Why I Buy My Own Birthday Presents and It's For the Best

Ariel Swift

I never got the memo that birthdays are supposed to stop being fun.  I love my birthday. I don’t ever do anything particularly outlandish or extravagant, but I still love it.

I love that it is in January and starts the year with a bang.  I love remembering last year and seeing all the changes and discoveries that popped up.  And I love celebrating the simple truth that I exist. I like that I take up space. I like knowing that I am special because I exist.  


End of reasons.  

A few years into being married I realized my relationship with my birthday had changed.  Somehow, expectations had crept into my day. Having hurt feelings had become an expectation.  My partner sucked at showing me love on this particular day in ways that allowed me to feel loved.

And, I realized later, I had done a piss-poor job of doing anything about it other than pout. Fast forward to three years ago, when I had started seeing a therapist to help me figure out why I felt like there was a cork in my throat anytime I needed to speak about uncomfortable things with my husband.

Long story, but turns out I suck at being in a relationship.  Because being in a relationship takes a lot of communication. And I was terrible at it. So all the feelings, all the pain, and all of the expectations about my birthday and how my husband would act on that day weren’t about my birthday at all, but were about smaller, seemingly inconsequential conversations that had never happened.

Like this one, that did end up happening:

“Hey babe, could you put your cans in the recycling after you rinse them?  When they dry in the sink like this I can’t do my life with kids without getting pissed about the cans.”


“Thank you!”

The cans now get put in the recycling sooner than they used to, and I feel heard, and I am not pissed as I do my life with kids.

But my birthday…

One of the conversations that was never had was that I hated getting crap for my birthday just to be given something out of obligation.  Like, it’s obvious someone went to Walgreens last night and picked out a card, and bag of candy. It sucked.

And I was so hesitant to bring it up because I was taught by society that good girls say, “Thank you!” And act gracious regardless of the situation, relationship to the gift giver, or I don’t know…our own feelings.  

It was hard to tell him I would rather have him look me in the eye and say he was so thankful that I am in his life and here are the car keys, go where you want and don’t worry about being here at home, he’s got it.  But for some reason that was stuck in my throat.

Until therapy, and work, and bravery, and vulnerability, and all the things saint Brene Brown talks about.  The kicker is I don’t even remember when I had the conversation, but it was probably one year sometime after my birthday, and after my hurt feelings, and after therapy, and perhaps after another discussion about how I want our relationship to function.  

And I want my relationship to function like this on my birthday: I don’t want to make the coffee in the morning.  If I am given chocolate, I want it to be mini Reese’s peanut butter cups. I want to be wished a happy birthday, and I want to be able to buy myself something that helps me express my autonomy and financial freedom and I want time to myself.  That’s it. I don’t need a special dinner. I don’t need a cake. I don’t need any of those things. I want to exist, and not be responsible for other people surviving for a short while.

How I remember it coming out to my husband, was like this: “It feels like my birthday surprises you every year, and while I know you don’t mean to, I feel unimportant and mad when you leave at 7 pm the night before and buy me crap at Walgreens. Can we go forward with a different expectation?  For my birthday, I want to buy my own gift, and I want you to make the coffee in the morning, and I want to spend some time by myself.  Can you make the end parts of that happen?”


“Thank you.  I don’t want to be mad at you on my birthday anymore.”

“I don’t want that either.”

And that’s how I started buying my own birthday gifts.  I don’t care if people say he should try more or do better or make more effort.  That’s not actually what I want.

And to be fair, I asked what he would ideally like for his birthday, and so we’re all square in that department too.  

I don't feel a cork in my throat — no more creeping expectations followed by anger and sadness.  I'm getting better at not just existing, but about the details and boundaries of my existence.

I love my birthday.  I look forward to it every year.   I am shown love on my birthday in a way that allows me to feel loved on my birthday.  

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