On the last Sunday of my 26th year, I started a conversation with my 16 year old self. Despite the ten years between us, she looked hauntingly familiar. Her eyes were not as full as mine because her chubby cheeks overpowered her face. They reflected hope though and optimism that wasn’t faltered by mean boys and bullies. I met her in my old room when she was enjoying her One Tree Hill marathon while dreaming of her own Nathan Scott. She was content but had an energy that would not wear off in the next ten years.
She looked at me as if seeing a stranger. She marveled at the weight I’ve lost and asked me what Instagram was. She was surprised to know that her Friendster account with all its testimonies were now obsolete. But more than asking me what became of her, she was more than eager to ask me this question, “Do you have a boyfriend now?” And she looked at me with such expectation of glitz and glamour but sadly the life and lessons I carried with me that night spoke of nothing like what she expected, but to me, they were better.
Life is not like the movies.
My 16 year old self constantly asked me if my life magically changed overnight the moment I fit into a size 4. She asked me rather annoyingly if I finally met my Jake Ryan and I did everything in my power to stop myself from smacking her in the head. I sure as hell wasn’t smoking anything in high school but my 16 year old self was bizarre as hell. But she looked at me with such expectant eyes that I didn’t know how to break this fact to her gently: life is not like the movies. As kindly as I could, I told her that yes you get the guy at one point and you lose the weight and you find the right friends and you get the job but it doesn’t mean much until you get it in your head that these things ultimately don’t fill you up the way you thought it should. So yes, go for what you want but don’t rely on them to fill the aching in your heart. (I do believe it was her turn to kick me after this part of the conversation).
Your parents mean well.
Our next topic of conversation was about our parents. For the longest time, my 16 year old self always struggling with pleasing her parents. Everything she did up until very recently was in an effort to please her parents. And while obeying her parents has led to a straighter life it also led to arguments because of our naturally rebellious nature. But if there’s something I told her that will save her a lot of shouting in the future, it’s this: your parents, even if they don’t say it sweetly, only want what’s best for you. They don’t want you to get hurt and they don’t want you to keep going back to the things that have hurt you.
Love who you love.
Love who you love unapologetically. My 16 year old self raised her eyebrows while diving into a bag of kisses she hid from her mom, “what do you mean love who you love? Of course we fall in love with the perfect guy right? We’re not stupid.” I almost laughed at her assumptions because up until a few months ago, I also thought the same way. But dear 16 year old self, there’s a reason why the heart knows no reasons (or whatever that idiotic quote is), it’s because no matter how many books you study, how many degrees you have under your belt, you love who you love, period. You can’t fight it, you just have to ride it out even if it’s the most gut wrenching experience of your life. By this time she chooses to drop the kisses, cry a bit, and say, “so no happy ending?” I reached out for the kisses and agreed.
Own your soul.
My 16 year old self cried uncontrollably for about an hour before she regained consciousness which led me to my next lesson: own your soul. As highly emotional people, we used to have the tendency let others take responsibility for our heartache while also faking our way through it. The greatest lesson to learn is to own your soul. Know when you’re hurt, know when you’re mad but never blame it on other people. Nobody makes you do anything. Man up and most importantly, don’t give anyone the responsibility to make you happy. Your joy, your responsibility. She stopped crying but now gave me a look as if asking what the hell have I been doing in the last ten years.
Make a mess.
“I know you’re a perfectionist because you think that in being perfect, you will be loved.” She averted her gaze because she knew I was right. I told her to let that go, slowly, and find a healthy balance between achieving and being neurotic. It’s ok to make messy life choices as long as you know the consequences and will be ready for anything. If you’re not ready for the consequences, don’t do it. Also stop believing that there’s only one way to the life you want, it never is, there’s a process and a lot of twists and turns, but believe me, you’ll get there. A little bumps and bruises but you’ll be fine.
Stick to your values but don’t be afraid to explore.
With that being said, it’s important to stick to what you believe in because you believe in them and not because it was dictated upon you. As you grow older, you will have your beliefs tested. Don’t be afraid to explore why you believe in them and return to them once you know in your heart that it’s really what you want.
Be kind to yourself.
You have done a lot of damage to me, dear 16 year old self. You have long believed in lies and those are the lies that I am still trying to overcome. If there’s one rule in life you have to follow, it’s this important fact: be kind to yourself. Stop allowing anyone to tell you you’re not good enough and stop telling yourself you’re not beautiful. You are beautiful because you want what’s best for others, nothing more, nothing less. Don’t let the jocks and the mean bullies tell you otherwise. You may not be a prom queen but you are you and one day, people will appreciate you for who you are. Also, don’t fear rejection: rejection keeps you humble and it keeps you on track. It also doesn’t take anything away from you so keep learning the lessons and keep moving forward.
Let love in.
In the same breath, let love in. Your insecurities and past rejection has clouded you into believing that you don’t deserve love and you’re not surprised when people leave. Listen, people will leave eventually because they have to in order to save themselves, but that doesn’t make you less of who you are. But for the moment that they are yours, let them love you and let them consume you because you deserve to be loved, not because you’re perfect but all the more because you aren’t.
Dance on your own.
By this time, my 16 year old self who dreamt of being married at 25 was dumbfounded by the life I was living. Unattached since forever, I’m still getting over the fact that this maybe what life has for me. Upon saying this, my 16 year old self cried even more, grabbed all the kisses, threw a few at Nathan Scott and screamed, “What’s the point?” and for once, I didn’t stop her tantrum. Truth is, there is no point, sometimes, no matter how much you try, life just never turns out the way you wished it to be at 16. It’s not the life I assumed it would be and if I were completely honest, it wouldn’t hurt to have someone to Instagram with but that’s just how it is.
She asked me if I ever felt lonely and I told her that yes, I did. Despite the tough exterior, I did feel sad sometimes. But I also told her that in me, I found a strength I wouldn’t have found otherwise. The loneliness has pushed me to be compassionate to others while at the same time, learning to love me, something I have ignored over the years. It has also given me the wonderful opportunity to work several jobs, travel, and invest in my family and friends. I told her about the times I would eat and enjoy my own company and told her the wonder of going to bed at night knowing no one was Tinder-ing behind my back (this even depressed her more). After another bout of crying, she looked at me and finally she was half convinced that I could actually be happy despite on the days when my heart hurt. I told her that hurts past and she will be ok eventually. But for the meantime, I told her about my plans of eating at my favorite restaurants alone on the days leading up to my birthday. She asked me if it made me sad to eat alone but I told her I was more thankful because finally, I was able to.
I know you’re the most competitive person on the planet. It’s the athlete mentality that you grew up with. You also constantly feel that you’re not good enough and for some, you might not be but that doesn’t matter. All that matters is that you have the strength to be who you are and we’re still working on that but please know that you are worthy to be loved. Accept that and maybe, finally, all will be well.
She looked at me in disbelief and we stared at each other for awhile, but finally she shrugged and said, “Oh well, I surely believe that life has a surprise somewhere, but if not, you’re pretty cool” and for a moment, I actually believed her.