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How to celebrate adult birthdays well: Give them what they want

I have heard a lot about adult birthday celebrations. Sometimes there are surprise parties. Sometimes there are gifts. Cake often figures into it. Today, I would like to write about how some people get celebrating someone else’s birthday absolutely right. And how some people get it wrong.

Lots of my clients tell me they enjoyed their birthday celebration. Others, however, will tell me they feel sad because their partner didn’t get it right. Sometimes they feel overlooked. Other times they feel frustrated because a celebration was forced on them when they said didn’t want anything done.

The trick to getting it right? Why not give the person whose birthday it is what they want?

Lots of people want to plan an elaborate surprise party for someone they love because they would enjoy the process – from start to finish. The dreaming up of ideas. The actual planning. Sending out invitations. Talking to friends ahead of time. Getting the cake and balloons. Having people arrive to help them celebrate. But that’s not necessarily what the person whose birthday it is wants.

Other people don’t want to plan even a simple party because they wouldn’t enjoy the process. Making the plans. Inviting people. Attending the event. Even though that’s what the person whose birthday it is would like.

So what if we consider the other person’s wishes and pay less attention to what we want? Do they like to mark their birthday? Do they want a fuss made over them? Do they tell everyone that their birthday is coming a month in advance? Do they typically invite everyone they know to celebrate with them?

Or would they like to treat their birthday like any other day of the year? Even if they are turning 40 or 50? Left to their own devices, would they like to quietly acknowledge the day by going out to dinner with you on a Saturday? Or would they rather not have anyone mention the day to them at all?

Rather than giving an adult you love what you want, you can give them what they want. They will appreciate the effort, whether that effort is to plan a party or to rein in your horses and do absolutely nothing.

If they want their birthday to come and go quietly with no one else knowing, why not give that to them? In exchange, if you would like a birthday party on your day, why not ask them to reciprocate by participating in your party to the degree that they are able? If they’re quiet by nature, planning a party may take them out of their comfort zone, but that doesn’t mean they can’t help plan the event. Maybe they can make restaurant reservations or clean the house? Maybe they can send out the email invitations rather than making the calls?

Getting the perfect present? The same reasoning applies. If the person you love doesn’t want presents, then don’t them anything as a sign of respect. If they like presents, however, then give them something they would like.

Why not give the person that you love what they want? It’s their birthday, after all.

Dr. Patricia Turner, Registered Psychologist, Calgary, Alberta 

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