Every year I organise a birthday party and every year I promise myself never to do it again. Inviting people to any kind of social gathering is basically like lining up all of your friends and acquaintances and asking each of them to slap you in the face.
I just celebrated my 23rd birthday (shut up) and it was, as ever, an infuriatingly offensive business. I must have invited some 25 carefully-chosen people who were important to me and who – I hoped – would enjoy spending a fun night celebrating the fact that I’m not dead. Of those, a paltry seven managed to haul themselves to the Siberian netherworld of North London for a meal. A further three appeared by midnight at the small nightclub I’d booked for Jagermeisters and dancing to Euro-club dance-pop remixes of Who Run the World? (The answer being girls). So I just about managed to scrape into double-figures. I would be okay with this, had my circle of friends been caught in some kind of freak tornado just north of Watford or if the country were gripped by a return of the bubonic plague. But the slew of excuses that infected my phone like a rash of mucosal herpetic pustules were increasingly pathetic, transparently-disingenuous and depressingly predictable.
“Hey babes. So sorry but I’m brassic because I forgot that I had to buy some carrots last Thursday. Have a great night though, yeah?”
“Hi chickpea. Have a great birthday! I forgot that I double-booked with something else somewhere at some point conveniently just before you invited me to your birthday! Have a great night though, yeah?”
“Hey Mr! OMG I just got a call from my mum who was dead last week. She’s lending me her lampshade so I have to go to Portsmouth and pick up my spare parrot next month which means I haven’t got any shoes. Have a great night though, yeah?”
I did take considerable trouble this year to avert the usual rash of last-minute cancellations by pre-empting them with a passive-aggressive message on Facebook but this only had a steroidal effect on the excuses. Either that or people were too scared to send any kind of excuse at all and simply pretended that they were temporarily dead. It’s telling that those who attended came from Manchester, Lincoln, Birmingham and Milton Keynes, while those who failed to show up were all from within five miles of the venue.
Is it possible that I’m just a very unpopular person? Or am I just a bit boring? It seems the current social trend is to rack-up a number of options for one’s Saturday night and then decide, last minute, which is the most appealing. I suppose that makes some logistical sense but personally I take a more analogue and considerate approach. If I say I’m going to an event, I put it in my diary and stick to it. Isn’t that polite? If I don’t fancy going to the event, then I immediately say I can’t make it. At least that way the person knows how many seats to book in the restaurant and they don’t have to put up with any deflating 11 hour cancellations.
I suppose people have always dropped out of birthdays and weddings. Stone-age man probably put up with the same nonsense. “Hi Crog, sorry I didn’t make your cave-warming last week. My leg was crushed by a mammoth and I lost my flint.” But people are so busy these days and mobile phones have made it so easy to commit hit-and-run U-turns that it’s fast becoming some kind of flakiness epidemic. A friend of mine purposefully invites three times the number of people he wants to show up, knowing that the majority will peel away from him like social psoriasis.
During my birthday dinner, I stood up like a town crier and, brandishing a scroll of shame, spat out the names of those who had cancelled on me, detailing their excuses with venomous relish. I must have cut a bitter and pathetic figure, lit up in the flickering candle light like a Shakespearean gargoyle in Dolce and Gabbana trousers. It was, admittedly, an uncomfortable speech for those in attendance, with most of my guests feigning a new-found fascination with their cutlery. But a point had to be made and somehow, I needed to reclaim my dignity.
Please, can people remember to take care when saying an enthusiastic ‘yes’ to any future invites. These days, when I hear that, I follow up with a very stern and somewhat threatening: “Are you coming though? Are you really?” My mouth is set straight and my eyes are cold and manic. If you’re not sure you fancy it, or you’re not sure you can make it then just say that. It might be easier at the time to pretend you wouldn’t miss my birthday for the world but in the long run, you’re only going to hurt my feelings and ruin what’s supposed to be a lovely day.
Next year, I might avoid organising anything at all. Either that or I’ll introduce some kind of written contract and non-refundable deposit. For now, I’ll just torture people with their own excuses. I shall delight in asking to see the furniture they had to collect and asking after their non-existent relative with the tropical illness. The look of panic in their eyes as they desperately try to recall their manufactured alibis will be a tonic for my horribly-mangled ego.
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