One of my closest friends lives in a quaint house in Maine, decorated with antique treasures and old-timey tchotchkes. She crafts broaches laden with sentimentality from black-and-white photographs, and her vintage clothes are accessorized with huge glasses and even huger hats. She’s fascinated with the death positivity movement, and always heads to bed early (“Sorry, I’m a grandma,” she yawns on cue). And for years, I just didn’t get it.
We’re the same age, but if you were to look at our lifestyle choices and general personality traits on paper, you’d probably assume otherwise. I rent a small space in New York City. I wear red lipstick and cleavage-sprouting dresses to bars I sometimes stumble out of at 4 a.m. And frankly, while the idea of living a quiet, thoughtful existence in Maine seems cute to me, it also seems dreadfully boring. Only during my last visit did I come to understand that my grasp of my friend’s life doesn’t make her a boring person. (Also, I do fully understand that I’m neither the judge nor jury on boringness.) While sipping prosecco and talking about what books stir us, it dawned on me: She’s simply an old soul. What’s the meaning of an old soul, you may wonder? Well, for one, it’s not synonymous with being boring.
In fact, being an old soul and being boring are two very different things. Below, check out three telltale signs of an old soul that certainly don’t make a person boring.
1. The meaning of an old soul has nothing to do with age
Old souls break the belief that in order to be wise, you have to be ancient. In fact, I defer many of my big-ticket quandaries to my Maine friend because I can count on her to respond with a level of thoroughness that my non-old-soul friends just don’t have.
“When we talk about ‘old souls’ in the realm of psychology, we are often referring to those individuals who seem to have inherent wisdom and a grounded sense of being in the world—often far more than would be expected for someone their age,” sayss clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, PhD.
So if you’re an old soul, it’s very likely that your friends hold your opinion and advice in the highest esteem and rely on you to give a fair, thoughtful assessment.
2. Old souls are confident without veering into narcissistic waters
Though I pointed out my Maine friend’s vintage-forward aesthetic, an old soul isn’t necessarily someone who feels they were “born in the wrong era.” Rather, their strong, unapologetic sense of self guards them from bending to the whims of others—stylistically and otherwise.
“Many people are drawn to old souls, for they radiate a sense of peacefulness and inner strength that is captivating and reassuring.” —clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly
“In regard to personality, old souls tend to be more introverted, self-reflective, and self-assured,” Dr. Manly says. “Many people are drawn to old souls, for they radiate a sense of peacefulness and inner strength that is captivating and reassuring.” And though an old soul is completely themselves, they’re not known for being full of themselves, or incapable of empathy. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
3. Old souls are preoccupied with thoughts about the wider world
Old souls are certainly introspective, but they don’t only think about themselves; they’re known to be thoughtful in a broader way, and they enjoy collecting, connecting, appreciating, and learning. Despite perhaps coming across as all-knowing, an old soul is keenly aware that they’re a student of the universe, not a teacher. Given this truth, it’s clear that old souls are more interested in the depth of a story than the superficial details. For one subtle example, when presented with a family photo album, old souls won’t just leaf through but will pore over it with fascination, excited about the intertwining branches of the family tree. “Those who are more outwardly oriented may not even notice an old soul,” Dr. Manly says. “Yet old souls—if you pause to notice them—have much to offer those who are interested in delving into the internal world.”
For so long, I misunderstand the old-soul thing completely, but now I can appreciate the cornerstones of being one: a strong sense of self, a holistic view of the world, and an appreciation of quietness. And I think that’s part of why I’m really jonesing to visit my friend in Maine for a non-boring weekend of reading on a porch swing until the sun rolls down.
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