A Non-Milestone Birthday


My birthday was last month, and it was wonderful. The week was filled with friends, family, brownies, Mexican food, hikes, gardening, and planning a trip to New Zealand! I couldn’t have asked for anything more.

It was also a pretty typical week. I’m amazingly lucky to enjoy all these things* year-round, not just in February.

So what’s the point of birthdays, and why can’t I get excited about mine anymore?

There were years when I couldn’t wait to get older:

10th Birthday

Turning 10 in my family meant getting my ears pierced. I distinctly remember the dull ache that lasted for hours afterward but was dwarfed by the satisfaction of finally feeling like one of the big kids. I was the baby of my extended family, so I’d stood on the sidelines as my sister and cousins got their ears pierced. There were years of built-up anticipation.

16th Birthday

This was unarguably the best day of my life to that point. Actually, my birthday was on a Sunday so I couldn’t get my driver’s license until the next day, but it was my ticket to freedom. It let me escape my house, spend time with friends, and keep my parents less informed about my whereabouts. Cell phones weren’t yet ubiquitous, so I was truly untethered and it was pure bliss.

18th Birthday

You’d better believe this was a great day. I could finally (legally) make my own decisions. I lived on my own and could start calling myself in sick to school when I didn’t feel like going, and I could (and did) have ice cream for dinner whenever I felt like it.

Oh yeah, and I could vote too!

21st Birthday

I’ve never been a big fan of alcohol, so turning 21 wasn’t exciting because I could drink. It was exciting because I could finally join my friends at concerts and shows where drinking was allowed. And I could go to Vegas! For the next decade I would be asked to show my ID every five minutes in these places because I still looked like I was 12.

25th Birthday

Now the reasons start to get a little less thrilling, but it was nice to be able to rent a car.

30th Birthday

This birthday was more about relief than freedom. Women who make it to age 30 without developing schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or several other psychiatric diseases are unlikely to develop them later.


Here’s where I get stuck.

There’s a giant gap here with no major milestones. Some senior discounts start at age 50, more phase in at age 55, and they’re everywhere by age 65, though qualifying for Medicare easily trumps a 10% discount at IHOP.

A lifetime National Parks pass is only $10 after age 62, and Social security benefits can also be had that year, though they’ll be higher if I wait until 67 or 70.

What am I missing?

Where’s the party for 35, 40, and 45? And 36, for that matter.

There are black candles and ridicule, but where are the benefits? I have grey hair and wrinkles, but my patients still ask me to go get the doctor. I’ll always be child-sized, and the only dimension in which I can now grow is horizontal.

I’m all for living a good life every day and not waiting for holidays to appreciate the important parts of life, but fun milestones for the middle birthdays can’t hurt.

35th Birthday

How about a 30% discount to the Home Depot and Amazon?

40th Birthday

Wouldn’t you like a separate lane on the freeway? The 20-somethings drive too fast, and the 60-somethings drive too slow, so you get your own space.

45th Birthday

What if all new electronics came with a free tech-support house call or three? It’s like a personal trainer for your gadget.


What do you think? What benefits did/do/will you want at these ages? Let me know in the comments below.

*We don’t visit New Zealand every year, but we usually have at least a few fun travel plans in the works.

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Comments 18

  1. 40th bday is usually a big celebration, though not a milestone that many look forward to. After I turned 30 I kind of lost track. Whenever someone asks me how old I am now, I have to do the math in my head. We’re not real big on bday celebrations in our household. Just another year!

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  2. I have a big milestone birthday coming in just a few weeks… The AARP card may be the biggest benefit … (or not!) I’m not sure about many discounts at 50 either! My high school friends and I celebrate everyone’s 50th with a big group text chat and cheers. We are also getting together this summer for a bit 50th bday celebration. I’m just glad its on a Saturday so maybe I’ll avoid the hoopla at work!

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  3. Well happy belated birthday, Julie! This was a fun post to read because it made me think back on my own milestone birthdays. I just turned 40 this past December and it was very underwhelming. I thought that it might be tough on me mentally or emotionally, but it was really no big deal. As a parent I tend to find more joy in the milestones of my kids than any of my own … but maybe that’s just because I don’t really have any more to look forward to?

    I like the idea of my own lane on the freeway though! 🙂

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      Thanks, Ty! December birthdays can be super-busy in between major holidays, so I hope you got a good celebration anyway. My niece has a birthday near Thanksgiving and she thinks all 30 of our family members gather every year just for her.

  4. My 40th birthday was my favorite birthday (save for when I was a kid because it seemed all birthdays were special). My friends took me to lunch, then we went to see the Ellen show, then they took me to dinner, then we went to see my friend’s band play where we danced all night. I was worried it was going to be one of those birthdays with black balloons and over the hill birthday cards, but nope. Everyone since then has been kind of meh though. My though though when I turned 40 was that if I’m still single I should be able to register for gifts like soon-to-be married couples do so I could have a nice toaster and hand mixer as well. Instead I still own hand-me-down stuff and things from Target and Ikea. 🙂 I half kid. I’m kind of a frugal minimalist now so it suits me fine. Sort of. 🙂

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      Tonya, you have such fun ideas. Seeing a live show is on my bucket list too.
      I think you should definitely be able to register for gifts, and you could have a ‘destination birthday’ for your friends and family instead of a destination wedding. I’ll buy you the best deluxe toaster ever- you’ll even be able to control it from your phone 🙂

  5. Happy belated birthday. I’m so jealous you’re going to New Zealand. Australia/ New Zealand is on our bucket list, and we hope to get there in the next few years. I celebrated my fiftieth at Vegas. Lot of friends and family. It was a blast, although Vegas did strike me as a little too Jersey Shore like. Anyway, my birthday celebrations are different now. I just marvel that I’m a year older and I still don’t need reading glasses and I can still tie my shoes. Ah, life’s little victories.

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      Thanks, Mr. G! And you’re right, 50 without reading glasses is quite an accomplishment! I hope you’re wearing knee-high black socks with those shoes you tie yourself, but there’s no shame in moving on to the velcro sneakers.
      You’re also right that celebrating in Vegas isn’t quite what it used to be–especially now that my hair is grey and my bedtime is 10pm. I firmly believe that nothing good happens after midnight, and few good things happen between 10 and 12.

  6. I don’t remember any milestone celebrations so far, although I took Jon to see the Redskins for the first time for his 50th. We’ll see if he comes up with something equally bucket-list-worthy for mine this year.

    My main thought is that my 40s were very liberating, especially as I moved further into them. It’s not exactly that I stopped caring what other people thought as much as I stopped compromising with what I wanted as much. I think by 45 I had finally said, “This is me. I’m okay with that . If you can’t appreciate me, not my problem.”

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      That’s an excellent point, Emily. Maybe it’s not so much the privileges society gives us as the privileges we give ourselves- to be true to ourselves no matter what others say or think. That really is priceless.

  7. I celebrate all my birthdays as a reason to get together with friends and family. Our lives get so busy, and having an ‘event’/reason to gather is so different from a random weekend.
    I have plenty of friends who are very ‘meh’ about birthdays, especially not milestone ones. But hey, we made it through another year without a major injury! Let’s order in Thai food and watch a movie!
    We are getting closer to -that- age where it’s ‘s/he was so young/ this was so unexpected’. Within the group of friends 2 passed young, one from a random embolism with no warning. My not old, fit, healthy eater, runner who’d gotten the medical all clear last spring had a heart attack, and thankfully survived it.
    Let’s celebrate ever year we’ve got!

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      That’s a great way to think about it. I’m usually in the ‘ignore it and it’ll go away’ camp for birthdays, but this year my friends forced me out and I’m so glad they did. It’s really just a reason to all get together, and it was good to see them.
      Best wishes to you and your crew for a year of health and happiness.

  8. Happy belated bday! I just turned 35 in December, a 30% off coupon for Home Depot would have been nice 🙂

    I’ve never been to New Zealand, or anywhere in the southern hemisphere. Should be a sweet trip!

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      Thanks! I hear you on the Home Depot. What does it say that I shop there every month or two but haven’t been to a mall in years. (Except for the annual JC Penny family portraits my mother still insists on. It’s been the same tradition since before I was born.)
      New Zealand was beautiful, and I highly recommend hang gliding in Queenstown–it’s one of only a few places in the world where you can run right off the side of a mountain and don’t have to be towed up in the air by a plane.

  9. A belated Happy St. Patrick’s Day & Happy Birthday!

    New Zealand?!? That’s awesome — how much time are you able to devote to the trip? I’d like to go, but not until I have at least a three-week block of time, which is tough to come by with a full time job.


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      We went for 2.5 weeks, which was just about right for both islands, though of course we could have spent longer and seen more. I’m sure that someday soon you’ll head to paradise for 6 weeks at a time!

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