“Bibi, where’s the cake?” asked my little niece Gira on the fourth of November. “We should sing a ‘Happy Birthday’.

“Aww, honey. I’m afraid there’s no cake like that for tonight,” I gently told her. I felt sorry when she pouted in disappointment.

Then again, Gira-ku is just a kid. She’s still a little girl. In a child’s eyes, birthdays mean a cake with lit candles on top and only to be blown later after everybody sings “Happy Birthday”.

Don’t forget presents wrapped in colourful papers and other attractions for that special day. Clowns (no, not Pennywise, please!), balloons, music, and games, and…what else? Oh, yes. Friends and family. The venue? Home or school.

When you’re a teenager, birthdays may mean hanging out with friends, maybe inviting the ‘cool crowd’ (although perhaps you secretly envy or hate their guts), birthday cakes, and music. Games? Maybe.

The venue? Either home, restaurant, or cafe. Some teens from rich families even hire a local (and cool) band.

Some other teens may prefer hanging out with only their (chosen) squad. Just them, nobody else. Either they hang out at the coolest spot in town or watch a movie. What I hated back then was the peer/social pressure, mostly on teenage girls.

“Ooh, you’re seventeen now! Where’s your boyfriend?”

Ugh. Back then (perhaps it is still the same now), it seemed such a big deal that you had to have a boyfriend/girlfriend by your side on your sweet seventeen. Maybe I was a dork, but I just didn’t see the point. Why? Because I’d seen some girls accept guys they didn’t really fancy – only for the sake of being seen in public with a boyfriend.

Did I really want any for myself back then? I’m no hypocrite here; I did. However, I didn’t want anyone for the wrong reasons. Speaking of which, how did I find out about those girls I’ve just mentioned? Later on, they complained – often about trivialities regarding the guys/boyfriends they’d dated.

Me? I was busy making sure I didn’t flunk high school. I’m not stupid; some learning methods back then just didn’t work for me.

I began to lose my enthusiasm on my birthday by the time I was in my twenties. If you’re a woman in Indonesia, you’ll get what I mean. Somehow, people here are so obsessed with the idea of marrying their daughters off as young as possible.

Well, the thing is, if the daughter is okay with the idea and already considered an adult (as in, mentally-stable to make her own conscious decisions and also know how to look after herself – in terms of earning money and stuff like that), then go for it.

If she’s not up for it – yet or else – then she should not be coerced or forced. Nobody deserves to be bullied or threatened for the personal choices they make. Believe me, even when you claim that you “only mean well”, you actually sound way far from it. It’s their lives.

Past the age of 25, I dreaded my birthday. I was afraid of terrorising (no joke!) questions and broken recordlike advice:

“Oh, my God. You’re…..?” (Fill in the gap with the number between 25 to 30.) “And you’re not married yet? How come?”

“I know you don’t like it, but they only mean well.”

Oh, yeah. ‘Mean well’ my —

Ah, nevermind. Five years prior to my 33rd birthday, I stopped giving a damn about my own birthday. Well, even if I did bring something to work to celebrate that day, that had been merely for a distraction.

It was the timeline when Dad was critically ill. Despite trying to stay happy on the outside, most of my world had turned to grey. It was the constant, sometimes unexpected fear that refused to go away.

I remember one night after finishing class at nine, when I turned my phone on and saw seven missed calls from Mom’s number. I remember feeling suddenly weightless, that a colleague had to support me and gently urge me to sit down. She’d said: “Maybe it’s nothing. Maybe it’s nothing.”

Multiple missed calls from your mother never means ‘nothing’, especially at times like that.

When that number finally called me, I answered and heard my brother’s voice. He was offering a lift home (since it was really late that night), but I’d almost yelled at him:

“Don’t scare me! You could’ve texted. I thought it was…” I couldn’t finish; I realised that I’d also nearly been in tears.

I remember one of my best friends asking about what I’d like to do for my birthday and I said I didn’t want anything. I told him: “I’ve been asking for the same damn thing for the past four years and He hasn’t given me just that.”

He looked startled and so was I. I didn’t realise that I’d been angry. I’d shamelessly questioned God why. That was before I understood better.

Another thing I was annoyed with back then was still the same thing: the social pressure. People here still view single women in their thirties (and older) as shameful.

“When? Don’t you pity your father?”

Go figure. What did they expect from me with that? Just snatch a passing, random dude out there on the street and beg him to marry me? Post a mass proposal online and wait for the most potential answer? Honestly, that was just as bad as this person’s stupid joke / suggestion:

“Why don’t you try to get yourself pregnant first? That way, the guy has no choice but to marry you anyway.”

Most of the time, some people just don’t think. If I get offended or angry (which I have the right to be), they simply gaslight me. Chill out. It’s just a joke. Don’t take it too seriously. Don’t be so bloody touchy.

Ha-ha. I’d like to guess the IQ level of those who find that joke funny, but…nah, ain’t worth it.

I know we can never avoid growing old, but I hate to be reminded of what I still haven’t got. I hate to be compared to other people over trivialities like:

“She’s married with two kids already. What about you?”

(“That girl has finished three chapters for this assignment. How come you’re so slow?”)

I’ve been told by two different expat friends that I’m in the wrong country. I don’t know. Maybe.

What about now? I’m okay. My 36th birthday consisted of a nice family dinner. Hugs and kisses from nephews and niece, with their shrieks everytime they call me “Bibi” (Aunty in Indonesian). Mom was looking good. (For the record, she always looks better than her tomboyish daughter and I’m fine with that.)

Most importantly? No judgment. Only love. Besides, I’ve seen people with different timelines of their lives. I’ve been priviledged enough to get to know them and to have them trust me with their stories. Their ability to love, deal with multiple heartbreaks, and then bounce back again has inspired me.

I hope I have at least half of their guts to begin with. Maybe…just maybe, I can learn to start giving love another try…no matter how scared I still am.


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