Letter to My Teenage Self

Dear Teenage Me,

I see you. I see how you make a joke and then quickly glance around to see if anyone was listening. I see you obsessively finger your braid, thinking about checking your reflection in the mirror for the 20th time today. I see you journaling and reading, and then downplaying it when someone catches you, hoping they don’t realize what a nerd you are.

Do you know how bright you are? How funny you are? How thoughtful you are? I know those words make you uncomfortable because you don’t believe them about yourself. You can’t see yet that the hours you spend in your room writing down your thoughts and obsessing over what someone said or didn’t say is actually a whisper of your desires and gifts. You won’t see for awhile that no one is looking at you, at least not in that way. They, too, look around to see if anyone heard them, if anyone thinks they’re attractive, if anyone caught a glimpse of who they really are. You don’t realize right now that we’re all dying to be truly seen, and we’re all scared to death of being truly seen.

I hear you crying into your pillow, wondering why your friends didn’t invite you to what seems like the most important gathering of your life. I hear you fighting with your dad about the clothes you want to wear but can’t walk out of the house in, and doesn’t he realize that your entire existence in the social stratosphere depends on this shirt?

Sweet girl, you can’t see yet how little true friendships depend on social events and sexy shirts. It will be a few years until you realize that true friendships are made side by side in a kitchen, fingers sticky with cookie dough. They’re made on walks around campus and serving together at church and road trip conversations. They’re made with people who don’t look like you, who aren’t always the same age as you, and who grew up in another place than you. But those loves will be deep and true and kind and will withstand party attendance and distance and changes in fashion.

I smell the cheap perfume you put on at school, hoping to get his attention. I hear the whispers you share with your friend about the thing he said to you in biology class, and I hear your speculation about what kind of girl he likes. I also see the tears of heartbreak stream down your cheeks as he sits next to another girl, whispering the same things he said to you.

Beautiful girl, I know it hurts. It feels like your world is imploding and your heart is shriveling up. You feel humiliated, angry, exposed, raw, and small. Those feelings are real, and you can cry. It’s okay. But as you wipe those last few tears, I wish you could see how worthy you are of real love, and that real love doesn’t often happen when you’re 16. Real love endures the days when feelings are absent, endures the hard arguments that are really about something else not being spoken, endures the passing of time. Real love sees you at your most helpless and vulnerable state and instead of walking away, comes close to hold you. Real love listens to your stories, laughs at your jokes, cheers you on, believes in you, and holds your heart carefully. Real love is not rushes of emotion that clash in one kiss, but it’s lots of kisses and words and moments that build a place for that love to live. Real love is risk and adventure, and at the same time, it’s a safe place and home. High school is a hard place to find that. It’s okay. Focus on geometry right now. You’ll need that later.

I see you gingerly put on the layers of dogma and tradition, hoping to find fulfillment and security, the kind of fulfillment and security your teenage years have been spent searching for. I see you making all kinds of promises about dating in an effort not to be hurt again, in hopes that you can be protected. I see the neurosis it causes in you, the obsession and paranoia, and I want to say to you, “Let go.” Dear one, being free and risking pain far outweighs being enslaved and never feeling anything. But I know you have to encounter freedom on your own. You have to hear from men and women you admire these words over and over again until you realize that those layers you’ve put on can be taken off.

I see you struggling with shame and self-hatred, wondering why you can’t just do better, be better. I see how many times you say “Yes” when you really want to say no, and the hours it steals from your life. I hear the cruel internal monologues, the words that you say to yourself that cut and twist inside you. I see the clutch that perfectionism and approval have on your throat, and even though you can’t see it yet, you can feel it. It controls you, silences you, traps you. Oh teenage me, wait a little longer. You will see one day that the hand on your throat is your own.

I see you not really seeing yourself because you can’t. You haven’t lived long enough to realize that the you now is not weird or abnormal or wrong, and you can’t see that those labels are stupid. You can’t see that the insecure, obsessive, lonely you is not the real you. It’s not the only you or ultimate you. You won’t be your teenage self forever. One day you will wake up and think, “I’m an adult, and I have been for awhile.” And you will think back to your teenage years with the grace you don’t yet know. You will think of yourself kindly.   Hold on, love.


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