How to Celebrate Birthdays When You’re Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman

I’m about to turn 28. By the time you’re reading this, I probably already am 28, in which case I survived another year of half-heartedly trying to organize a celebratory birthday event… Yay!

Current me, however, is only just getting her bearings on what to do this birthday. My age group (late 20s through early 30s) marks an awkward, in-between period when it comes to celebrating. During my earlier 20s, birthdays were simple. My friends and I would go to a bar, probably a very crowded one, we’d get drunk, probably very drunk, and then we’d, I don’t know, dance or something? Usually I could hardly remember the next day. (Disclaimer: I acknowledge that being young isn’t synonymous with getting blackout drunk at parties for everyone, but we all make mistakes.)

Now, in my late 20s, I feel driven toward a more “adult” form of celebration — but what exactly does that look like? Probably dinner at a restaurant where the menu includes multiple courses, the tablecloths… are there, and the waiter describes the evening’s specials without having to look at a menu or a blackboard wall that doubles as one. The more I picture it, the more luxurious it sounds. It also sounds expensive and inappropriate for the number of people with which I’d like to spend my birthday (about 10).

So I don’t want to invite everyone I know on Facebook to drink the night away with me, and a nice dinner out with friends is prohibitive in terms of price and group size. My early-20s nights of debauchery are behind me, but a sophisticated, adult birthday remains out of reach. When it comes to this kind of dilemma, Britney Spears said it best: I’m not a girl, not yet a woman. (Ugh, I know, millennials — we never grow up, and we use Britney Spears as an excuse for it.)

When this thought first occurred to me, I tried to get Britney out of my head by turning to Google for an idea of what to do for my 28th. Unsurprisingly, there was a search result titled, “How to Celebrate Your 28th Birthday.” I clicked my way over to the corresponding eHow article, which informed me that “turning 28 is not typically as exciting as turning 21,” so that was helpful. The article also suggested I use this not-quite-landmark birthday to check off some before-30 bucket list items, such as “horseback riding, swimming in the ocean, volunteering, or taking a cross-country road trip.”

As much as I’d love to take a cross-country road trip on my birthday, I don’t have a car. So let’s consider some other options…

1. Have a party at home.

Even just 10 guests can generate an impressive mess in a small apartment, and as a birthday gift to myself, I plan to avoid a scenario that will plunge me into deep-cleaning mania. Plus, in case I slip into existential birthday depression, I’ll need the opportunity to Irish goodbye. You can’t do that when the party’s at your home.

2. Go out to a group dinner — somewhere without white tablecloths.

Asking your friends to shell out above average amounts of cash in your honor is uncomfortable and can be insensitive. So a group dinner that involves servers who know their way around a wine list and appetizers other than chicken wings and waffle fries may be off the menu (har har), but how about a casual dining affair? Like a burger or taco joint? Alas, sitting at a table with 10ish people, let alone figuring out how to split the bill, isn’t the best way to socialize. Plus, I want to create the sort of casual atmosphere where guests don’t have to RSVP their significant others who might want to join in advance.

3. Make or buy a cake and eat it.

If I invite people over to do this, then I’m faced with the same problem as if I had a house party. If I go out to do it, then I have the group dinner dilemma. On the other hand, I could ditch the idea of spending the evening with people (my birthday falls on a Friday this year, so that prohibits daytime activities as everyone is at work) and spend it alone, with a giant cake. I like this idea, but the reality of consuming mass amounts of sweets at my age recently confronted me when I spent the evening with my 14-year-old cousin. We made s’mores over her parents’ stovetop and found that while she could easily eat five homemade s’mores in a row, I started to feel sick after number two. My aging digestive system will not be happy with the cake plan.

 4. Do a spa day.

That sounds wonderful, but also not cheap, and I’m a freelance writer during wedding season. Plus, I want to feel a little youthful and energetic. Not spa youthful, like “I am so refreshed and relaxed that I feel the years peeling away from my dry, shriveled skin” youthful, but like “dance like you’re a maniac who knows you look great in that tiny dress” youthful.

5. So then dance like a maniac in that tiny dress.

Ugh, should I? But I’m so tired. And I haven’t shaved my legs in months, maybe a year, which I don’t care about when I’m wearing shorts during the summer because I’m a liberated woman, but I might just be self-conscious about if I’m trying for “tiny dress” hot. Ya know?

6. Okay, fine. Just regular dance then? Like, wearing pants?

Hmm, sounds doable. However, the idea of rubbing up against a bunch of sweaty strangers in a crowd does not appeal to me, nor to many of my friends at this point. Paying a cover to do this adds insult to injury. The key to dancing in public is finding a low-key bar with a fairly unpopular dance room in the back or the basement. Unfortunately, dance room popularity can be unpredictable. Also, it’s much easier to attract a bunch of friends to a bar than it is to get them all on a dance floor at the start of the night.

 7. Just frickin’ go to a bar, okay?

Okay, fine, if you insist. (Who am I talking to?)

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