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No Kidding! It Was The Worst Birthday Of My Life

How I'm ensuring my next one is the best.

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Margeaux Walter
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Last year’s birthday plans were simple: dinner out with my wife and a scratch-made chocolate cake for dessert at home. We’d rented a lake house a few hours away with my closest friends for the following weekend. It wasn’t extravagant, which felt just right for a non-milestone late 40s birthday.

However, when my day arrived at the end of April, we were caught in a cycle of small misunderstandings blowing up into arguments. Even opening my present felt tense. “It’s so big, I wonder what it is,” I observed as she brought over a brightly wrapped gift.

“I told you about it a month ago when I bought it,” she snapped. I carefully tore through the paper. “Oh, I don’t remember,” I answered, my voice quiet.

She harumphed.

As I pulled the framed artwork — a visual music map of a song a friend wrote for me — out of the wrapping, our previous conversation came back to me. “Oh right, this! Thank you, it’s so beautiful,” I managed, trembling slightly.

“See, you knew what it was,” she doubled down, muttering that I don’t listen to her as she walked out of the room.

The next day, she announced that she needed space and rented an Airbnb nearby for three nights. Before she left, I packed her a food and coffee care package. We had little contact while she was gone, but she promised to be home midweek for couples’ therapy. While it felt strange to be apart, I trusted that space would help.

She arrived home 10 minutes before the appointment and demanded we talk before logging in. When I refused, she wouldn’t take no for an answer. “I’m not staying for the session, Meg. It’s time. I’m done.”

Within a week, she ended our marriage and moved out of the home we’d bought only a year ago, insisting we sell it immediately.

The lake house birthday getaway turned into my friends supporting me through the surreal experience of being abruptly left, which involved plenty of tears, Doritos, cookie dough, and binging School of Chocolate on Netflix.

In 48 years of birthdays, many of which have been a carnival ride of mixed emotions, that was definitely the worst. Anticipating this year’s mashup plus the anniversary of being walked out on upped the ante.

This birthday had to be good.

I made a list of things that could make it fun: going to the beach overnight, playing cards with my siblings and cousins, and visiting friends in Denver. Time with people I love was the goal. Just imagining the possibilities cheered me up. Now, to make one or two of them happen.

A nagging internal voice chastised me. Two trips and a party? It’s not even a milestone birthday! You should wait for your 50th! No one makes a big deal for 49.

If I learned anything from the debacle of my all-too-brief marriage, it’s that nothing is guaranteed. I booked three nights on the Oregon coast with my friend, who endured the lake house misery with me. This year, we’d still have snacks and friend time, but with an upgraded saltwater option from tears to ocean. My Denver friends said yes to a visit the weekend after to share great food and catch up with each other (and the new season of Ted Lasso). I just needed a plan for the actual day.

It felt awkward to ask one of my brothers to host a party for me. He might think it was silly or too much for a regular birthday. I challenged myself to ask anyway. If I hadn’t had to sell my home, I would have happily had it there, but my post-divorce apartment wasn’t big enough.

My brother’s beautiful home is great for entertaining. It has a big dining table perfect for playing Blackjack or 5-Card Stud. When I emailed him and his wife about hosting a poker party for my birthday, he responded right away. “Sounds like fun. We’d love to host!” We planned an appetizer potluck with our siblings and cousins on the evening of my birthday.

As I brainstormed how to spend this complicated birthday, I never imagined I’d do everything on my list. Any one of them would have provided the necessary counterbalance to the dread I felt as the day approached. With three celebrations planned with friends and family who carried me through this tumultuous year, I’m ready to party like I’m turning 49.

What's the worst — or the best — birthday you've ever had? Let us know in the comments below. 

Follow Article Topics: Relationships