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The Knowledge

How To Take Your Birthday Like A Man

Don’t get too excited about it: here are five ways to keep your birthday under wraps

Terrible fun, aren’t they, birthdays? The cake, the cards, the gifts – and how we do love being the centre of attention. There’s just one problem, though. Spend too long in the limelight and it starts to eat away at you, exposing your soul and the egotistical monster that lies within.

You can just about get away with it when you’re young; a certain degree of self-centred brattiness is more or less expected of children. It was almost possible to excuse the spoilt little jackanapes on MTV’s My Super Sweet 16 on the grounds of their youthful naivety. Almost. Beyond a certain age, however, this kind of behaviour starts to seem at best unbecoming, and at worst, downright ungentlemanly.

So what, then, is the appropriate way for a grown man to behave on his birthday? And what gives us the authority to pontificate on the subject? This February, as you’ve no doubt heard, MR PORTER turns five: a wet-behind-the-ears sort of age, we admit, but one that belies our experience when it comes to the matter of growing old gracefully. That’s why we’ve decided to draw on the collective wisdom of the MR PORTER editorial team – who have blown out a fair few candles between them – to compile a handy gentleman’s guide to not screwing up your birthday.

01. It’s not all about you

MR PORTER opened its doors to the public on 18 February 2011, which means we share a birthday with such luminaries as Brat Pack actress Ms Molly Ringwald, Beatles groupie Ms Yoko Ono and famous scientologist Mr John Travolta.

The point is this: while it’s perfectly normal to attach a certain personal significance to your birthday, it’s worth keeping in mind that to everyone but you and (possibly) your mum it’s just another day, and the mere fact that it marks an exact number of years since you crawled out of her womb is of little significance to a man who may be far more interested in celebrating, say, Gambian Independence Day (which also occurs on 18 February, in case you were wondering). Hence our first rule of birthday etiquette: develop a sense of humility.

02. Beware of Peter Pan Syndrome

Let’s face it, the traditional birthday ritual was clearly designed for children, and it’s just weird that it persists into adulthood. Between blowing out the candles(!) on a cake shaped like a cartoon caterpillar(!!) and being serenaded with “Happy Birthday”, a glorified nursery rhyme so facile that even the cast of Sesame Street felt compelled to add extra lyrics, you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve just turned three, not 33. But being treated like a child does not give you licence to act like one.

Sure, a temporary relapse into infantilism can be appealing, for several reasons. We, all of us, yearn for a return to our childhood and the innocence, reciprocated love and sense of protection that the years have taken from us. But birthdays should be a time for celebration, not for laying bare your deep-seated subclinical psychological issues for all the world to see. So, blow out your candles. Eat your caterpillar cake. Enjoy the singing – while it lasts – but don’t get carried away with the charade. There’s nothing creepier than a fully grown man trying to pretend that the past three or four decades didn’t happen. It just doesn’t look good, buddy.

03. Refrain from moaning about how “old” you are

“I’m turning 27. Help.” So read an invitation for a recent birthday party that, presumably, nobody over the age of 27 attended on principle. (We certainly didn’t.) Look, we get it. It’s perfectly normal to welcome your birthday with a shiver of trepidation. What is it, after all, but an annual memento mori, a silent reminder that you’re one year closer to welcoming death’s cold embrace? Try to remember, though, no matter how old you get, there will always be someone older than you, and your grumbling complaints will only cause them to roll their eyes in exasperation.

We say always. There is, as it happens, one person who has the unconditional right to moan about their age, and that’s the oldest person in the world, Ms Susannah Mushatt Jones of Brooklyn, New York. She’s 116 years old, which means, guess what? That’s right, she was born in the 19th century. There’s a sobering thought to remember next time you feel depressed about having just turned a double-digit figure that starts with the number two.

04. Take the social media attention in your stride

If you use the internet – don’t lie, you’re doing it right now – then there’s a good chance you also have a Facebook profile, and probably some online friends to fill it. You’ll have noticed, then, that in recent years the social networking platform has become the de facto channel for sending insincere birthday greetings to people who don’t like or know you well enough to give you a proper card. “Happy birthday!” you might write on the Facebook wall of someone you haven’t seen since college. “We should catch up soon!” (Should, and won’t.)

Waking up in the morning to more than one notification on your phone might swell your ego and leave you feeling like an honorary Kardashian for the day, but a gentleman knows not to let this sort of thing go to his head. He also knows the correct way to deal with such messages, which is to ignore them. If there’s one thing worse than a perfunctory “happy birthday” via Facebook, it’s the gushing “thanks for the birthday wishes, everyone! #BLESSED” sent a day later. Empty words, tossed into the void.

05. Be the right kind of party animal

Your friends love you and are there to support you, but that doesn’t mean it’s OK to subject them to any of the following:

Extending your birthday to a “birthday weekend” or even a “birthday week” and expecting them to block out their calendars accordingly.

Securing their attendance with a “Save The Date” invitation that promises high glamour, only to announce on the day that you’re taking them to that faceless watering hole over the road from work.

Expecting them to buy your drinks all night. If alcohol is your thing, the very first round of the night should be on you.

Forcing your newfound virtuousness upon them. You may have seen the light and gone vegan, teetotal and given up smoking, but that doesn’t mean that a lock-in at a juice bar is everyone’s else’s idea of a good time.