My Coworkers Cake-Shamed Me On My Birthday, Or How I Learned The Uncomfortable Truth About Office Parties
I have a day job to fill in the gaps my freelance gigs don’t cover, and it’s not awful. I don’t hate it. I’ve definitely had worse jobs. I work in a small office with nice people. I show up, work, eat my sad lunch, work, and leave. The only personal items I keep at my desk are a tube of hand lotion and gum. My drawers are empty, and so is my soul.
During the first week I started working there, a handful of people gathered around a store-bought cake perched on a fold-out table in the break room. My coworkers turned off the fluorescents, lit the candles, and sang the coworker whose birthday it was a weak rendition of “Happy Birthday” while she smiled nervously. She blew out the candles and someone took a picture on their phone as she cut the cake and passed it around.
I don't like birthday cake. I’ve had some bad experiences puking up birthday cake, birthday cake-flavored vodka (WHY GOD, WHY??) and digestive troubles that can be traced back to funfetti. The scent of frosting makes me queasy. I might also have a serious gastrointestinal problem?
So when someone handed me a slice, I smiled and said “No, thanks." When they insisted, I tried to explain as politely as I could without divulging my cake-vomit-trauma, that it’s not personal, I’m not some kind of food purist/elitist, I don’t look down on people who do enjoy cake, or whatever. I just can’t eat it.
But I work in a CAKE-MANDATORY workplace, and I ended up with the slice I was trying to avoid being wedged firmly into my hand.
I wasn’t about to get into an argument about a slice of cake, plus I felt bad about being the asshole who didn’t want the cake. I stood there poking at it for as long as I could. When everyone cleared out, I dumped my slice of cake in the trash, and that became my routine for many more office birthdays to come. Other coworkers would have birthdays, and I’d politely try to turn down the cake, only to have it shoved into my hand before finding its way into the garbage. After everyone cleared the room. I’d throw it in the trash.
When my birthday came around a few weeks ago, I hadn’t told anyone about it, and had made a point to avoid bringing up the fact that it was coming up out of fear of being at the center of a forced, uncomfortable office “party.” Also, I’d have to make sure to get my Xanax refilled beforehand if I was going to avoid a potential panic attack and subsequent cake diarrhea.
I heard whispering behind my desk. My coworkers gathered behind me. Oh God. It’s happening.
They’re going to sing, aren’t they?
What are you even supposed to do while someone sings you “Happy Birthday”? Do you look at the ground? Maintain eye contact? Fantasize about throwing yourself out the nearest window?
“We know you don’t like cake, and we weren’t sure what kind of cake to get you, so…”
My coworker unveiled one of those fruitcakes glazed with what looks like sugar snot. They insisted I sit down and pose for a picture, and asked me to cut the cake, which I did.
When everyone had their cake, I realized that no one was eating it because they were waiting for me to have some.
“We really hope you like it.”
“We saw you eat fruit one time, and this cake has fruit, so…”
“Come on,” someone said, “it’s your birthday!”
I KNOW IT’S MY BIRTHDAY AND I HATE THIS.
A coworker picked up a slice, handed it to me, and after I weakly tried to turn it down, she pushed it into my hand and I ate the stupid cake, because what are you supposed to do when someone you don’t really know brings you cake on your birthday, which is actually a really sweet gesture for the girl who sorts the mail and makes copies, not to mention one of the nicest things a group of people who didn’t really know me outside the context of the copy room has ever done for me on my birthday.
After what was the most uncomfortable seven minutes of my life possibly ever, I spent the majority of the day in the bathroom with the cake shits, because I’m a decent human being who couldn’t bring herself to tell her coworkers about her cake-shitting problem, because they’re good people. They’re really, really nice. And they really love cake. Office parties make me ill, but they’re the only thing keeping my eyes from drying out completely in front of a computer screen and becoming an empty shell devoid of emotion. I’d rather feel the wrath of the cake than nothing at all.
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