This is usually where I type HBD into Facebook. It’s my annual, typical ‘sup? To my online friends. But you just said you dread birthdays. I read it. It meant something to me.
I frequently dread birthdays. Birthdays when I was a kid meant the end of freedom. The beginning of torment. School starting. The incomprehensible social jockeying for status.
As I grew older the dread festered. Now I expected myself to have a good time. Everyone around me was so anxious that I enjoy the parties they threw. I just wanted to be alone. By myself, where I wouldn’t have to try to figure out what was expected of me.
These days I toe the line of social norms. I type HBD on Facebook as I used to scrawl a spartan “happy birthday” on company cards, lacking any real connection to the birthday person in question.
I wonder if your dread is my dread? Are you adrift in social events? Lacking any clue as to what the faces around you mean? Terror at being the center of attention? An unbelievably bad liar because communication itself is a challenge?
The internet is a blessed wall that obscures the faces I cannot read. The gestures that have meanings that I do not know. The words mean what I want them to mean and nothing more. I can say “happy birthday” here and no one doubts that it is sincere. Strangers can ask “how are you doing?” and you know they really do care because they took the time to type it. I can shelve my canned response of “fair to middling” because I know that I can be honest with the inquirer if I want to be.
Oversharing is a chronic problem on the internet for me. For many people. The false familiarity leads to contempt for foreign ideas. Commenters whom you disagree with are driven from the field in a hail of ridicule. Your stream of information becomes a self-deluding stream of misinformation. Of comfortable lies you’d rather believe than truths you find hard to stomach. Unless.
Unless you take the time to understand the other. One on one. Pick apart the ideas. Discover the meanings of the words we all think we know for ourselves, but really aren’t the same meanings assigned to the words by others.
So I type HBD on friend’s Facebook walls once a year. SMS the real friends whose phone numbers I still possess. Friends I can disagree with and still stay friends. Hopefully stay friends, anyway. Yes I really mean it, especially if it comes with an exclamation point and a cake emoji. Do I care if you reciprocate? Not really. Consider it an invitation to open a dialog. What does a happy birthday mean to you? Maybe I’ll figure out what it means to me in the process.
It occurs to me that the reason I hated writing messages on office birthday cards was because my handwriting was so atrocious as to look like it was written by an eight year old with a brain injury (dysgraphia) not so much that I didn’t have a feeling of relationship with the people in question. When every character written has to be concentrated on exclusively for minutes at a time in order to be formed properly, it is a forgivable sin to just scrawl your signature and save the birthday wishes for when you have a chance to talk to the person.
…Unless of course you hate that person. Then you can even forget to sign and that is okay too.