An Open Letter to my Teenage Self

Dear 15-Year-Old-Me,

I know that high school hasn’t been the greatest of all experiences for you, but I promise, college is going to get better.  You won’t get into Yale, but at the end of the day, it won’t actually matter.  Where you will end up, you’ll meet incredible people who will teach you important things about yourself, things which are more important than Intro to Microeconomics or Analysis of US Foreign Policy will ever actually be in your life.  You’ll gain more confidence, and a better sense of who you are, instead of feeling like you always need to struggle to keep pace with people around you. You’ll be with people who genuinely care about the world around you.  You’ll push them, and they’ll push you, and you’ll be better people for it.

I know the thing that has irked you endlessly is that you’ve been single for basically forever, and in a culture that makes it seem like having a boyfriend is the most important thing, I know that’s been frustrating.  To tell you the truth, it will never not be frustrating.  You will, however, not be single for the rest of your life.  College is going to feel different.  And if you had really gotten this letter, I could have told you that different, while better in many ways, also means much more complicated.  It means you’re going to have to learn to actually interact with guys in a lot of different contexts.  You’ll have to learn to navigate a hookup culture that’s incredibly prominent on college campuses, which you’ve never experienced before.  You’re going to have to learn how to set your own boundaries-~-and yes, Mom was right, you have to do it for yourself, in advance, because otherwise, you won’t be prepared to put your foot down.

And you should put your foot down.  I know that you’re going to feel self-conscious because it seems like everyone’s hooking up, all the time, and you just want to be “normal”, but you have to move at your own pace.  Don’t let anyone pressure you to do things you’re not ready to do, even if it seems like it’s the norm, even if they seem like they’re expecting it because every girl they’ve ever hooked up with before has done it.  It doesn’t matter.  You are not those girls.  And trust me, when you DO let someone violate those boundaries, when you do give in because you want him to like you, because you know that if you don’t, he’ll leave, it’ll just leave you feeling icky.  If a guy is going to leave because you weren’t willing to compromise yourself for him, let him go.  He wasn’t worth it in the first place.  

That goes for dating, too.  I know that having a boyfriend seems really important.  I know you’re scared of being alone, and at some point, you’ll be tired of being a fifth wheel or a seventh wheel in your friend group.  The truth is, if they’re really your friends (and they are), they won’t make you feel excluded just because you’re single.  I settled for guys who treated me badly because I felt like they noticed me.  I settled for guys who treated me badly because I didn’t want to be alone.  I settled for guys who treated me badly because I was tired of being single.  And those are bad reasons to be with someone.  Here’s the thing I wish someone had told me when I was fifteen: your list of dealbreakers should always include disrespect, refusal to accept your boundaries, and any manipulative behavior.  Yes, you want a guy who can make you laugh, who makes you feel pretty, who seems like a lot of fun, who’s smart and good looking and reads a lot.  Those are fine things to look for in a guy.  But they’re not nearly as important as finding someone you can trust, someone who makes you feel safe.  At the end of the day, those are the ultimate tests, and there’s no gray area.  A guy who hurts you once and feels bad about it might not do it again, but a guy who hurts you twice will keep hurting you.  Know when to walk away.

Here’s the other thing I wish I’d known: you can do better, and you deserve better.  This is universally true.  You can do better.  It’s not about how you look, or how smart you are, or where you come from.  It’s about the standards you hold people in your life to.  You deserve people who make you feel good about yourself, who  will bring out the best in you; people who will respect you and support you and treat you well.  That’s not just advice re: boyfriends, but advice for friends and mentors as well.  Don’t accept people who hurt you as normal.  I know you’re a little accustomed to it right now, but you don’t have to be.  You never have to apologize for kicking people out of your life if all they cause you is hurt.  Everyone deserves to find people who will genuinely be there for them, and if you choose to have a boyfriend, if you choose to build a life with someone, don’t settle for a guy who only tells you what you want to hear to get what he wants from you.  Find a guy who uses other words to describe you besides “pretty” or “hot”.  Find a guy who genuinely cares about you, who respects your goals and your dreams, you appreciates you for everything you bring to the table.

That’s not a crazy dream.  That’s a goal.  It shouldn’t be your only goal.  Dream big with your career.  Develop friendships that will see you through both the good times and the bad.  Apply to amazing programs and chase exciting opportunities; see the world if that’s what you want, help people if that’s what you care about.  And if you want to find a partner, find one who completes that picture, not one who subsumes it.  That way, you’ll end up with all the important pieces of the puzzle in place-~-a life that’s whole, and balanced, and full of the things that really matter, to you.

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~ by Randi Saunders on February 6, 2014.

One Response to “An Open Letter to my Teenage Self”

  1. nice!!

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