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Milestone Birthday Angst

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As I'm flirting with forty
There's no time to wait
And I can't help but feel
I'm already too late!
Elizabeth, If/Then

Milestone birthdays are those that society has deemed important (13, 16, 18, 21, the "decade" birthdays, and other years significant to the character or their culture) and are meant to be happy, if retrospective, affairs. Fiction, however, tends to treat them as the year equivalent of the First Gray Hair — a character is approaching 30/40/50 and increasingly dreads it.

What's so special about a milestone birthday compared to a regular birthday, you may ask? Likely, the character dislikes the major reminder of getting older and the connotations of being 'someone in their 30s/40s/50s' that they are not yet prepared for. Someone turning 30 might not be want to leave their wild 20s behind and settle down, someone turning 40 may have unfulfilled career or marriage prospects, someone turning 50 isn't yet ready to start feeling 'old', and so on. Can be played for a quick gag, cause a drastic life decision, spark a full-blown Hollywood Midlife Crisis, or anything in between.

In serial works, this comes up during a Birthday Episode. Usually, there'll be a big party celebrating the milestone birthday that the character is not looking forward to. Sometimes, this will culminate in aesop about accepting your natural aging and learning to live life to the fullest without looking back.

Compare Birthday Hater, who despises all birthdays, not just the milestone ones, and First Gray Hair, another biological marker that makes a character freak out about aging. See also Growing Up Sucks, Dangerous 16th Birthday, Bittersweet 17, My Biological Clock Is Ticking, and Old Maid. Not to be confused with Milestone Celebration, which is when the work does something to celebrate its age/length.


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    Comic Strips 
  • An early arc in Foxtrot had Roger miserable about turning 45, being "closer to ninety than I am to my birth".

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The song "30" from Bo Burnham: Inside deals with Bo's anxieties about turning 30, how he hates no longer being able to relate to the young, and how he can't help but compare himself to the accomplishments of his friends and the previous generation.
    When he was 27, my granddad fought in Vietnam.
    When I was 27, I built a birdhouse with my mom.
    Oh, fuck (oh), how am I thirty? (Oh!)
  • City Slickers: Mitch turns 39 early in the movie, and he's depressed about being close to turning 40, which isn't helped by the fact when he visits his son's class, his son is ashamed of what Mitch does for a living (selling advertising spots for radio):
    Mitch: Value this time in your life kids, because this is the time in your life when you still have your choices, and it goes by so quickly. When you're a teenager you think you can do anything, and you do. Your twenties are a blur. Your thirties, you raise your family, you make a little money, and you think to yourself, "What happened to my twenties?" Your forties, you grow a little pot belly you grow another chin. The music starts to get too loud and one of your old girlfriends from high school becomes a grandmother. Your fifties you have a minor surgery. You'll call it a procedure, but it's a surgery. Your sixties you have a major surgery, the music is still loud, but it doesn't matter because you can't hear it anyway. Seventies, you and the wife retire to Fort Lauderdale, you start eating dinner at two, lunch around ten, breakfast the night before. And you spend most of your time wandering around malls looking for the ultimate in soft yogurt and muttering "how come the kids don't call?" By your eighties, you've had a major stroke, and you end up babbling to some Jamaican nurse who your wife can't stand but who you call mama. Any questions?
  • The Forty Year Old Version: Washed-up playwright Radha's upcoming 40th birthday is what causes her to rediscover her love for rapping.
  • The Hammer begins with protagonist Jerry Ferro frustrated that he's now 40 and not doing anything amazing with his life.
  • This Is 40: Pete and Debbie are having a stressful time in their marriage, which is not helped by how they're both about to turn 40. They have to deal with their difficult daughters, aging parents, and troubles with their jobs around this important time.
  • tick, tick... BOOM!: Jonathan despairs at turning 30 since he feels like he hasn't made it as a playwright and composer (his idol Stephen Sondheim put out his first musical at 27), while his best friend and girlfriend are both making career moves.
    • The song "30/90" puts this anxiety into song.
      They're singing, "Happy birthday".
      You just wanna lay down and cry.
      Not just another birthday, it's 30/90, hey!
    • The song "Swimming" (absent from the stage show) has Jonathan have a "Eureka!" Moment upon approaching the 30-meter line while doing laps at a pool.
    • The film ends with an intimate 30th birthday party for him, where he's finally accepted that he's growing older.
  • In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Kirk is celebrating his fiftieth birthday and is so sullen about it that McCoy calls him out on it, saying that he's treating it like his own funeral. The events of the film rejuvenate him, by the end he says that he feels young.

  • Adrian Mole: In the earlier books, Adrian longs for the "maturity" which will come with significant birthdays, but when he actually reaches them:
    • When Adrian turns sixteen in Growing Pains, he happens to have run away from home, and does not feel happy at all. He also notes that certain things he is now allowed to do, such as ride a moped, or live away from home are not appealing, now that they are available to him.
    • When Adrian turns thirty-five in Cappuccino Years, he writes "I am now officially middle aged. A pathetic slide towards gum disease, wheelchair ramps and death."
  • All the World's a Stage: The opening recounts how Erast Fandorin started to panic after his fiftieth birthday. He reacted in typical Fandorin fashion, by becoming even more awesome (learning a new language every year, learning tightrope walking, learning to fly an airplane, etc).
  • At the beginning of The Giver Jonas is apprehensive about the Ceremony of Twelve, because their career paths will be decided on the day.note 
  • The subtitle of Wringer is "Not all birthdays are welcome." Palmer dreads turning 10, as it is the age when boys in his town must become wringers for the annual festival, where pigeons are shot for charity. Wringers are told to "wring" out any of them that survive.
  • The protagonist of Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse is 47 and suicidal. Shortly after the beginning of the novel, he gets the idea to commit suicide on the day of his 50th birthday.
  • Welcome to Night Vale: Jackie Fierro has been 19 for decades because she fears the thought of turning 20, which will officially make her an adult and disrupt her largely worry-free existence. At the end of the book, she finally allows herself to age straight to 21, avoiding her fear of her 20th birthday by just skipping right past it.
  • Sam from The Many Half-Lived Lives of Sam Sylvester has always been fascinated by stories of half-lived lives, kids who died before the age of nineteen. Sam worries that their life is destined to be half-lived, and as their own nineteenth birthday approaches, they feel increasing dread that they won't live to see it.

    Live-Action TV 
  • American Housewife: In "Girls' Night Out" Katie's self-esteem takes a hit around the time of her 40th birthday.
  • Birds of a Feather: In "Thirty Something", Sharon is about to turn 30 and begins regretting her lack of an education.
  • Community: "G.I. Jeff" is an episode that takes place in Jeff's mind. He imagines himself and the remaining cast as characters from G.I. Joe because he fell into a coma from overdosing on scotch and street drugs that he took because of angst brought on by his upcoming 40th birthday.
  • Corner Gas: In "Block Party", the town's centennial party has Wanda complaining about the arbitrariness of milestone celebrations, cluing everyone in to the fact that her 40th birthday is upcoming. Wanda repeatedly tells everyone not to throw her a party, even when it's clear that no one is even considering the idea. Ultimately subverted, because it seems she was only telling everyone not to throw her a party because she'd already planned her own "surprise" party for herself so it would go exactly how she wanted.
  • The aptly titled Friends episode "The One Where They All Turn Thirty" shows that the gang all had anxieties about reaching that age.
    • Rachel feels old and gets depressed mostly because she feels she's 'behind' regarding her life plan. It gets worse when Chandler's birthday card says "grandma" and she realizes she would like to get married and have a baby pretty soon.
    • Monica comes home completely wasted because she felt anxious about turning thirty. Chandler is throwing her a formal party with her parents who have a camcorder. Monica overreacts and makes a huge scene.
    • Joey freaks out at his birthday, pleading with God that they had a deal to not let him get old.
    • Ross bought a red sports car, claiming he's a sports car enthusiast, despite the fact he didn't know what the horsepower is which clearly points to it being a Mid-Life Crisis Car. Ross's car gets locked in by two cars. He spends his birthday trying to get out. His joy is completely spoiled when an unattractive old man in the very same red car greets him and Ross gets dejected.
    • Phoebe was pretty okay with turning thirty ...until her twin sister Ursula tells her they are in fact thirty-one. Suddenly Phoebe's plan of stuff she wanted to accomplish falls apart and she feels particularly bad.
    • Chandler... isn't bothered at all. But Joey has another tearful freak out.
  • Done with a flashback on The Golden Girls. A then-younger Sophia discovers that her records were mixed up at Ellis Island and she's actually turning fifty, not forty-eight. She laments that she's "an old lady who hasn't accomplished a thing in her life". Thankfully, Dorothy is on hand to remind her of all of the things she has achieved, and the birthday turns out to be a happy one (especially when Sal offers to comfort Sophia, and the two start going at it).
  • How I Met Your Father: In "Dirrty Thirty", Sophie becomes anxious about turning thirty because she's recently started dating Drew, who is also 30 but extremely put-together, and she feels like she isn't. At the last minute Sophie retools her planned wild party into a more mature cocktail party in a bid to impress him, and panics whenever she thinks he's uncomfortable.
    Sophie: We're the same age but not the same stage!
  • "Chapter Eighty-Six" of Jane the Virgin sees Jane hit with a bout of anxiety and self-loathing after she realizes she's about to be a 30-year-old writer who lives with her grandma.
  • Dom in Looking is a 39-year-old who hates that he's turning 40. He's a Casanova who doesn't want his looks to leave him and has unfulfilled career aspirations that lead him to start a restaurant.
  • Scrubs: The season five episode "My Day at the Races" depicts JD's anxiety over turning 30, as he feels he hasn't accomplished as much as he'd hoped. This prompts him to participate in a triathlon, without having done any training in preparation.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Bashir is grumpy about turning 30 in "Distant Voices". This is weird when you think about it since humans in the future routinely live to be over a hundred and remain productive members of society.
  • The Twilight Zone (1985): In "Aqua Vita", Christie Copperfield is depressed at the thought of turning 40 because she believes that she will soon be replaced by a younger woman as television anchor. She laments to her boyfriend Marc that birthdays are fun when you are 10 but not when you are worried about crow's feet and keeping your job. However, Christie is not angry at him for throwing her a surprise party as she appreciates the sentiment.

  • CrazyCod: "The Most Frightening Number (Stop The Clock)" is a song about the man's fear of turning 30, as that number is showing up multiple times in things like documents and he feels his life passing with no way to stop it.

  • Fun rich palms no deposit bonus codes: In the musical version of Alison Bechdel's graphic memoir, Alison decides to start digging into her past to create the memoir specifically because she is now the same age her father was when he died (43).
    Alison: There's you
    And there's me

    But now I'm the one who's forty-three
    And stuck
    I can't find my way through!
    Just like you
    Am I just like you?
  • If/Then: Elizabeth is about to turn 38 at the start of the musical, and part of her angst is about how she's close to 40 years old, has just gotten out of an abusive long-term relationship that derailed her original career plans, and she fears that she doesn't have enough time to revive her love life and career, as seen in the opening number "What If?":
    As I'm flirting with forty
    There's no time to wait
    And I can't help but feel
    I'm already too late!
  • Monsters - The Musical opens with protagonist Samantha despairing about turning 40, not helped by her mother declaring that half her life is now over.
  • tick, tick... BOOM!: Jonathan is anxious about turning 30, evidenced in the song "30/90", because he does not feel like he has made it as a composer yet. The show ends on him playing "Happy Birthday" on the piano, showing he's finally accepted it.

  • Age Matters: Rose Choi is unhappy that she's turning thirty and still unsuccessful in life when younger people, like 23-year-old CEO Daniel Yoon, have made a name for themselves.
  • A Bittersweet Life (2014): When a group of friends is about to turn thirty, the women complain about bringing their age up. Nani claims she started school early and she's still twenty-nine, but they don't buy it. A year later, Nani claims she still isn't thirty because her birthday hasn't happened yet, even though age isn't tied to birthdays in Korea. On her actual birthday, Nani is out of excuses, so she pushes one of the candles into the cake to express her disappointment.

    Western Animation 
  • In the Hey Arnold! episode "Grandpa's Birthday", Grandpa Phil dreads his upcoming 81st birthday because he believes in a family curse where various male relatives from his side all died at the age of 81. Arnold tries convincing him that he'll be just fine, but Grandpa refuses to believe. But on the eve of Phil's birthday, Phil's still alive and he questions how this could happen—after Arnold does some mental math, he points out to his grandfather that he made some miscalculations and that the relatives he claimed fell victim to the family curse all died at the age of 91, not 81. Hearing this, Phil's excited that he's going to be okay and he, his family and the rest of the boarders (minus Oskar) celebrate.
  • Human Resources (2022): Parodied in the first episode; Maury turns forty million years old, triggering dissatisfaction with his current state in life as he worries he's alone.
  • In the Recess episode "Bonky Fever", Mikey becomes depressed about losing his childhood when he turns 10, causing him to regress to a kindergartner-like mindset.
  • Rocko's Modern Life: In "Born to Spawn", Filburt fears his 21st birthday because he's not ready to grow up: "I've heard stories about bran, and strange undergarments!" In the show's usual weird twist on this sort of rite of passage, his turtle instincts compel him back to his ancestral spawning grounds on Kerplopitgoes Island in order to officially become an adult. This turns out to involve attending a weirdly tacky class-reunion-esque party with a disco theme (complete with Quango and Sparky's "Do the Boogaloo" playing in the background).

    Real Life 
  • A popular story about Julius Caesar tells of him standing in front of a statue of Alexander the Great on his 32nd birthday and weeping since Alexander had conquered most of his known world by the time of his death (at 32), while Caesar has accomplished nothing comparable at the same age. Caesar would then go on to become famous as, well, Julius Caesar.


Video Example(s):



Aunt Ellen decides not to celebrate her 50th birthday with Iris due to her worries about getting old upon discovering a strand of gray hair on her.

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