An intimate birthday celebration in a restaurant is a delicate balance. The mood has to be engineered to perfection. The service has to be coaxed to satisfaction without any looming clouds of annoyance. The near-by tables should be populated with quiet, non-intrusive people whose laughter and conversation is as subdued as the decor. No wonder, many people think it’s easier to throw a party at home and yell ‘Surprise’ at the flick of a switch.

It was the partner’s birthday and we had decided on celebrating it without too many people. I had booked a table in a restaurant which held a particularly fond memory of his. Six years ago when he was going through some of that nonsense life flings at you, the place had given him hope by being an uncomplicated, neutral space.

I was new to the city and didn’t have a better suggestion. We trooped into the muted interiors at the  appointed time, enthusiastic about bringing in the birthday.

Excusing myself to go to the bathroom, I cornered a waiter and arranged for a cake at 12. When I came back the mood had changed.

My partner’s face was suffused with pain. He said that he felt like someone was kicking his stomach from the inside. Definitely not the best of things to hear before a ‘Wooo-hoo, let’s party’ outburst. I thought we should go to the hospital, after all I wanted him to make it to next year. He refused and sat bravely holding a large red watermelon margarita.

I tried to lift the mood by being extra chirrupy but it fell gratingly on the table. Some things are in bad form like jokes about not having to pay the rent anymore at a funeral. When a loved one is suffering, grace is to sit quietly, be gentle and allow the sufferer the space to come to terms with it.

The only problem with the quiet was that at the back of my head an insistent, annoying ninny kept screaming, ‘But it’s a birthday party, but it’s a birthday party.’ Unable to take the pressure, I called a close friend of ours over. He came with a long face and a slow gait. Apparently he was suffering from a stomach ache too but had manfully faced-up to the difficult task of stepping out of bed as it was a birthday celebration.

I sat between these two men, one groaning marginally louder every second, and the other hurtling painfully towards a new decade, trying to look like I was having a good time. Finally, defeated by the stomach-pang collective I offered to go home but they refused, sacrificial, brave, stoic drooping bodies on an orange sofa.

As we waited, the pain in both their stomachs began to disappear. A cautious joke or two made an appearance. The margaritas got more colourful. Five minutes before 12, my partner even gave a genuine laugh. When the waitress brought in the cake with a flickering candle, he was all smiles as he cut through the chocolate. I let out a sigh of relief. He had turned older in joy. Sometimes, you have to force the hand of happiness for then maybe a pretend celebration will become a real one.

‘Still Figuring It Out’ a funny, sad, questioning take on adulthood will appear every Saturday on Arathi Menon is the author of Leaving Home With Half a Fridge, a memoir published by Pan Macmillan. She tweets at The views expressed here are her own.