Letter to My Teenage Self
January 14, 2018 • Sarah Jean Gosney
You are at a very tender age in life. I don’t need to tell you this. You know that you are changing, and with you, so changes the world you inhabit. Deciding what is best for you and who to follow can be maddeningly complex. Maybe your parents seem out of touch or don’t understand you. Maybe they do, but your friends have entirely different ideas about the world, and you don’t know who is right. At your age, I would have loved to have a young woman, like I am now, give me honest guidance. I am only maybe a decade older than you, and I still sharply remember what it is like to be a teen. To you, I will write what I wish someone had told me at your age, but what instead I had to discover through many blunders.
Firstly, learn to respect and appreciate your elders–within reason. I know, it’s a cliche and that you’re already thinking of clicking away, but hear me out. Older people have lived a lot. They very well may be out of touch, but oh how they have lived, and so many of life’s truths are timeless. Show your parents and grandparents respect, and if you are unlucky enough to have been dealt a set of relatives who truly do not deserve respect (perhaps they are abusive, negligent, criminal, irresponsible, or childish themselves), I beg of you to seek out an older mentor who can guide you through life. Now I’m not saying you need a therapist; a local artist you admire, a priest, a teacher–any of these will suffice. You need someone who cares, who can show you what it is like to be an adult, and who can advise you in troubled times. If you don’t know how to relate to older people, try treating them like a curiosity–like a historical figure who fascinates you, or even an alien from another planet. Ask them questions. Ask to see photos of them when they were your age. Soon, you will see how much you have in common.
Next, learn domestic skills. These will be useful to you for the rest of your life. Everyone’s got to eat, and someone’s got to clean, so it may as well be you. Learning to sew and decorate are bonuses. Maybe when you grow older you’ll be able to hire out some of these skills, but cultivating them early will immensely add to your value as a woman and will improve your life and the lives of everyone around you.
I’m sure I don’t need to tell you this, but learn to look good. While appearance is far from the end-all, be-all of your character, make no mistake in that it is important. I once read an article by a man explaining that there are no ugly women; our ancestors have been selecting for beauty for millions of years now, and you are the product of that. There are, however, uncultivated women. Pay attention to your sense of fashion, take care of your hair, and please, please take good care of your teeth. I beg you to not consider sweat pants, pajamas, or yoga pants appropriate public fashion. Don’t chop off your beautiful hair or permanently alter your appearance. You don’t have to go to school in heels and an evening gown, but a little attention to detail will broadcast your self-respect to the world.
Another thing you should focus some of your energy on is spending time with children. I had no younger siblings growing up and did not have any young cousins who lived nearby. Thus, children were, for a long time, foreign to me. I thought I didn’t like children. As it turns out, I simply didn’t know what to do with them. I babysat a few times, but that was the only exposure I had. It wasn’t until I had worked in a classroom with children and been around friends’ children that I realized what fun they can be! I recommend an environment where you aren’t solely responsible for the well-being of the children if you are not used to them. If you are the only one around, the pressure to not blunder is much greater. If someone else has the wheel, you can spend more time observing and playing with the children, simply getting used to how they tick. Just like older people, they can bring a new level of value and meaning to your life, as well as preparing you for children of your own.
If you have followed my advice so far, this next one will be a natural extension of that. Remember to nurture your personality. While our personalities are largely determined by genes and upbringing, that does not mean they can’t be stretched and developed. Learn to be an interesting conversationalist. This skill will help you in all walks of life. Pick up a hobby, and stick with it. This, in turn, will give you something to talk about.
This is going to be hard, but hear me out. Don’t seriously date in high school. I know that I broke this rule, but that’s why I am telling you. It’s okay to go to school dances or go to the movies with someone, but serious, head-over-heels romance? Please save that for later. Remember that, despite what they may say to you, high school boys are not serious and often don’t yet know what they want. There is nothing wrong with this; it’s simply true. Girls really do tend to mature faster, and the boy you want to love forever very well may go to college in a few years only to break up with you to chase casual sex. Save yourself the heartache, and wait to get serious until you are older.
That said, don’t worry too much about finding a career or getting into a top university. It is perfectly fine to aspire to be a wife and mother, and you can go to school or have a career at any point in your life. However, you only have a small window of time to have children. To put a finer point on it, you have about two decades, between 15 and 35 during which you can have children without too much fear of complication. I don’t recommend you start at 15, but remember these limits before you worry about spending years and years establishing a career when you are young. There are many men who would love to have a stay at home wife, and once your children are in school, there will be plenty of time to work on your career or education.
If, however, you do go to college right after high school, make the most of the experience and look for a man while you are there. I remember making hateful jokes about women seeking their “MRS” at school when I was in college, but the reality is that you will never be around such a high number of attractive, eligible, high-achieving men in your life, in pre-scheduled social settings to boot. However, be upfront about your intentions in the relationship so you can weed out the men only looking for a fling. Try dating an upperclassman or graduate student to find someone who is more ready to settle down.
That brings me to my last point. Don’t buy the hype about hookup culture. You don’t need to sleep with a lot of men to “find out what you like before settling down.” I was given a lot of terrible advice from women who I thought were trying to look out for me (they did care about me; they were just wrong) which led me to make some less than stellar decisions in moments of vulnerability. There is nothing enlightening or soul-enriching about meaningless sex with a guy who won’t deign to talk to you the next day. Seek a man who cares about you and wants to stick around.
Young girl, I hope you take this advice to heart. It’s not easy being you, especially these days. Trust me, I was like you not so long ago: on the verge of every decision in life, facing a fork in a road with no street signs. Just know that I won this wisdom the hard way, and take it from me, it’s much better to learn from my mistakes. As a mentor of mine likes to say, “I took the stairs. I want you to take the elevator.”
I wish you the best of luck in everything. Know that you have the power to decide so much about where you go in life.
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