It was time for a change of some kind in my life. I've been at the same job and lived in the same apartment for almost a decade. Things were fine; they just felt kind of stagnant. So when I decided this winter to grow a beard for the first time in my life, I didn't realize that this simple act might be the only change I needed.
I'm in my mid-30s and have never experimented with facial hair, but I always liked the way I looked with scruff, so I figured why not see how I looked with a full-on beard. I stopped shaving right before New Year's Eve and thus have been bewhiskered for about a month now. And what an interesting month it has been...
This beard has opened up a whole new world to me. Not only have my looks changed a bit, but the way people respond to me has changed and I find myself having conversations I've never had and learning new things that I've never needed to know about.
There are a number of things to consider once you grow a beard that you've never had to think about before: "Do I need to shampoo my beard or will my face cleanser be fine?" "Should I put conditioner in my beard?" "What is optimal beard length?" "What's the best way to keep to that length?" I've found myself Googling the phrase "beard maintenance" on more than one occasion, and the Internet has certainly provided plenty of reference material.
Besides the general physical aspects of growing a beard, certain phenomena have started to occur. First of all, I've found that other bearded men on the street (particularly men around my age) feel the need to acknowledge me. I have more than a couple of times gotten a knowing nod from a stranger, almost as if they are saying "'sup beard." It's like I'm in a secret brotherhood that bald-cheeked people cannot be a part of.
In fact, there is a whole movement of "beard pride" in this country that I knew nothing about. There are regional beard competitions all over. I have a friend who took part in a competition in Brooklyn (natch). There are even NATIONAL beard competitions. This is a particular rabbit hole I do not see my self going down.
I have found that when I'm out socializing now, the topic of conversation invariably leads to beard. I can't count the number of discussions I've had with friends and acquaintances--people that I've seen around the neighborhood, or regulars and staff at local restaurants/bars -- that I never would have had before this hirsute adventure began.
Who knew there was so much one could learn about other people's facial hair? I now know what parts of their face can't grow hair or spots where hair comes in a different color. And more surprisingly I've learned about their fathers' similar or opposite facial hair situations. I've learned about failed attempts at beard growing or bearded periods of their past.
I find myself saying things that I've never had to say before, such as "Do I have any burger in my beard?" or "No, I do not dye my beard" (It's red). My superintendent told me that I look like a Russian Oligarch, a random dog-owner said I looked like a viking. These are comparisons that I never could have expected while clean-shaven.
After a couple of weeks, when I decided that I liked the beard and am going to stick with it for a while--at least through the winter -- it was time to reveal it to my family and friends. Weirdly, I felt like I had been keeping this dark secret from them for the past two or three weeks. It was such a relief when I saw them, and even more so when they said that they liked the beard. It was oddly nerve-racking. Like coming out of the closet a second time.
Then I realized it was time to update my photo on Facebook, to reveal to my transformation to my extended world of friends, acquaintances, ex-classmates and colleagues. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. Next step: OKCupid...
In fact I find myself attracting a whole new set of people. I am being flirted with more (by men and women) and find myself flirting back. I don't know if it's just the beard that is attracting people or if it has instilled a new confidence in me that is what people are experiencing.
In any case, I like it and I'm going to run with it for a while. I never thought when I made this simple and fairly arbitrary decision, how surprisingly amusing and interesting my newly bewhiskered world would become.