Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Disappointed adult wanted to be fawned over on her birthday
Va.: Being relatively new in town, my closest friends are my roommate, boyfriend (both of whom I met in college) and older sister. Older sister has been a peach to me — until she barely acknowledged my birthday this week.
I'm probably not being fair — she called to wish me happy birthday, is planning to come to a celebratory dinner this weekend (which I suggested since my birthday fell on a weeknight) and no doubt has a gift for me. But roommate and boyfriend went over the top on my actual birthday — had a surprise dinner and dessert waiting when I got home from a stressful day at work. I was kind of annoyed at them for not inviting Sis, but more unreasonably annoyed at Sis for not coordinating with them or, heck, just showing up with a surprise cake or something!
It was one of those moments when I felt like I was discovering who my true friends really are. Am I being petty and unreasonable?
Carolyn: Thoroughly, with a chance of irredeemably. I'd say that even if Sissy completely forgot your birthday.
Birthdays are for kids, except in the rare case when friends go "over the top" for a fellow adult's birthday, in which case it's to be enjoyed strictly as the little bonus it is. As in, it's not an entitlement.
Just a surprise cake?
The lone exception is with the one (mayyybe even two) most significant relationships of your life. If you care about your birthday, then it's okay to expect them to care, too, as long as they've been duly warned that you care. And even then, innocent and regretted forgetting is still to be forgiven.
That's how it is on my planet, at least. And unless you want to tick off the inhabitants of your planet (thoroughly, with a chance of irredeemably), then I suggest you embrace your sister's more-than-adequate celebration of your birthday. Heck, I'll come right out and call it thoughtful, since she called and plans to come to dinner. If she brings a gift on top of that, it's bordering on excessive.
Set boundaries to stay helpful without being a pushover
Georgetown: Is there a good way to find the line between being a kind and helpful person and being a pushover?
Carolyn: Feeling resentful announces when you've crossed it.
But it's best not to get that far. Instead, try to establish where you don't want to budge. For example, you'll give money but not time, or time but not money, or you need X amount of time for yourself per day.
You can be less definitive, too, by telling yourself, say: "I'll be happy to help someone out as long as it doesn't take time away from (my hobby/my kids/my mate/my job/my volunteer work)." You can also draw discretionary lines, such as you'll help people who show signs of also helping themselves.
If you're not sure of your limits, it is okay to go at it backward and start heeding your feelings of resentment. When you feel someone is taking advantage, back out of the relevant commitments until you're more satisfied with the balance. Speaking the truth is also liberating: "I'm sorry, I can't; I'm shortchanging my (priority) as it is."