Life Lessons from a Late Bloomer

Last week I got to thinking about late bloomers, of which I am one.  I threw out a question on my blog’s Facebook page (Why don’t you join me there?) about what benefits other late bloomers have found in their trajectory.  Kind of surprised that it took folks a few minutes to figure out what I was talking about.

For clarity’s sake, Wikipedia tells me that a late bloomer is, “a person whose talents or capabilities are not visible to others until later than usual.” Urban Dictionary riffs off of that, as they always do, to the lower common denominator of, “People who experience a delayed heyday in their 20s and/or 30s, when they finally have the factors (social and/or job status, money, body, looks, etc.) to get laid and gain attraction/popularity among the opposite sex. These people were typically categorized as nerds/geeks back in high school.”

Yep.  Late bloomer here, meeting criteria for both of the above definitions. To a T.  Though I might add to Wiki’s definition that a late bloomer’s own “talents and capabilities” may also not be visible to the individual themselves, let alone others — the all important self esteem matter.  For me, being a late bloomer was rooted in having a fairly low social IQ caused by insecurities.  Throughout my school years, college included, I am fairly certain I would have scored in the low single digits where all things social were involved, if something like a social IQ existed.

[My curiosity got the best of me.  You can read about social intelligence HERE.]

High school graduation, senior college photo, and Homecoming, junior year of high school.  A little cringe worthy.
High school graduation, senior college photo, and Homecoming, junior year of high school. Those braces were my favorite accessory for eight years.

I was the kid who didn’t ride a bike until 12, drive a car until 18, got dumped by the high school boyfriend because I didn’t want to French kiss him. What can I say?  Food in braces did nothing for me.  When my high school friends were hanging and drinking with the cross country team, I was sitting on a pile of coats in the bedroom wondering what in the hell was wrong with me that I wasn’t having any fun.

College was similar in the social arena.  Never went through with a sorority rush because, well, just NO.  I couldn’t imagine any worse torture than being judged or rejected by pretty young things when I had no interest in most of the main attractions of Greek life — socializing and drinking.  And speaking of drinking, I never did much of that until my mid-20s.

You could say I was a buzz kill, but that wouldn’t be true.  I just hadn’t yet bloomed.  I was happy as a clam with my few friends, a close boyfriend who treated me well and never pushed me to be anything that I wasn’t, and focused on my studies.  The intellectual part of college was a lifeline for me.  I was challenged, invested, interested.  I hated the work of college — the papers, the exams, the stress of achieving, but I seriously dug the exploration of that phase of life.  Learning about Russian history and religious doctrines and African American women writers sent me to my happy place in a way I never would have found at a kegger.

In the end, all the best stories have happy endings.  I grew up and grew into myself — I finally bloomed.  Some of that can be attributed to maturing, some of it to loosening up, some of it to therapy in my early 20s, some of it, quite honestly, was learning how to better manage the mop of curly/frizzy hair I had been grappling with since I was a young child and my Mom got me a “Dorothy Hammill” haircut when she went to work outside the home when I was 7.  That cut was never intended for little girls with curls.

But I digress.

Being a late bloomer, from my perspective, has had a lot of benefits and has served me well in the “life lessons” department.  If any of you, too, were late bloomers, if you’re raising a late bloomer, or if you have yet to bloom (choose hope!), these might be just the thing you need:

  • Confidence rooted in capabilities rather than looks is a lot more enduring.  As a child and young woman, wall flower that I was, I always had a firm sense of my capabilities.  Put me in a social situation and I flailed, but give me a challenge and I was game.  That bred confidence in myself that, I think, will last me much longer than dewy skin, feathered hair just so, or how I look in a short skirt.  When our children learn to value what they are capable of and can internalize that, the confidence that builds will bleed into other things they do.
  • Peer pressure is not much of a thing when you don’t need to fit in.  One of the things I worry about most in my parenting is what I will do when my sons experience peer pressure and succumb to it.  I always felt immune to it.  I simply had no interest in whatever was being offered, so felt no pressure to engage or experience or experiment.  Part of that, I think, was the late bloomer thing, which inoculated me from the need to fit in — I just knew and accepted that I didn’t, and learned to make my peace with that, with a few tears along the way.
  • Attractiveness and sex appeal are more about thinky thoughts than busty busts.  I know some day the tide will turn.  Each human “peaks” at one time or another.  For some it is at 16, others at 26, some at 56 or 86.  I still don’t think I have peaked, physically or achievement wise.  Absolutely, things are changing — wrinkles developing, hairs graying, bits sagging — but that’s what moisturizer, dye, and supportive undergarments are for!  The truth is that I am a much more interesting person at 45 than I ever was at 15 or 25.  That is what makes a person appealing, not perky breasts.
  • People attracted to early bloomers never held my interest or attention  — a mutual “meh.”  I remember walking into a junior high basketball game one cold winter’s night.  The most popular boy in school kind of half smirked/half mocked me as I walked past him, for the benefit for the other popular boys gathered around him.  They laughed, at my expense.  Pffft.  Even at 13, my response was an internal, “Fuck him.  He is not all that,” but in 13 year old terms, cause I defninitely was a late bloomer when it came to swearing, too.  The truth is that he did not appeal to me, just as I did not appeal to him.  We were apples and oranges.  The difference between us, though, was that I never felt the need to belittle someone that didn’t interest me.  Why do that?
  • Late bloomers tend to value the bloom rather than chase to maintain it.  As I came into my bloom in my mid-20s, I had a solid foundation for that bloom to keep blooming.  When I look in the mirror and like what I see, when I sit around a table of dinner guests and hold up my end of the conversation, when I meet new people and enjoy the experience rather than cringe, I love every moment of it.  I enjoy it, value it, remark on it to those close to me.  It doesn’t feel fleeting or something that will fade or vanish, it feels like a gift.  There is, finally, the confidence that I bring something to the table both socially and intellectually.
  • When your bloom comes late, you never lose the humility it took to get there.  Amen.  There is an empathy that is developed being on the outside looking in for so many years.  That’s hard to lose, I think, once you’ve made it past the bouncers.  The squirrel I was for so many years taught me so much about how to treat other people, how to empathize, and how to understand what really matters.
Portrait of the late bloomer taken last week.  I may have wrinkles and jowls, but the confidence overrides everything else.  So grateful for the work I did to find it.
Portrait of the late bloomer taken last week. I may have wrinkles and jowls, but the confidence overrides everything else. So grateful for the work I did to find it.

The moral of this fable is, learn to love and accept yourself for who you are. When you have that, you bloom and will keep blooming.  Love and acceptance for yourself and others.  That is what it is all about.  And while I may have come late to the table, I’m there and appreciate the hell out of having a seat.  Now pass the salt and pepper, please, my hair needs a touch-up.

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