Dear 19 Year Old Emily,
Firstly, please don’t blame yourself for what I’m going to tell you. It’s not your fault. You were doing the best you could with what you had. There’s no fault in that.
He’ll be your first. You’ll be his first. He’ll be the first one to tell you that he loves you. You’ll tell him that you love him back.That’s how these things go. You’ll slowly lose everything you care about because that’s what Good Girlfriends do. Theater will be gone. Dance will be gone. Before you know it, your life will revolve around him. Then you’ll take a step back and think maybe you should end it with him. You’ll choose not to because all of your friends are dating all of his friends. You don’t want to lose your friends, so you decide to stick around. All of his friends will marry all of your friends, so you’ll lose them anyway. You’ll just lose them later than you thought. You’ll find yourself doing things you don’t want to, like drinking, because that’s what Good Girlfriends do. Good Girlfriends go along with their boyfriends because, somehow, their boyfriends know better than they do. They don’t. You’ll want to say something, but choose not to. It’s easier to not speak up. You’ll just take the drink. It’s easier to keep doing things and slowly getting used to them. You’ll forget that you didn’t really want to do them in the first place.
You won’t remember the exact date and neither do I. You will remember what happened. As usual, by that point, you’ll be mostly drunk. He’ll decide, for whatever reason, he wants one of his friends to come watch you two. At first you agree because that’s what drunk Good Girlfriends do. Then you’ll change your mind. You’ll tell him no. He doesn’t listen. He lets his friend keep watching. Instead of fighting back, you’ll just lie there. It’s easier. Don’t blame yourself for always taking the easy way out. You don’t know any better. That’s okay. You’ll fake it, just to get him off you and get his friend out of the room. To add insult to injury, his friend will tell you both that it didn’t really do anything for him. You’ll feel humiliated for no reason. There’s a word for what happens that night.
You said stop and he refused to listen. As time goes on, you’ll start to hurt yourself. You’d gotten a few piercings here and there, but nothing terribly exotic. You figured you were in college so why not get your belly button pierced (that’s what all girls do, right?) and more piercings in your ears. The piercings will get more extreme. You’ll get your nipples pierced just out of spite. He said he didn’t like girls who had their nipples pierced. I can see now what you were trying to do, even if you can’t. You want to break up with him, but you don’t want to be the one to pull the plug. So you start doing little things like that to push him into doing it for you. Then, one morning your senior year, you’ll wake up and decide to get a tattoo. Before that day is over, you’ll have your first tattoo. Then you’ll get another. And another. And another. You’ll graduate. He’ll move back home. He doesn’t want you to be his girlfriend any more, but he still wants you to visit so that he can still prove to himself that you’re at his beck and call. Eventually, it will end. Your pain won’t. You’ll just keep hurting yourself. You’ll drink too much. You’ll sleep with anyone. You’ll get more tattoos. A part of you will know something is wrong, but you won’t be able to quite put your finger on it. Then he’ll call you.
He’ll ask you to go to lunch with him. He’s in town with his new girlfriend and wants to see if you were free. You’ll agree to go just to prove you’re “over him”. It won’t work. He’ll just tell you how great his life is now. He’ll tell you all about his new girlfriend. He’ll point out that’s she’s a redhead just like you are. He’s got the upper hand and he knows it. It will end up making things worse rather than better. I don’t blame you for trying. Again, you don’t know what else to do.
You’ll kick yourself for not having your shit together. For what it’s worth, I don’t have my shit together. I’m not perfect. I’m not who you think you’ll be when you’re my age. You think you’ll be married, just like all your friends are doing. You’ll wish you had been thrown in the pond, too. Trust me when I say that had you gone through with what you thought you wanted, you’d be divorced. I want you to know, in the end, you made the right choice. It won’t feel like it at the time. You’ll feel left out. You’ll feel like you screwed up along the way. There are days I still feel left out. Then there are the days where I question if what I’m supposed to do is what I really want to do. You scoff at me, but you’ll get there. Again, a little tiny part of you has always questioned if what is supposed to happen is really the best thing for you. You’ll do the right thing for the wrong reasons and the wrong thing for the right reasons. You and I are the same. We like to remind ourselves, even in a tiny way, that we aren’t the kind of girl (woman) who does what’s expected of us. You just take it to a little more of an extreme than I do. That’s okay. You’re still a teenager. Though there are days I still feel like a teenager, too.
I know what I’ve said is upsetting. I know what I’ve told you is more than a little hard to swallow. You’ll get through it. I promise you will. You’re smart. You’re tenacious. While what I’ve told you mostly about what you’ve lost, I want you to see what you’ve gained. I don’t want to spoil the surprises and the breakthroughs you’ll have. I know you hate surprises, but these are worth the wait.
I love you, even if you don’t.
30 Year Old Emily