I Don’t Want the Easy Way: The Social Ritual of Birthdays and Sara Bareilles’ “I Just Want You”

In which many a social obligation is fulfilled.


To my dear reader,

Because I am impish and impetuous, and because I’m somewhat insecure, and because I’m a giant asshole, I dread birthdays. Not because I was born – that part’s pretty bomb (thanks mom and dad!) – but because for one day out of the year, people you barely know vacantly say, “Today is a good day because you were born which was a good thing,” except that it will look and sound more like this:


I blame Facebook. Your Facebook friends receive a notification when your birthday arrives, and afraid of insulting you, or wanting to ensure that you will post a message on their Facebook wall when their birthday arrives, they post something really original on your Facebook wall, such as, “Happy birthday!”

Sometimes, there is more than one exclamation mark. But don’t hold your breath for that hot bullshit.

To be fair, when people you barely know post “Happy birthday!” on your Facebook wall, they usually mean well. No act of kindness, no matter how small, should be taken for granted. But at the same time, let’s be honest: usually, when people wish you a happy birthday, they aren’t saying “Today is a good day because you were born which was a good thing” – they’re saying “Today I am socially obligated to be nice to you.”

This is why I dreaded the birthday that I had on December 1st. It wasn’t because of the passage of time or fear of aging – I suspect I become a progressively happier person with each passing year. It’s because I don’t like the social ritual of it all.

I’m horrified by the idea of people being nice to me because of socially obligation. I want to earn that. Moreover, however, I dread the pressure birthdays come with. The birthdays of vague American cultural myth are joyous gatherings of many people all fawning over a single person and everything’s so fun and sexy and aren’t you having a great time yet, and that is not reality for me. The reason for this is simple: I don’t have very many friends.

Because of social obligation, people will inevitably react to this statement with something like this:


This is hot bullshit. Outside of my family, there really aren’t that many people that really matter to me, for whom I also really matter. I suspect this is true for most people, even if they don’t want to admit that for the most part, they don’t have many friends – they have many friendly acquaintances that feel socially obligated to be nice to them.

To be fair, that isn’t what bothers me. I don’t need many friendly acquaintances fulfilling social obligation to be nice to me. I’d rather fewer, better relationships. What does bother me is people being nice without meaning it, which isn’t really kindness at all, but submission to social obligation. Which, as I mentioned before, is hot bullshit.

One of my favorite songs is Sara Bareilles’ “I Just Want You,” and although musically quite simple, it eloquently expresses this sort of desire for meaningful relationships. With her conversational, confessional lyrics supported by triadic, diatonic chords, Bareilles sings a chorus with the lines “Take it all away/If it isn’t meant for me/I don’t want the easy way/I just want you,” and encapsulates my sentiments. I don’t want the birthday ritual and the social pressure and the many friendly acquaintances that are not friends and the social obligations. Other people can have that, but I don’t want the easy way.



But if you did wish me a happy birthday… that’s still pretty nice. Thanks.

With all due respect,

Daniel Wolfert


One thought on “I Don’t Want the Easy Way: The Social Ritual of Birthdays and Sara Bareilles’ “I Just Want You”

  1. Daniel,
    I got to call you on this one. People say “happy Birthday” on FB and add the appropriate amount of exclamation marks, mostly because of two things. One of them is more about you, and one is more about them, and that is ok, I think.
    Number 1- because they thought of you when Facebook told them it was your birthday, and that thought made them kind of happy, and so they wanted you to know they were thinking of you. Basically what you said.
    Numero Dos- Because their vision of who they want to be, of the ideal self they are striving towards, and want to project out into the world is a person that is your friend. And additionally, the kind a person that takes care of, and attends to relationships. These are people who think that being a friend is important, and perhaps they type partly for themselves, so they can have the good feeling of living up to this value of theirs. But being kind feels good, do you want to take that away from them?
    So the reason they take the ENORMOUS (not really) effort to type some little thing on your feed, is that they like you, and because they want to be a nice person.
    Now they might not want to be your most intimate friend, and for goodness sake, you would not want some of them to be so (I certainly can think of some FB friends that I do not need to be more intimate with). But this thing you call “social obligation” could just be called “feeling like we should to be nice, kind, polite and friendly” and I think we need more, much more of this in the world.
    BTW, I am really glad you were born, it is a good thing.


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