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Birthdays for adults that don’t suck (during a pandemic)

Adult birthdays are hard. There isn’t necessarily a built-in community of fellow students around. Even letting people *know* that it’s your birthday takes effort. The pandemic, of course, has made it worse. So, just as I’m on the lookout for better ways to have adult friendships, or date during a pandemic, I’m trying to think about how to birthdays.

There are three examples of how it went really well that I’d like to share and report back.

#1: Surprise voicemail

For my birthday this July, Sarah did a really nice thing. She set up an answering machine on Google Voice. Then she asked my friends around the world to call in and leave a 3-minute birthday message.

On July 26th, Sarah and I strolled to a nice picnic breakfast. Then, and also again over the course of the day, she played back the messages, a few at a time. It was one of the best birthdays of all time. I felt so happy, and loved, and it was a delight to hear from friends old and new. Close friends and distant acquaintances I was frankly surprised to hear from.

Try it!

#2: Playlist + Slideshow

For Sarah’s birthday, I knew I had to match her. But copying exactly seemed impolite. What to do? After a week of dithering, I figured it out.

I make Sarah a mixtape every month. This time, I’d ask all her friends to contribute music to a birthday playlist just for her. Ontop of that, I’d ask them all to send photos and notes to compile into a slideshow.

Figuring out how to ask people to do 3 different things was tricky. Eventually I settled on using one Airtable form and distributing one link. Worked like a charm.

Here’s the slideshow combining the notes, the songs, and the photos. It came out really well!

And here is the playlist. Or, if you prefer text:

  • Lionel Richie – Hello
  • Cascada – Everytime We Touch
  • Club Drosselmeyer – Ginger Snaps *(This isn’t on Spotify)
  • They Might Be Giants – Birdhouse in Your Soul
  • The New Seekers – Free To Be…You And Me
  • Peter, Paul and Mary – Puff, the Magic Dragon – 2004 Remaster
  • Yola – Walk Through Fire
  • Yola – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
  • Yola – Rock Me Gently
  • Allan Sherman – Shake Hands With Your Uncle Max
  • Na Palapalai – Ke Anu O Waimea
  • Brigitte Bardot – Une histoire de plage
  • Brigitte Bardot – La madrague
  • Tanis – Ce N’est Pas Moi
  • Mazowsze – Dwa serduszka
  • Elton John – Skyline Pigeon
  • Stephen Sondheim – Company
  • Marvin Gaye; Tammi Terrell – Ain’t No Mountain High Enough
  • Rozzi – Best Friend Song – Lemon Ice Mix
  • Lake Street Dive – You Go Down Smooth
  • Laura Marling – Fortune
  • Stevie Wonder – I Wish
  • Vince Staples; Richie Kohan – Home
  • The Neville Brothers – Sister Rosa – Live From Wolfgang’s Vault
  • 100 gecs; Charli XCX; Rico Nasty; Kero Kero Bonito – ringtone (Remix) [feat. Charli XCX, Rico Nasty, Kero Kero Bonito]
  • Carly Rae Jepsen – Cut To The Feeling
  • Nina Simone – Love Me or Leave Me – 2013 Remastered Version
  • Edo Lee – Black Coffee
  • Trevor Hall – Everything I Need
  • Chromeo – Clorox Wipe
  • Silver Jews – People
  • Journey – Don’t Stop Believin’
  • The B-52’s – Love Shack
  • Matthew Thiessen & The Earthquakes – Forest
  • The Civil Wars – 20 Years
  • A Taste Of Honey – Boogie Oogie Oogie – Remastered

#3: A murder mystery on GatherTown

I hate zoom. And google meet. And the culture of meeting more than 3 people on a video chat structured as a set of boxes. Conversations need to be small! And breakout groups need to be fluid and user-controlled.

That’s why I’m so excited about two different platforms that try to solve it — gather.town and spacial chat. And, just the other day, my friend Giselle used gathertown to run a successful murder mystery party!

The day started out a bit normal – a brunch hangout of just a few (~5) of us friends from college. Then, in the evening, we all created avatars and moved around in gather.town! The scene was an 80’s themed prom. We each had roles in a murder mystery. Despite the mystery instructions being written years ago (and therefore assuming we wouldn’t be quarantining), gathertown made it all possible!

Try a murder mystery (or just some version of spacial chat or gather town) for your next birthday. You’ll be so much happier than an awkward 20-person zoom room.

The over-arching secret is the wingman

All these case studies had one common success factor: the wingman. These days, you need someone spending their time reminding your friends that the birthday is coming up, and then also directing them to The Plan.

And there does need to be a plan. Gone are the days where we can just spontaneously hoist someone on our shoulders and go to the nearest pub. Instead, the wingman (the planner) needs to lay out an idea, find friends, drive them to the link, etc.

For me, it was Sarah. For Sarah, it was me. For Giselle, it was our mutual friend Anna. For couples, it seems pretty easy to figure out who the wingman is.

But for single people? I don’t know. Must be tough.

Guess that’s one more reason I want to help people find love in my spare time.

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