Do our personalities change as we get older?

A friend from high school who lives in Colorado recently returned to Nashville to visit his mother. He arranged for some of us who still live in Tennessee to get together in a bar and hang out with him while he was in town. I thought about why it took his visit to compel the rest of us to reconnect. After all, most of us live within a couple hours of each other. But that’s not such a mystery, is it? In our 30s, we’re not the same people we were in our teens. Right?

I walked into the bar that night and felt a little like that dream people have where they’ve skipped class all semester but now they have to take the final exam. Panicky. Second-guessing. What to say when you don’t recognize someone? Who to stand beside? Hug or handshake? Talk about now, or talk about then? A friend I’ve had most of my life said, “What are you nervous about? You’ve known these people forever.” I thought to myself, “Doesn’t he know how nervous I am telling him that I’m nervous?”

But in hindsight, he was right.

There were hilarious quips and stories, told with silly theatrics by guys who never used irony as a joke, not even in the 90s. There were quietly confident, perceptive women who grew from sensitive, self-aware girls – writers and artists in their youth, hobbies some translated to careers. There were men with giant muscles I’m certain they didn’t have when we were kids. But when we were kids, those guys already had the swagger their bodies knew was coming. A couple of people made me feel uncomfortably pristine, and for inexplicable reasons I felt compelled to be extra friendly, extra pretty, and extra professional around them – a grown-up goody two shoes.

In high school, I stayed up late at night adding detail to class assignments I could have earned As on with half as much work. My mother brought me brownies. As an adult, I write blog posts – without pay, for a tiny group of people – after working ten or more hours as a journalist at a metropolitan newspaper. My husband just brought me a slice of blueberry pie.

All this to say, not much has changed. Perhaps something like war, violent crime, or debilitating disease can fundamentally alter the way one processes situations, makes decisions and lives their day-to-day life. But I watch my daughter throw herself immediately and passionately into some project she invented ten minutes ago and I can’t help but think that a) personality has a genetic component and b) it’s therefore going to stick with you as you grow up.

I walked into that bar with my old buddies and I had the same insecurities, hopes and ambitions I’ve always had. I don’t see them often, but that’s because our lives no longer intertwine. It’s not that we have fundamentally changed. We’re just more concentrated – and hopefully more self-aware, less self-centered – versions of who we’ve always been.

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6 thoughts on “Do our personalities change as we get older?

  1. I would like to believe that we all become the best version of ourselves as we get older. Experience tells me that some become the worst version. Most are middling.

    Character and personality traits we have as children can concentrate, expand or change. Life does that.

    A thought: is it possible that “pristine” is a controlled appearance you first adopted to cope with an often out-of-control job… but now it’s just how you’re most comfortable?

    (I saw Utz potato chips in a VA grocery today and thought of your pristine yellow dress and red lipstick at the Mad Men party.)

  2. You’re right. We’re basically the same people we were when we were children. I always did well in English. When I was in junior high, I borrowed my dad’s 8mm movie camera and made movies. In high school, I was a radio DJ on weekends. Today, my job is writing news releases and Web updates and sometimes narrating Web videos that I shoot and edit myself. Nothing much has changed.

  3. You know what? I didn’t go to a class reunion thing for – ahem – 35 years.

    How did I feel?

    First: how can it be 35 f*cking years? Next: wow, you really let yourself go, but I look fabulous. Yeah, that’s conceited, but there it is.

    I am less sure about folks becoming more concentrated versions of themselves. There were some I saw, then I wondered, “Where’d you go?”

    The last thing was the creepy feeling that folks were looking at me the way I’m looking at them, and they were thinking all the same things. Nothing switches on age paranoia like a gaggle of high school classmates. Where’d I get the idea that aging was something that happens to everyone else?

    Lots of bad footwear there, too.

    • Kidd,
      Of course you and your footwear looked fabulous.
      On the matter of, “Where’d you go?” Where were they in the first place? Are you sure they were on your planet, or were they just stopping by? Most of us take detours, don’t we? Maybe theirs is happening right now…

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