It’s been a year since I shaved off and unceremoniously washed down the sink a 35-year companion and confidante—my mustache, my friend, my alter ego! What possesses a man to remove something so close (what could be closer?), so much a part of him?
After all, my mustache was there when I graduated from college. It stood with me when I got married (and by me when I got divorced). It was there when my son was born. It accompanied me on job interviews and business trips; to restaurants, concerts and sporting events; on camping trips and vacations.
Everywhere I went, my mustache went. There was no separating us! We liked the same things. We had the same friends. We even finished each other’s sentences!
For years, I considered my mustache an improvement to my face. When I was young, it made me look dashing (whatever you say); and as I grew older, it made me look wise (right). But then…something crept between us. I’d look in the mirror and notice the gray. I began to wonder. First it was just a crazy idea to shave it off. A fleeting thought, but it grew and consumed me to the point where I just had to do it.
I did not realize until I Googled “mustache” what a rich treasure trove this subject is. We humans have a lot of feelings tied up in facial hair!
As you can imagine, given the origin of the word, the French have had much to say about their mustaches. The 19th Century writer Guy de Maupassant wrote a humorous short story called “The Mustache” in the form of a letter from Jeanne, a French lady whose husband has just shaved off his mustache. “I no longer recognize him—by day or at night,” she exclaims. “If he did not let it grow again I think I should no longer love him; he looks so horrid like this.”
According to Jeanne, “a man without a mustache is no longer a man. I do not care much for a beard; it almost always makes a man look untidy. But a mustache, oh, a mustache is indispensable to a manly face.”
Then there is the curious story of “La Moustache,” a French film from 2005 written and directed by Emmanuel Carrère. Described as “a paranoid thriller in the manner of Alfred Hitchcock,” it’s about a guy who shaves off the mustache he’s had for years, but his wife and friends don’t even notice. In fact, they claim he never had a mustache to begin with. This nearly drives him crazy, and ultimately the only thing that brings him back to sanity is to grow back his mustache—then shave it off again at his wife’s suggestion. Go figure!
I can’t say that shaving off my mustache was a “paranoid thriller,” but it was a big decision. I did the deed while on vacation, so the gravity of it weighed on me for a few days before returning to work. Then the questions started. “What made you do it?” For months, people would stop and stare, suggesting there was something “different” about me.
In many ways, the act of shaving it off was symbolic of bigger changes occurring in my life. Some may think it was a sudden, rash decision, but I rather think it had been a long time coming. I don’t plan to grow mine back anytime soon, despite the character Jeanne’s protestation, “There is no love without a mustache!” I have found love without it, and it’s just fine.