Dear 18 year old self,
Happy Birthday, sweet thing. You’re about to turn 28 and — surprise! — almost nothing has gone as planned. Well, to be fair, you do have that adorable house and dog you always wanted, but not the accompanying husband or 2.5 children. That’s right. You didn’t end up marrying your high school sweetheart. You stayed together until the very end of college. You missed out on meeting new people and trying new things because of your relationship. Things got ugly and you both did really hurtful things that you still regret. The good news is that you had enough courage to walk away from the situation. The bad news is that being in an unhealthy relationship is a trend that will follow you into your late-twenties. These relationships will hurt you and mess with your head. But, there’s a light at the end of the long and dark tunnel. Remember that when things feel hopeless. Okay?
Oh, and you didn’t become that well-known photographer. In fact, you followed the majority of your family into the field of education—something you swore you wanted nothing to do with. How ironic, huh? Parents sometimes do know what’s best for you. But, you know what? Becoming a teacher will feel so rewarding. You will meet some of your best friends through it and have experiences that will truly alter how you see the world around you. That being said: don’t stop taking photographs. Feel the weight of that camera in your hands and keep capturing those moments. Explore the world around you through your lens. You have a unique perspective to share and will regret giving up on it. A lot.
Another thing: you are unspeakably beautiful. Stop it. You are. I don’t know why it’s so hard for you to admit it. Even writing it now is bringing me to tears. Quit looking in the mirror and seeing a distorted reflection of yourself. And, for the love of all things holy, quit relying on men to affirm your beauty before you believe it. Please, please, please be able to see it all on your own. This is so important.
While we are on the topic of men: let’s get this messy part out of the way. Fresh out of college, you’ll meet another man and he’ll move in with you almost immediately. Things will be good for a while. He will buy you things just because and cook for you almost every night. God, can the man cook. He’ll treat you like a princess and you’ll lap it up like a dog. The attention he gives you will replace your need to deal with your own internal lack of self-worth. You will put too much of yourself into the relationship. You will depend on him for everything—physically and emotionally. You’ll pressure him to commit to you fully. Eventually, he will give in and ask you to marry him. The proposal will feel hollow but you will say yes anyway. You will begin planning your wedding and looking for a home together even though a voice inside of you is telling you something doesn’t feel right. Don’t ignore that voice.
It will happen not even a week after you move into your new home together. You will find out what he has been doing behind your back. It’s not worth going into the details here, but it’s an unforgivable act in your eyes. Your entire world will crumble in a matter of seconds. Your plans are derailed and you are immediately left to deal with the fact that you are alone for the first time in years. Instead of stretching your wings, you will begin ferociously trying to fill that void with someone new. But, the wound is too fresh. You aren’t ready. Give yourself time to feel the pain. It’s like trying to run a marathon on a broken foot. You won’t heal properly if you don’t give it time. Learn to be alone again. Learn how it feels to walk into your home and cook dinner for one. Learn how to enjoy your own company. This period of time is necessary in order for you to ever make someone else happy.
That brings us to the present day. I wish I could tell you that we had everything figured out by now. But, we don’t. You are still struggling to figure out how to find worth in yourself. After possibly too short of a break, you are dating someone new. He is kind and understanding. You love him. But, you are constantly fighting the urge to sabotage things because you’re scared of hurting again. You’ve got major trust issues, darling.
Just, please be good to yourself. Stop taking yourself so seriously. Sometimes it’s okay to look foolish. Even—gasp!—in front of others. Make the most of every moment and try to do things just for you. Don’t build such a private world for yourself. Reach out to others. Make connections. Feel alive.
Most importantly, I love you. I do. I know that sometimes I say or do things that convey the complete opposite. I know that sometimes it feels like I’m your worst enemy. But, in the end, you are worth the world and deserve every good thing that comes your way. Don’t fight it. Accept it.
P.S. You totally started the owl trend. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.