Before deciding to grow my hair 3 years ago, I had never had long hair. My whole life, I liked a short haircut. It was efficient, hassle-free, cheap… I didn’t care too much for aesthetics or anything like that. I just didn’t want my hair to be something I had to think of. In fact, I’m only saying this after 3 years of having long hair. Before that I couldn’t even fathom the concept of “having to think about my hair”. My hair was literally never in the picture.
For most of my adult life I’ve always been about efficiency. It took me a long time to find what to dedicate my energy to, and before that I was always all over the place. I would pick up something and drop it a few weeks or a few months later. I would spend weeks building a project, spending my energy on something, and then I’d never release it. I was always looking for stuff to do just to be productive, to crush it. It’s kind of exhausting to be like that. It’s being hard on yourself for no specific reason, and it becomes even more a problem when it’s affecting people around you too.
I would get irritated (or mad) at people for not being at the same level as me, whether in terms of energy or in terms of skills. In hindsight, I can tell this was ludicrous. Someone would show up late at a meeting and I’d be annoyed for the rest of the time. I would expect people to keep up with my pace, my jokes, my energy. I went on a 10-day trip one time, with one friend and 5 of his friends, who were only acquaintances to me. We had met a few times but didn’t know each other much. Months after the trip, I learned from my friend that they had found me impossible to deal with, all over he place, annoying. It didn’t even bother me at the time. I thought: “they can’t keep up with me, it’s not my problem”.
So that’s where I was at for a few years. Then something changed.
3 years ago I moved to a new city, in a new country. I moved there for a job, and I knew nobody. My girlfriend (yes I somehow found a girlfriend, but that’s a story for another day) was going to join me in 3 months. This was a total brand new start for me. Did you ever wish you could move to some new place where nobody knew you, and you could start over and maybe better yourself? Like a second chance? This was my chance.
Phase 1: The decision to grow
I remember the joke with my hair was that I only wanted to get a haircut by my hairdresser of 10 years, which was impossible now that I had moved somewhere else. So for a little while I let it grow.
In the beginning I didn’t think about the “philosophical implications” of growing my hair, the mindfulness around it. I was doing it out of convenience in a way, just like I had been cutting it out of convenience. I didn’t know any hairdresser where I was, and I only trusted the one that had been cutting my hair for 10 years. It was the conveniency of not changing what I knew.
I was going to grow my hair, to let it flow, and see what would happen.
Phase 2: Revealing the unseen
Following this first decision of growing my hair, I didn’t seriously think I would do it for too long. But as it kept growing, I realised I liked the curls, and people did too, and it made me look less stiff and harsh overall. I realised you never see a guy in the military with nothing more than a buzzcut, and that’s what I had had my whole life. Maybe I was stuck in the role as well, not just the haircut. Maybe it was time to outgrow this, to get creative and free-flowing.
I remember starting to see my hair for the first time. It was just long enough so I could see it at the top of my visual field. I would pull it down and try to get it closer, so I could see it more. I was curious. But change takes time, so I had to wait to let it unveil naturally.
Phase 3: Contemplating the mess
When my hair got long enough that I could grab a lock and look at it from up close, I started to wonder what to do with it. I have thick, curly, wavy, messy hair. The top of my head was starting to look like a big mushroom. By now, it was at this annoying length where it was long enough to get in my eyes at times, but too short to be tied in a bun. I started to think: “that’s it, I’m going to cut it”.
But then I sat down, thought about it, and took the decision to keep going. “You haven’t come this far to only come this far” I thought to myself. This was a learning experiment, a journey. I couldn’t quit because it was a little annoying to get hair in my eyes.
So right then and there, I took the decision to go for the man bun as soo as it was going to be long enough. And from there, well, keep going. Once it was long enough for the bun, I could do whatever I wanted. Let it flow, or tie it up.
But then there was the mess problem. My hair was very messy, and I wasn’t taking good care of it. It was dry and breaking. It was one thing to accept the mess, but it was another one to sit down and take care of it. This leads me to one of the most important part of this experiment.
Phase 4: The cleaning
Yes, I learned that when you have a long hair, you have to take care of it. This means doing a lot of things people with short hair never do:
- combing and brushing
- washing for much longer in the shower
- dry blowing
- treating the hair with various products
I quickly came to realise this was taking a lot of my time. It was taking way too much of my time. I was someone who used to spend 10 minutes in the bathroom every morning. 5-minute shower, 5-minute teeth-brushing, cleaning, moisturising, and done.
The biggest thing long hair taught me is to take my time. It also taught me relaxation when untangling it. My hair would get super tangled after sometimes a week of negligence. The time I thought I had saved in not taking care of it during the week, I would have to spend double on the weekend. Brushing, combing, untangling, drying… It would take forever, but I had to learn to enjoy it.
Phase 5: More growing
I don’t exactly remember at what point my hair got long enough to tie it in a bun. But from there, I let it grow as planned. Grow, grow, and grow some more. People sometimes would ask me “does it never stop growing at some point?”. I never really understood that question. At least for me, neither my hair nor my beard stops growing if I don’t do anything about it.
So for the next few years, my hair got really long, almost down to the bottom of my back. With the curls, it didn’t seem that long. But when wet, you could comb it and straighten it all the way down there. People at work never realised how long my hair was, because I always tied it in a bun at the office.
By now I was used to all the aspects I never thought I could have handled before. Mainly, the time spent on maintenance. I couldn’t believe I was now spending 2 to 3 times longer in the bathroom, per day. I could believe I was being more mindful, taking care of my hair, accepting the locks in my eyes once in a while.
Phase 6: The turning point
When my hair started reaching the bottom of my back, I thought: “ok, I guess I got the lesson, we’re done”. My long hair had taught me a lot, I was thankful, and I thought it was maybe time to say goodbye and cut it. I wasn’t sure about it yet though. But then something kind of bad happened, and it accelerated everything.
It was a Saturday afternoon. I hadn’t taken care of my hair in a few weeks, and by this point I couldn’t afford to do that anymore. I should have known better. Throughout the past week and a half, I started to feel a heavy mass of hair forming at the back of my head, that felt like it would be really, really hard to untangle. Like a strong, hard deadlock.
I sat down with my girlfriend with all the necessary tools to look at it: comb, 2 types of brushes, water spray, conditioner, and scissors, just in case. She took a very long time to untangle everything. It was really painful, but she got almost everything. The one thing that was left was this thick dreadlock, and she couldn’t seem to get it. I tried too. It was impossible. After even more pain and time spent trying, we both knew what was coming: we had to cut this.
I don’t know why, but this episode really triggered something in me. My hair had been untouched for years, and all of the sudden we had to cut off a lock from it. I spent the rest of the day thinking of this thick dreadlock we had cut off. I could feel a different in density when tying my bun. It was like a little part of me was gone.
To be honest it wasn’t even noticeable that I had lost some hair, because I had so much. But it just made me think: “I think the time has come, now that we’ve started cutting it anyway.”
Phase 7: The middle ground
As I said, I could definitely feel a difference when tying my hair in a bun. And the more I could feel that difference in touch, the more I was thinking it was time to move on. I took the decision to cut it. But I didn’t want to go back to the short, strict and intransigent buzzcut. That would be going back to the old me, to the military, and I didn’t want that.
I used to be criticised a lot for not compromising. I wanted things my way, and I didn’t have polarised opinions. It was either all in or all out. There was no middle ground. After 3 years of hair growth, I thought that instead of going from super long to super short, I would go for the middle ground, for once.
I booked an appointment with a hair dresser. Because of coronavirus, all the hair salons were only slowly reopening, and they were swamped. I had to book a few weeks in advance, and that gave me some time to prepare mentally.
That was it. I was going to lose part of the fruit of years of patience, learning, and care (and sometimes not so much care). I took a few last pictures to remember my hair at the longest it had ever been. I pinned a few haircuts I liked to a Pinterest board, to show the hairdresser what I wanted. I told my family. I kind of made a big deal out of this. It was a big deal, because it was saying goodbye to a transition period. It was saying goodbye to the buzzcut, to the strict, annoying me. It was a big deal.
Phase 8: Bye bye, long hair
On Wednesday 15 July, 2020, I walked into the hair salon. I showed up there 20 minutes early. I was hoping to be able to take it in, sit down and read some tabloids, while smelling all the hair products mixing together. I wasn’t able to do any of that because of corona. I couldn’t sit, and I couldn’t even smell anything since I was wearing a face mask. I stood for 20 mins, waiting in silence.
And then it happened. First, the shampooing. Then, the untangling. Just before the cutting, I showed her my Pinterest board with all the good looking men and their haircuts. Then, she got to work.
I thought it was going to take an hour. It took her 25 minutes. When she was done, I looked in the mirror at the new me. I looked down at all this hair on the ground. I don’t remember thinking anything in particular. It was done, and there was nothing left to do or say.
I paid, I thanked the person who had cut my hair, and I left. I never felt so refreshed, renewed, an awaken when stepping out of a hair salon before. I looked at myself walking down the street in the reflection of the hair salon window, and I thought to myself: “Thank you long hair. You’ve been of great help, and maybe see you next time.”
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