Protean Me

I recently ran into a friend I hadn’t seen since high school. The only way I recognized her was from her voice. She’d gotten married, changed her hair, her weight, her dress… Granted, I had almost never seen her out of a ponytail and uniform before, but seriously, this was drastic change.

It got me thinking: how much had I changed since high school?

And it’s hard to think of change without trying to categorize it: good change, or bad change? The idea is that if you identify bad change you can attempt to reverse it.

But there I ran into a problem. So much of what goes for “good” or “bad” is based in something very ephemeral. A while ago BoSD posted about meeting a high school teacher in the grocery. She knew the teacher would disapprove of her mascara, but she’d been ordered to never leave the house without it by a woman she knows. So basically, in high school, eye makeup is the invention of the devil, but for women of marriageable age it’s one of life’s necessities. Is wearing it bad or good or neutral? This subjective nature of rightness baffled me.

There was another thing that stymied me. Namely, of the ways that I appear different than in high school, how many are actual changes, and how much is giving up on changing? In high school they operate very much on a “chitzonius mi’oreres es hapenimiyus” theory. It mostly didn’t work for me. I tried many things in high school based on the promise that they would eventually cease to be objectionable, and they mostly fell by the wayside after graduation when I discovered that they were as objectionable as ever. So, did I change, or did I just cease to try to change?

So I gave up on trying to quantify my personal evolution. Maybe I should stick with the standard-issue cheshbon hanefesh and see if I’m happy with who I am now, without comparing to someone I may have once been.

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13 thoughts on “Protean Me

  1. It’s hard to quantify change because it happens slowly overtime and it is hard to define. I find it’s easier to identify specific behaviors tthat I used to do or reactions I used to have to certain situations and compare them with my current behaviors and reactions.

  2. Excellent post and I hope people really take a key point. There comes a time when your education, background and parental upbringing is what allows you to decide on what is right and wrong. Just because in High School you had a uniform and a tznius button, does not mean that you must dress like that to be correct. Hopefully you have learned they way to act, dress and talk by the time you graduate and can make an informed decision on how to live your life within the frames of Halacha without feeling guilty.

    The issue with change and older, single people (both guys and girls) is why you are changing. The key question is when you change – are you changing because you really believe there is no problem with what you are doing, or because as you get older and stay single, you become more cynical and feel that the frum world, your high school friends etc. are moving on without and this is how the person changes also (really lashing back IMHO). I have seen girls that I went out with or were set up with a number of years ago who were very frum at that time, now as they get closer to 30 and remain single, wearing pants or no longer shomer negiah.

  3. i’ve been there, but sometimes wonder if {well-meaning, judgmental} bystanders confuse “approaching equilibrium as one becomes more mature” with “lowering ones guard and becoming more modern”, solely based on what they see. the objective of formal chinuch is to provide a basis of dogma that one can take into one’s own life, as one matures into one’s own person. i think our system is mostly great at that- for most of us, our religion is our own, such that we still actively observe from free will once we leave the domain of our upbringing, and once formal chinuch ceases. i don’t think that’s true of too many other cultures, at least from what i see of my friends from the secular world. i understand the charedi world doesn’t see it that way; they maintain active control through adulthood by young marriage and a tight and judgmental community, where conformity is the only way. one of my teachers in israel posited that charedim educate the masses, and MO educates for excellence, i.e., a successfully educated charedi conforms, while a successfully educated MO person excels (broadly speaking, natch). when someone emerges from the former system but begins to diverge from the path, e.g., they don’t marry as young, or don’t accept all the dogma, they are more easily at a loss, because suddenly their ability to conform is gone. must it be a bad thing or indicative of internal unrest? davka i find myself more sure of what i think, calmer, and more stable as time goes on. do i have misgivings sometimes about whom i became, or wonder what could have been? of course, but speculation isn’t productive.

  4. I remember the stupendous relief when I graduated from BY, that I could now live my life in the realm of my familial upbringing, rather than teachers telling me to disregard my mesorah. Since I didn’t go to seminary, who knows what they think I look like by now?

  5. I think I’ve changed since HS…both personality-wise and look-wise.
    However, recently, I saw a classmate whom I didn’t see since senior year, and she said: “omagash, you haven’t changed a bit!”
    I wasn’t sure if it was a compliment or a snobby observation. Oh well.

  6. It’s been about seven years since high school and I think I’ve changed a lot (mostly in good ways), most of the noticeable changes came in the last year. It’s a lot easier to notice change when it happens in a short period of time.

    SG: I recently saw a guy at a restaurant who I hadn’t seen since the end of 6th grade. I didn’t recognize him at all but when a mutual friend introduced us we both remembered being in the same class. The first thing he said to me was “wow, you look like a different person, you used to have so much more hair” to which I replied “yeah, I got a haircut”. I’m not so sensitive but I thought it was really weird that after not seeing a guy for 13 years he would start by commenting on the fact that my hair is thinner.

  7. Good article. Very practical issue most singles, especially those in their mid to late 20’s are facing today. Many people get past their identity crisis stage and figure themselves out, but after staying single in their 20’s for long enough, they start contemplating if maybe their identity needs adjustment. Hence you see guys/girls dropping shomer negia, dressing more modern(less snius), or conducting themselves on a lesser level then when they were in their younger years.

    On one hand you feel that at least you experience the joys of life while you’re in your prime, on the other you wonder if it is hampering you’re long term goals. These issues it seems nobody has any answers too.

  8. Pingback: Good Article by Bad4. « ShidduchMaven's Blog

  9. Maybe I should stick with the standard-issue cheshbon hanefesh and see if I’m happy with who I am now, without comparing to someone I may have once been.

    Darn straight. Halevai we would all do this.

  10. gp- i like that part about equilibrium. its a good word to describe the feeling i have now.

    but yes, good ole cheshbon hanefesh is the way to go. i think being comfortable with yourself, being honest with your own levels is what will bring you furthest in life. Knowing where you are and where you want to go helps. It can help determine what type of guy you want, to what type of guy you need. Wanting a certain person to marry should be grounded in what you have in common now with what you want to become, where you want to go together in the future.

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