I’ve had a lot of birthdays, the good, the bad, and the ugly. One birthday I spent in Jeeper’s, a former Chuck E. Cheese rival that is now an obsolete remnant of early 2000’s nostalgia. Another I spent at a new school that I hated, sitting alone at a lunch table doodling in a notebook with a surprisingly good meatball sub as my party guest. My 21st Birthday was a blur of cheap vodka, strobe lights, and twerking on a variety of surfaces. I spent my 22nd at a British airport, ready to begin the glorious journey of studying abroad. All in all, I’ve celebrated in many ways with many different people, and when I realized that I’d be spending my birthday in a weird, half quarantine I was less than excited.
Becoming a young adult during quarantine brought a lot of emotions to the surface. I struggled with self-definition when the world was also struggling with self-definition, flailing, and trying to grasp some sense of meaning from where our defined reality used to be. One of the biggest questions I had for myself was the same one philosophers and teenagers have had for centuries–who am I? I questioned what and who I liked and what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go. A lot of this wondering surrounded the company I kept. Throughout college, I had a steady stream of friends and distractions alike. I never had to go far to find something fun to do and someone to do it with. When quarantine abruptly took that away, along with my last semester, I was left with a void where a vibrant social life used to be. While I truly appreciated spending more time with my family and boyfriend, I needed the camaraderie of the young and dumb; the kind of people with who I could gossip or watch Twilight ironically. I needed variety. I needed friends.
I had simple plans for my birthday–having a staycation with my boyfriend in a nearby city and then going out with some friends to one of the popular bars there. “Now,” I asked myself as I sat down with my notes app opened in front of me, “which friends would that be, exactly?” I knew I had to get to ten because I wanted some semblance of a party, but I couldn’t have any more than that. I also knew the ten of us wouldn’t be able to dance or even stand up due to the state’s regulations. I decided against having high hopes when facing these odds, but I’d already taken the weekend off of work so I figured what the hell, right?
Because the good ol’ pals I’d made in college were trapped in different cities, states, and countries due to quarantine, I was forced to reach into the archives of my friendships. That resulted in me inviting friends from middle school. Middle school. I was nervous because I hadn’t seen these people in years. Anxiety took center stage as I wondered if the relationship would be the same. Would we have anything to talk about? Would they comment on how different I looked? Would they even come? So much had changed over time. I wasn’t the same wide-eyed theatre kid who wore Hot Topic t-shirts and memorized every state and capital as a party trick. I’d left heavy filters and the duck face back in 2013 where it belonged. I was in a serious relationship now. I could only imagine the metamorphosis that my friends had gone through, and there were so many ways for things to go wrong. But, I had nothing to lose, so I sent out little e-vites with the ads still attached to them, asking them to come to “Genausha’s 23rd Birthday Bash” and waited.
The first reply was from one of my closest friends. We’d drifted apart, but he still made me laugh on social media. We had spent hours together finding the humor in everything, from big wheels on tiny cars to the entire movie “Skyfall,” when we were younger. “I’ll be there,” he wrote. A promise that I could feel wouldn’t be broken. Slowly, they began to reply and I was surprised by not only their RSVPs but their enthusiasm. They wanted to see me, they wanted to hang out with me, they wanted to come!
During my birthday weekend, the “vibes,” for lack of a better word, were immaculate. When my boyfriend treated me to a romantic dinner, social distancing forced us to sit in a quiet corner to ourselves. This only made the experience more intimate as we held hands and ate overpriced lobster with limited distractions. The introvert in me was very content with the atmosphere in the restaurant, which felt like a cozy dinner at home. The next night was honestly one of the best nights of my life. Although I celebrated in a very public place, my birthday felt more personal than it had in years. It was as if we had a private, VIP experience at that little round table. The energy we had was contagious as people who I’d known for a decade, and who knew me, genuinely celebrated my existence. Inside jokes, funky dance moves, and belly-shaking laughs surrounded the table, and the sheer happiness and authentic connection in each smile warmed my heart.
I have to say, there was a certain magic about celebrating during quarantine. When forced to minimize and prioritize who and what matters, you begin to realize just who and what that is. For me, I got the opportunity to connect with old friends, who I now talk to regularly again. My inner child thanks me for shaking the dust off of memories that give me pure joy. I don’t know what’s in store for next year, but this weird, half-quarantine birthday gave me a new perspective on life and relationships, and that is the best gift a girl could ask for.
If you like this article, check out: https://www.harnessmagazine.com/how-to-cultivate-meaningful-friendships-in-your-30s/