What if you gave a party and nobody came?

Posted on December 26, 2007

Rabbi Without a Cause has a post up about birthday parties and I have not been able to stop thinking about my experiences with them.

I have already had my birthday for 2007. That narrows it down, doesn’t it?

My next birthday is a big one for me. I would love to have a party. A big party. Maybe even a surprise party. But I am really, really scared about that.

Growing up, there was not a single birthday I remember–and I have a very good memory–that wasn’t upstaged by a sibling. Usually a male sibling, for whatever that’s worth. Extended family would come and ask me about school or whatever was new in my life, and I always had something going on that I was very excited about, and they’d be all ears until any of said siblings walked in the room. You could see all eyes turn to said sibling and I would be forgotten. Not for just a few seconds or minutes. For the whole rest of the evening. And it was my birthday party.

My sixteenth birthday I was certain everyone was planning a suprise party. None of my friends at school said anything and every previous year they had giftwrapped my locker door. This year nothing, so I was sure something was afoot. Some previous years my mom would offer to make me a special breakfast on my birthday. This year she’d stayed up late and slept in. My friends and I usually hung out for a while after school. This year they all had to go home right away.

I went home laughing with joy that I’d figured it out and when I would get home all my friends and family would be there and it would be a dream come true.

I got home and silence. My mom was at the grocery store. Siblings were at their various other commitments. I waited. And waited.

My father came home from work. My mom asked what I wanted for my birthday dinner.

There was no party. The surprise was on me; when I asked my school friends the next day, they had all forgotten it was my birthday.

As an adult I have tried a few times to host a party. Free food, free cake, no gifts expected, a fun time for all. One year I invited everyone I knew at the time, sending out a couple dozen invitations. No one called to RSVP. No one showed up.

So I am wary about having another party, or asking for one. Because with my wacky brain chemistry the way it already is, this is the sort of repeated experience that fuels the belief that no one cares.

To my husband, a birthday party is just a birthday party, no big deal. To me it is much, much more than that.


  1. Jack Steiner

    They’re twins and best friends. They sometimes forget that the rest are around.

  2. Rivka

    Jack: was it a party they wanted to have? It would be interesting to know why they were not bothered.

    Leora: I like the idea. Maybe I will try that next year.

    A.Nony: Those can be really nice parties, as long as someone comes. It’s harder, for me anyway, when the entire guest list is absent. But yes, focus on the positive, where it can be found.

  3. Anonymous

    Been there, done that. A few years ago, my husband and I celebrated a major anniversary. We were planning to have a catered party at our synagogue for about 50 of our friends. Imagine our disappointment when so few people could come that we ended up taking two tables at a kosher restaurant for only about 10 guests.

    As the guest list shrank and shrank, I was sorely tempted to cancel the celebration completely. In the end, though, once I made up my mind to focus on the people who *were* there, rather than on those who *weren’t,* I actually had a wonderful time.

  4. Leora

    Why don’t you have a virtual birthday party? Invite bloggers to come wish you happy birthday? I’ll bet you’ll get guests!

    One year I threw a friend a party for all her friends. She was so happy, she rounded up some of my friends when it was my birthday.

    My husband isn’t very into birthday parties, either. I like them!

  5. Jack Steiner

    My sisters once had a birthday party that turned into a complete bust. Almost all of their guests called and canceled the day of the party.

    I though that my mother was going to have a heart attack. But for some reasons my sisters weren’t bothered at all by it.

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