1. Jody

    Since the bonus was given so close to your anniversary with the firm, it’s possible it was a “longevity bonus” related to your tenure. The boss may be so used to people knowing what it’s for that he didn’t say anything at the time (or just forgot to tell you).

  2. Jane

    A tangentially-related question, if I may.

    How does one go about rejecting/returning birthday gifts from friends, family, and colleagues alike and deter future giving?

    I have a strong aversion to my own birthday for various reasons. While most people feel special and happy to hear it wished, “happy birthday” sends me into tears. I’ve asked people to overlook the event and to those who’ve enquired further I’ve explained that it isn’t something I observe.

    Yet when I walked in to work recently, I found cards (greeting and gift) on my desk, received a number of happy birthday e-mails and even a cash gift from my mother. I broke down immediately and hid in the bathroom until I could calm down. I absolutely do not want to experience this again. Do I just return the gifts with a polite thank you note explaining that while I appreciate the sentiment, I don’t observe the event? Do I just keep the gifts and send my thank you notes?

    How do I handle this with whatever shred of decorum I can salvage and prevent reoccurence next year?

    Thank you,

    • Alicia

      People mean well when they wish you Happy Birthday. A simple polite but not gushing Thank you for the thought but I do not really like my own birthday is all you need. It will discourage future birthday observance without being rude. Returning the gifts/cards would be rather insensitive to others feelings when they clearly were trying to be kind. I would also take your birthday off of the work birthday list and any public birthday calendars like facebook a that will cause more people to forget your birthday. Regarding your mother and very close friends I would tell them why you hate your birthday celbrated and that it does leave you in tears. Regarding the tears over a birthday card I would also consider talking to some sort of therapist about this extreme reaction to an act of kindness so that hopefully by next year you will not have such a negative reaction to your birthday when someone gives you a card.

      • Ashleigh

        I was thinking the same thing regarding possibly talking to a therapist. Is it perhaps social anxiety that is turning events like this into nightmare-ish situations? I personally absolutely dread situations where the spotlight will be on me. Being taken out for a birthday lunch is enough to throw me into a complete panic attack.

        • While seeing a therapist is nothing to be ashamed about (ever, for anyone), and it may be relevant to Jane’s evident panic attack, we should probably refrain from playing armchair psychologist on this board. :) Not only are we likely all wrong (well, I probably am), I am nervous about potentially alienating a poster simply because s/he is afraid of being unofficially diagnosed with something. Goodness knows we all have our own little anxieties and disorders.

          I am not trying to play “mom” here; rather, I just don’t want anyone to be uncomfortable, even if that is not how the comment was intended (and I don’t think you have any unpleasant intentions).

      • Jane


        Thank you for taking the time to reply. I would like to confirm that I deliberately concealed the date from everyone and I have never posted it anywhere. Our birthday organizer contacted my previous employer to discover it. I have been fighting this battle for years, everyone in my family is well aware of my feelings but they choose to ignore them. Do I take into consideration that if they had accepted my choice in the first place, there’d be no ruffled feelings when I return their gifts and cards?

        I understand and appreciate their sentiments, but at what point does my birthday become about me and not other people’s feelings — or does etiquette state I have no right to make such a demand? Regarding your advice to seek therapy, I find it inappropriate and will leave it unaddressed.

        My original questions stand: how best to handle this so that it never happens again, while not making an interpersonal mess? I’m certain I’m not the only one who is curious, as I’ve met many people through the years who share my perspective. Birthdays simply aren’t a universal joyous occasion.

        Thank you for your time,

        • Elizabeth

          I think the difficulty here is that you have an aversion to something that most people would never imagine that one could have an aversion to. I’m not sure if the people you mentioned (coworkers, family) are bringing up your birthday to actually be malicious, or because they just assume that you are like most people and enjoy being celebrated in that way. It would be as if you had an aversion to shaking hands or hugging people – it’s not inconceivable, but also hard to avoid.

          You are asking this question on an etiquette site. Unfortunately, it isn’t rude for people to wish you a happy birthday. (Or rather, it isn’t rude for those people who aren’t really aware of your preference. I do think it odd that your family refuses to accept your wishes.) You could certainly force the issue, but you run the risk of people asking for your reasons behind your preference, or that people will just think you strange. You also run the danger of offending people who are genuinely well-intentioned. The easier thing to do, I think, would be to develop skills that would allow you to ignore or avoid these overtures. Can you take a personal day on your birthday? Can you sweep the cards into the trash discretely and move on with your day? Can you have a private word with the birthday organizer? If you can avoid these situations discreetly, you’ll have the best chance at avoiding unpleasant feelings while also respecting cultural norms.

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