The Facebook happy birthday post is a de facto Internet obligation akin to helping someone move or feigning interest in your friend’s improv show. It's a complete and utter obligation. However, actually replying to those birthday posts usually gets caught in a grey area typically solved by a blanket “thank you for all the birthday love” post at the end of the day.
After spending my 28th birthday watching the notifications of my Facebook pop up one after another, I knew that—I, too—would bear the duty of writing an all-encompassing thank you note for the friends, family members, and women I’ve seen naked who wished me happy birthday.
But 103 notifications later, inspiration hit and I decided to throw caution to the wind and thank every single person who wished me happy birthday on Facebook with a personalized reply. It took me hours to do it, but I learned some s**t.
The "happy birthday" response is very uncomfortable
To find a distraction-free zone to reply to everyone, I picked this cute little coffee shop in Manhattan called Starbucks. But the moment my fingers touched the keyboard, I felt a venti-sized writer's block descend and I panicked. I hadn’t thanked a single person for a birthday post via Facebook post...ever. I wanted to say more than a simple “hey, thanks!” and give a minimum of five words for each birthday post, but I didn’t know what to say.
The first post, from a fellow coworker, warranted a meek six word post: “THANKS DUDE, YOU WERE THE FIRST!!!”
No one expects a response
A tier of the messages that I found exceptionally hard to respond to were from the people I talk to every day. For the most part, family members and close friends either wished me happy birthday in person or left me jokey comments on my wall that clearly didn’t need a follow-up comment, though of course I gave them one.
What do you say to your best friend who texts you happy birthday or your girlfriend who sends you a present and called you at midnight? Most notably, there was my father, who texted, emailed, called me, and wished me happy birthday in real life. Side-note: I have a very loving family. When faced with his bizarrely off-brand serious comment of “Happy birthday.” I had absolutely no idea what to do, because he is my father and we were talking on Facebook, clearly a terrible place for parents and their children to interact, regardless of how often he comments on, both, mine and every single one of Supercompressor’s stories.
People come out of the woodwork for your birthday
Working with a set of hands crippled by hammering out Facebook birthday messages, I pushed through my writer’s block and conquered a chunk of the posts. The first twenty Facebook posts were from a curious mixture of relatively close friends and obscenely random people who clearly just noticed my birthday pop up after the stroke of midnight.
It was with the latter that I found the most trouble in crafting a response. What do you say to your floor-mate’s sister’s friend from college with whom you haven’t spoken more than three words to since 2006? Seriously, what do you say??
I don't know what any of my "friends" are doing
“Thanks so much for the birthday greetings, hope everything’s going well on your side of the world.” I found, more often than not, that I didn’t know what a vast majority of my Facebook friends were up to—strange when compared to the early days of social media. People don't seem to be treating their Facebook like their own personal Twitter as much anymore.
Writer's block is inevitable
The novelty of a friend of a friend of a friend who happened to know my ex-girlfriend either slipped into the Twilight Zone of my memory or I just lost all interest. On the other hand, I found it super easy to respond to my European doppelgänger.
People actually respond to comments
After my hour was up, the comments and likes immediately began to pour in. Judging by the ratio of people who liked my comment over the ones who replied to my comments, I could tell my friends were weirded out by my excessiveness.
Of the 103 comments I left, only 46 people liked them and an even more meager six people responded to my responses. Weirdly, all of those six people were all people I hadn’t talked to in literally years—online and off.
I am not my Facebook profile
The end of this experiment left me feeling awkward—and not like, “my girlfriend’s dad just walked in on me frenching his daughter” awkward, but more like the entire world just saw my entire a**h*le in HD awkward. Unfathomably awkward and exposed.
I guess I keep a low profile on social media [Ed. note: Are you sure, Jeremy?], regardless of the fact that I’ve written about some pretty horrific stuff. But having an actual personal interaction—or some brand of it—made me feel too human within a platform that’s led me to skew away from anything but the “cool” stuff.
Should you do this? I'm just a guy who had a birthday, not a master in the field of cordial responses or introspective life experience, so you don't have to listen to my advice. However, I will say that taking yourself out of your comfort zone—even with something as trivial as Facebook responses—will teach you about yourself. What did I learn? Apparently I'm more afraid of exposing my own personality that I thought. What does that mean for you? Probably nothing, but maybe stick to that blanket response.