Them: Are you growing a beard?
Me: No, I'm just not shaving.
As a lazy young man capable of growing facial hair, this is a question that I am asked more commonly than I would have ever imagined back in my most babyfaced days. And though it might seem odd to you the reader, I am always slightly peeved about it. I can understand where the person is coming from, and that they don't mean any disrespect, although when you think about it, it's a pretty pointless question for most people to ask. Maybe its just an aspect of my life I respond to with anal retentive seriousness in my peculiar slacker nature, and absolutely every one of you will respond to this node with confusion and/or disagreement until I'll be voted so negative my grandmother will lose experience points. But at the risk of such a thing, I will suggest that there is a difference between growing a beard and just plain not shaving.
Most grown men need to shave. By the time we've fully matured physically, it has become a natural common occurance that you can set your watch by. The time it takes for facial hair to grow can vary from man to man, but for most men who have professions where presentability is required to be kept up, shaving is an every day thing.
Those of us who are less restricted with how we can present ourselves have the benefit of being able to let go. Shaving is a pain in the ass, man or woman. You can cut yourself, get razorburn, and on a lesser note need to set aside the time to do it. For these reasons, we sometimes do not do it every day, or sometimes even grow beards. But a beard can be grown without the intention to grow a beard.
I have had, to my recollection, 3 full beards in my life. The first was intentional. The second was the result of not shaving for an extended period of time. The third was from not having the means to shave for an extended period of time. Every other minimal facial hair fashion I have sported was the result of not shaving.
When a person decides to grow a beard, to me, it's a commitment. They are usually growing it because they think it will look interesting and new/refreshing, fashionable, or if they are young, possibly because they just want to see if they can do it. I would say on average, a nice rich beard on a man can be finished in two and a half weeks at the earliest. Regardless, the beard is usually a conscious decision. The trick in growing a beard is that soon in to the process, you come across what I call "the itching phase". This is where your face is adjusting to the hair growing on it and you get unbearably itchy. It is at this point that the people who are just not shaving would usually turn back. Fuck this, I'll just shave, they may say. But if you are growing a beard, you will have to get through the itching phase without shaving. That is one of the neccessary promises in the commitment to grow a beard.
In addition to passing the itching phase, usually a man who is growing a beard will groom. This mostly means shaving the neck, but can also include cleaning up the cheeks and using scissors to shape to a desired length. Sometimes a beard will forgo sideburns and cheeks and even the moustache altogether and just become a chin beard. Hardly a beard in the traditonal fisherman/Ulysses S. Grant sense of the word if you ask me, but if it's intended, it does still count as growing a beard.
Now me? I'm more of a not shaving guy. I am a hell of a handsome man, with a beard or without, so I have the luxury of not suffering too greatly from my laziness. Shaving's a bitch, as I've already described, and as I'm sure most of you know from personal experience. And I get carried away with fun things that take up my time, like Connect Four or Everything2. Shaving can get in the way of such a hectic schedule. So when somebody asks me, "Hey, are you growing a beard?", what am I to do? Say yes? What if my face gets itchy, as I know it will, and I get pissed and shave? Then I've started from scratch, I've gone back on my commitment. What if I don't like how my beard looks when it's done? The decision to grow a beard can still be made during a period when one is not shaving. Hell, you might already have a beard by the time you agree to it. But if you're going to be lazy, you might as well account for it. You wouldn't hear someone who was intentionally growing a beard say they just hadn't been shaving in a while. They'd back up their decision with pride. "Yes I am growing a beard," they'd say. There are noticeable differences. For me, I'm sticking with not shaving right now, but I might parlay that in to growing a beard. I haven't decided yet. All I really know is my face is itchy as hell.