Monday 19 February 2018

Birthday cards never lie

This year on her special day Ciara O'Connor found out that she is a bitchy know-it-all who drinks too much

Two guests brought sunflowers. Getty Images
Two guests brought sunflowers. Getty Images

Ciara O'Connor

You can tell a lot about yourself, I have learned, from the birthday cards you receive. Most people get excited about real-life post arriving, but the sight of a colourful handwritten envelope on my doormat strikes fear into my heart as I wonder what uncomfortable truth about myself I'll be forced to confront when I open it.

Birthday cards have become an efficient passive-aggressive way of telling someone what you really think of them. This year's haul was direct, and the results were damning: I'm a bitchy know-it-all who drinks too much and swears like a sailor.

I suppose they're not wrong, and I'm probably guilty of doing it myself. In fairness, the choice in your average stationer isn't exactly comprehensive. You can pretty much only get saccharine floral rhyming nonsense that you'd be embarrassed to send your Granny, or variations on smiling 1950s housewives saying 'Happy Birthday you c***'. I got many of the latter; they may have been offset by sweet messages inside, but I knew the truth. All this might be water off a duck's back for someone else, but at no other time of the year does my 'everybody hates me' complex go into such overdrive as on my birthday.

This year, I panicked last minute and masochistically invited a few people over, not that I actually told anyone it was for my birthday. A few people were mortified when they figured it out because they hadn't bought me a card - obviously I breathed a sigh of relief at escaping another character assassination.

Many guests had, of course, been alerted by Facebook as to the day's significance and felt they couldn't turn up empty-handed, and so a few brought flowers.

Each one represented a cruel and unique catastrophe. Two people brought sunflowers - because I'm obnoxious and attention-seeking? Or freakishly tall? Orange roses - the botanical equivalent of 'I love you, but not like that'. Lilies - funeral flowers, 'I hope you die'. Carnations - 'As if I'd shell out on lilies to let you know that I hate you. I hate you'.

I spent most of the special day in the kitchen, maniacally preparing many types of salads. In the alternate universe that I occupied that day, I figured the more complex salads I prepared, the less people would resent me for making them come to my house.

Accordingly, I found myself doing things I would never normally dream of. I roasted lemons in sage. Having blanched them first, of course.

I went to the supermarket for orange blossom water. I needed one-quarter of a teaspoon of it. I still don't know what orange blossom water is, but I needed it, since presumably most of the guests had come only to judge my cooking and find it lacking.

But if cards speak volumes, then presents say so much more. Mercifully, 26 doesn't demand much in the way of gifts - but there were one or two.

At the non-birthday party this year, I was forced to admit that my only present had come in the post from my ex-boyfriend. Two books and a friendly card, which was duly passed around the table for inspection.

Having read it forwards and backwards with various inflections to achieve various meanings, The Girls were forced to come to the conclusion that he definitely wasn't still in love with me. 'Oooooh my God, such a keeper though. Why did you break up?' As birthdays for narcissists go, it was pretty bad.

A few days later I received in the post a pair of runners from my oldest friend. They are metallic pink and the soles light up when you walk - you can control the colour of the LEDs from your phone. Obviously, I loved them. But then the doubt set in - what if she has sent these with the intention of me looking like a total twat? Is it in any way acceptable to wear light-up shoes after the age of eight? I lay awake wondering what I had done to deserve such aggressive public humiliation.

My darkest insecurities were validated recently when an actual scientist published his findings on friendship: apparently, half our friends don't actually like us. There was much disbelief around the internet, but after this year's birthday, I certainly wasn't surprised. The number is probably higher. Thank God I have a year for my ego to recover.

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