Keeping Up

by Phillip Holland

I’m tired of birthdays.  It’s all Facebook’s fault.

Don’t misunderstand.  I love my friends.  I love celebrating with them.  I know what a blessing it is to wake up each and every day.  When we’re young, every birthday is exciting.  As we get older, each one diminishes in importance, when really they should be increasing in value.  Who knows if I’ve already celebrated my last birthday?

But I’m tired of birthdays because I can’t keep up.  With 621 Facebook friends, rarely does a day go by that I don’t have a birthday notification on my timeline (and I have a friend with over 5000 Facebook friends – I bet he has over a dozen birthday notifications every day!).  I used to ignore these, and kept my birthday off of Facebook to relieve others of the responsibility as well.  But I got back in the game recently, in a completely self-serving attempt to ensure that at least once per year, far flung friends that rarely give a thought to my name would think, “Oh, it’s Phillip’s birthday, I wonder how he is doing?”

It’s a two-way street though, and in order to receive that energy from the universe, you are expected to reflect it back in microbursts throughout the year.  No big deal, right?  It’s just a quick note, and Facebook even makes it easy with a simple popup box.  Then you can go about your day, and pay them no mind for another 364 days.

Of course, like many things in life, the trouble comes when you get behind.  Didn’t check your Facebook over the weekend?  Now you’re at least two days of birthdays behind.  Go on vacation and unplug?  You look like a monster for not wishing that friend of yours from high school a Happy Birthday.  And it’s bad enough when you miss an inconsequential friend’s birthday – what happens when you casually scroll through and notice that all of your friends have wished a close relation Happy Birthday with images, stories, and memes, and all you shared that day was a picture of lunch.  The shame!

I’m using birthdays as a scapegoat/metaphor here.  This same process repeats itself in many ways in our day to day lives.  The  innumerable little things at work that we skip, forget, procrastinate on…and they pile up into a disaster.  The white lies we tell day to day that we have to remember to keep up appearances (Did I say I was at a movie, or cleaning my apartment?).  How many times during the day do you forget to use your blinker, and then post on Facebook about the “idiot drivers in this town”?  I’m not asking for complete and total consistency, but rather wondering when Keeping Up just isn’t worth it?

Should I cut all ties, and drop my birthday off Facebook again, to relieve myself of the obligation to recognize others?  Should I stop making small promises in work that I never intend to fulfill?  Should I quit lying when I don’t want to hang out with someone?  Is “No thanks, I’m not interested in hanging out with you this evening” better than “I can’t, I have a big project due for work tomorrow, sorry”?  In either case I’m going to be eating ice cream in my underwear, so it doesn’t much matter what I say, right?

A certain amount of Keeping Up is just part of our social contract.  You give to get.  When your friend needs a shoulder to cry on you offer yours right up, because you don’t want to be shoulderless next time you’re having a shitty day.  Sometimes you go to the trivia night that you aren’t interested in, drink the beer you don’t like, and smile fake smiles so that those same people will come to your concert that they don’t care about, listen to music they don’t like, and smile those fake smiles back at you when you ask them if they liked it.  No one is being malicious here – we’re just trying to make sure that when we shout into the void, someone answers back.

I don’t intend to become one of those people that just stopped Keeping Up.  I’m not going to stop cutting my hair, stop taking showers, and stop making those courteous phone calls just to see “What’s new with you?”  But I wonder if it is smart to occasionally make the conscious decision about what is and isn’t worth Keeping Up with.  We make unconscious decisions about it all the time.  When you cut off someone on the highway, or cut in line, or accidentally litter and don’t loop around to pick it back up, or don’t return that phone call or text.  Rarely do we think, in any of those situations, that we’re purposefully fucking up the status quo.  And we are almost always forgiven, because the forgiver did the same things earlier that day.  But none of those actions are really conscious decisions.  Should they be?

Should we say, “You know what? I’m just not going to go out with Tim anymore.  He’s always an ass and makes me uncomfortable”?  Should we say “I’m just going to allow myself to be a bad driver.  I’m not going to worry about my turn signal anymore”?  Should we stop wishing each other Happy Birthday on Facebook???

As usual, I don’t really have the answers, I’m just throwing this all out there for consumption and digestion.  Hopefully one of you 621 can give me some insight on the best course of action.  Please share it and comment about it on Facebook, because I need that validation – it is months until my next birthday.