Magazine

Miss Conduct

Do I have to wish every Facebook friend a happy birthday?

Am I the only one who thinks trite messages are worse than nothing at all?

Do I really have to wish everyone on Facebook a happy birthday? I just can’t bring myself to do it. In fact, from a young age, I’ve wondered why a majority of people draw attention to their birthdays with acquaintances or relative strangers. Now, in the FB era, forever feeling obligated to offer what seem like trite birthday wishes bothers me. Is this the modern-day equivalent of being unwilling to be neighborly?

J.H. / Malden

Shhhh . . . I don’t either. It’s less a dislike of birthdays, for me, than extreme performance anxiety. I think a birthday greeting should be quirky and meaningful, and we could be talking up to four birthdays on my feed a day, and I’m not the Hallmark Corporation, you know. What if I do come up with something clever yet heartfelt for Friend A, but not for Mutual Friend B, and B sees A’s and feels bad? So I don’t add to the chorus of happy birthdays on anyone’s page.

And I think that’s fine. Social courtesies are like school classes: required or elective. Being on time, treating people with respect, turn-taking — these are required. Other social skills like gift-giving, party-throwing, favor-doing, useful-object-lending, social-media-signal-boosting are more of an elective menu, where you can choose your areas of focus and play to your strengths. Everyone on Facebook has plenty of Birthday Friends. You can be Airport Ride Friend or Scandal Recap Friend or Cat-Sitting Friend, instead.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.

Send your questions to Miss Conduct at missconduct@globe.com.