To My Dear 20-yr-old Jenni,
Darling, right now is a confusing time. You are both grown and yet so young, with so many questions about the world and yourself. In fact, you are literally exploring the great wide world this fall as you travel through Africa for three months – an experience that will forever touch your heart and shape your worldview. But I know there are inward-facing questions about your heart, too, and coming to you exactly 20 years later, at double the life you have currently lived, I am happy to say I have some insight.
1) The one you are with now is not The One. It’s a fine love but it’s not the life or the person for you; even though you can’t imagine starting over with someone else (you’ll say these exact words to someone else during the early days of your semester abroad), that’s exactly what you need to do when the time comes. You’ve learned this lesson before, at the end of high school, but it bears repeating: it’s OK to strike out on your own, to follow your own next right steps, not those dictated to you by your relationship/partner. The right person is out there who will be a true partner and friend, in addition to loving you to no end.
2) Binaries are not the way. You don’t have language for this yet, which isn’t to say it doesn’t exist (it does), you just don’t realize yet that people don’t have to pick a lane when it comes to sexual orientation/attraction. Or rather, you don’t yet know that there are more than two lanes, but guess what – there are and it’s OK to fall into one of those other ones because that’s what lies at the center of your heart. You see people as people and are attracted to people, not just one kind or gender of people. That might sound scary and overwhelming and it is going to take years for all of this to bubble out of you, but just know that at the center of you is love and love is never wrong. Plus, that right person who is out there for you? He gets it, won’t shame or run away from it, and just wants you to feel safe in expressing your whole self, to him and to the world.
3) Sweetheart, you have anxiety. I know it’s not fun to hear that something may be “wrong” with you, but that’s society’s mental health shaming bullshit making you think that, not an inherent badness in you. Anxiety is something that can be managed with therapy (spoiler alert: you will love therapy and be eternally grateful for it) and coping skills. Sometimes it requires medication. And it’s just something that is. You don’t have to call anxiety your BFF and be super pumped to have it be part of your life, but you can find your way forward, and your skills + medication can serve you very well in navigating this life as an Anxious Bunny.
4) Friendship is fluid. Even though it’s going to seem super hard, you’re going to have to try not to take it personally when friendships fall apart or fade away. Your life and your world are going to shift so much over time, so of course it makes sense that your friendships would, too; but this is one of those tough lessons to learn, in part because it never really stops happening and it can sometimes feel crushing when it does. Please don’t internalize this. Don’t let it make you think you are bad or unworthy of such relationships in this world. Your heart and mind crave authentic connection and you will find these qualities in others and your friendships with them. Keep seeking and keep trying; it’s worth the bumps and bruises along the way.
5) You’re going to go through some Hard Shit. If I could change this, I would. In fact, if I could erase this from all of humanity, I would. Strong as I am (and trust me, that strength has always been there; the Hard Shit does not come your way because you are or ever were weak), I’m not that powerful. Talk to people. Get help. Go to therapy. The Hard Shit does not define or dictate your life – you do. You’ve got your words and your writing but you also need people, which, I know – see above – can be a hard thing to trust, but the people who will hold you up, support you, and love you for all of you are out there. Let them in when they come.
Young One, as you continue your travels, both of the great, wide world and your own inner landscape, remain forever open to learning…about others, about the world, about yourself. You have so much beauty and blessing on the road in front of you; stay open to receive it and grow, knowing that you’ve got this because you’ve got yourself and that’s a damn miraculous gift.
JW, Age 40yrs.