wow an overseas Birthday how exotic. But alas, I ended up getting hospitalised in a small town in Central France where no one spoke English and I couldn’t breathe and I was anxious for other reasons as well and it all just felt like such a mess. It turned out to only be a bad case of bronchitis but Alexis your story definitely brings back memories.

  14. the spring / summer before i turned 20 i decided “i am going to leave my bedroom, and maybe even my house, find a job, and start eating right, and exercising.”

    so within, like, three months i’d developed a totally uncalled for eating disorder.

    on my 2oth birthday that october, i spent the entire morning in a state of near panic over the food i’d have to eat as a part of my Traditional Birthday Feast. I knew my food feelings were fucked up, but I wasn’t hiding them yet, so I think I even asked my dad if we could “just get a salad and no pie” (i like pie instead of cake don’t @ me)

    then i sobbed in the shower!! it was super great.

    I generally don’t like my birthday bc it’s a lot of pressure to be happy, it’s a reminder that i have achieved zero things other than inching closer to an unremarkable death, and my seasonal depression hits me in mid September, so i’m sad anyway.

    so i’m skipping 2019 and moving any future birthday pies to my half birthday, which is in april, when i am generally not super fucking depressed.

    see y’all in 2020

  15. If asked I could tell you straight up it was my thirteenth, but now I’ve heard about everyone’s genuinely terrible birthdays I feel ungrateful or something, but anyway…

    we were on holiday in a caravan in Wales. We were always on holiday on my birthday because it was the cheapest week in the school summer holidays, I hated being on holiday on my birthday because I wanted to see friends (and also I generally didn’t enjoy family holidays). My parents has signed my sister and I up for an outdoor activity scheme, which I hated because I am an introvert and didn’t see the point in investing social energy it getting to know people I wouldn’t see again after that holiday, and at that age was really low in confidence and social awkward and always felt like I didn’t fit in (thanks straight people). Even on my birthday they still made me go to it. It rained every day on that holiday and I didn’t pack a raincoat because what 12 year old packs a raincoat for a holiday (as an adult I always do). My parents brought me this hideous translucent raincoat which I particularly hated at that age when I cared a lot about what people thought of my appearance and each day it was a genuine struggle to decide if it would be worse to get soaking wet or to be seen in a hideous coat. I can’t remember if we went walking on my actual birthday, probably not, but that was my general recollection of the holiday during which I turned thirteen.

  16. My worst birthday was my 21st which is 29 years ago now. I had organised a super party on a train travelling through the wine region with my friends, It was a thing in 1990 believe me. Unfortunately about two weeks before the day I ended up moving back in with my Mum , stepdad and sister, basically because I got chucked out of my share house for not paying my rent on time because I spent all my cash on seeing bands every night. I was really looking forward to the train party and when I told my mum my birthday plans she informed me I couldn’t go. This was because she had planned a family surprise birthday party for me, and could I please pretend to be surprised because everyone else was excited. None of my actual friends were invited just her neighbours, my relations and two girls from ballet school who I hadn’t seen for about 6 years.

    It was not a great start to being 21. I tried to get very drunk but remained super sober. It was very tense and the ballet girls did some surprise work of their own to get me out of there and took me out to see a pop band called Mental as Anything. They had a glowing duck light on their keyboard and sang funny songs about living it up! I would never have seen them because I was cool and into alternative rock and hardcore like Henry Rollins (Yay!) who was playing the next week. They made me dance little choreographed jazz steps, and bedazzled the boys on stage with their girly frocks while I glowered in my doc martens. Still trying to get outrageously drunk we ended up in the McDonalds where my parents used to hand me and my sister over to each other. The girls introduced me to dipping hot apple pies into chocolate sundaes talking about our ballet years,and bitching, with me wishing desperately that I could just fit in and be like them, so beautiful and lipsticked and I’m looking straight at your bosom..and you’re not noticing…and you have beautiful breasts and..yep.. I think all those ballet crushes were more than just envying talent..I think, I think I might be gay…in fact I am sure of it. And now you are asking me to come back to your place tonight. Okay. It turned out we were all very, very drunk.

    It wasn’t really so bad; the wine train did actually derail so it was good I wasn’t on it, I saw Henry the next week in town, and I got myself together to move right back into the city as quick as I could. And now I knew liked girls! Surprise!

  17. Having read all of these terrible stories I feel kind of stupid about all the “worst” birthdays I have had. Kudos to you for getting through all of this! I’d like to give each and everyone of you a cake and a hug for your next birthday.

    Coincidentally, when this roundtable was published on Monday, it was my actual real-life 32nd birthday.
    For some weeks leading up to this day, I thought this would be my worst birthday yet. I wanted to be pregnant so badly, and I am not, and I thought there’d be nothing to celebrate, my empty uterus a failure like none before. But when the day came, it was actually relieving: I’ll probably be 33 when I have my firstborn and I’d better get used to the thought of it and I might even be ok with it.
    I had a spritz and a wine on my birthday, and cheese. I had baked two cakes for work and everyone liked them. I had my loving girlfriend and friends and colleagues and actually, it was kind of perfect and I am so glad that 31 is over and done with.

    A runner-up would be my 30th birthday. I never celebrate my birthday, but I had a party and people were showing up and they were so nice! All but one of my colleagues, who decided to be an asshole to everyone including me, insulting people, staying longer than she should have and flirting endlessly with my best friend. I had to share an office with her for months afterwards and we were still working in the same team for years, plus she started dating my best friend for real who, as you might have guessed, isn’t my best friend anymore. (Really who starts dating a person that was awful to your friends on the very night you first met?!)Way to start your thirties with some teenage drama. (Also, do NOT invite your colleagues to private things unless you are absolutely 100% sure they are nice people. You have to see these assholes every day!)

    But really the worst one might be my 15th, because I don’t remember it and I had a nervous breakdown about two months later. Puberty was such fun.

  18. this whole thing is giving me a great big YIKES feeling. my worst birthday is worse than some of the birthdays here but not nearly as bad as some of the other birthdays here. but i’m gonna write it out anyway, as an exercise in exorcizing the bad feelings i still have around it (see what i did there?) – here goes.

    it was my second birthday with my ex-wife. the first one i’d thrown myself a great big party, as was my habit – we had been very newly dating so she attended and gave me a gift and that was it. well, for my second birthday we were together for – i must have been turning 28 – i kind of left it in her hands. that was my first mistake. she has NEVER been a planner. not only that, but she was raised in an ex-jehovah’s witness household and had a christmas birthday, so she’s never really had a big birthday tradition in her life. i am a fabulous summer leo who loves attention, so there’s a bit of a disparity in expectation there.

    in addition to that, i normally take my birthday off work but that year i didn’t for whatever reason. not enough vacation, felt guilty, whatever. she, on the other hand, is a high school teacher, and doesn’t have to work all summer long. so the morning of my birthday i’m getting ready for work and i ask her if we can sit and have coffee together, maybe eat a little breakfast before i have to go to work. “nope,” she says. “i have to make you a birthday card.”

    cute, right? making me a birthday card? but, i think to myself, you don’t have to work today. it’s the MORNING of my birthday. i can forgive the fact that you didn’t make it, you know, BEFORE my birthday, but… do you have to do it in the 30 minutes we get together in the morning? i didn’t give her all this info, i just kind of said “oh, okay, i’ll just go to work then.”

    so i worked. and whatever. i’m vegan, so birthdays at work are always a bummer because they’ll get me the dense dry-as-fuck chocolate whole wheat cake from the grocery store nearby and nobody else will want any because it’s disgusting. the rest of the day is just work. at that time i was really not getting along with a few coworkers too, so the whole thing felt really passive-aggressive, including the card that one of my work-enemies took it upon herself to purchase. i can’t remember the message now but it was not kind.

    after work, relieved to have that over, i went home and we got dressed up to go to my favourite restaurant for dinner. it’s a fancy vegan restaurant in vancouver called the acorn and i adore it, and i can rarely afford to get a full three course and drinks, but hell, it’s my birthday. right? WRONG. my partner discouraged me from getting a second drink – “do you really need to?” – and when i wanted to share a dessert, she said, “i’d rather not, it’s just too expensive. we have chocolate at home.”


    i lost it on the way home. i started crying and told her how shitty and forgotten and unimportant i felt all day. she gave me the card she’d made me that morning and it was cute and sweet and thoughtful, but i was inconsolable. i told her my birthday was important to me and i felt let down.

    the next day she made it up to me by waking me up with flowers and breakfast and taking me out for a second dinner, but it took me a LONG time to not hold that against her again. that year i threw her an amazing birthday party with lots of thoughtful gifts and she sheepishly asked me if i was trying to make her feel bad for letting me down. i wasn’t, but neither of us got over it for a while.

    and i’m clearly still not over it. we’ve been broken up for six months now and i’m still resentful!

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