In the past couple of months, I've had two younger cousins ask me for advice. They're both in their teens and are having relationship issues. Both in love with people who don't appear to love them back. Both wondering what to do.
Why they came to me for advice, I'm not too sure. The older, single cousin living in her dad's basement isn't exactly the first person I'd go to for advice on men, but what the hell.
Looking back to high school, I know exactly how they feel. I tried to tell them, gently, that what they're going through right now is only a small, small speck on the immense canvas that will be their entire lives. I know they don't believe me, but in a few years, the person occupying their thoughts constantly now won't cross their minds at all. Except maybe in a fit of giggles with girlfriends over a glass of wine on a Friday night.
Instead of giving them advice (I'm really no good at that,) I thought back to myself at 15. What I thought I knew back then. Twelve years has passed since then, and I feel like I've learned so much from all of my experiences, both from other people and myself.
If I could go back and hang out with 15-year-old me, there's a few things I'd like to tell myself. Things like:
1. Oh my god, woman! Enough with the vests. They are not cool. I don't care if they're suede, or have tassels, they are SO not cool. People are probably making fun of you behind your back. Lose the vests, cowgirl.
2. That guy. Those guys. The ones who come in and out of your social circle, who seem like the most important thing, I don't know, EVER. They're not. Here's a tip: 15-year-old boys are stupid. Most of them only care about looking cool in front of their friends and bragging about getting to third base. This won't change for another few (maybe 10-15) years. Don't put so much pressure on yourself. Being single and having fun with your girlfriends is even cooler than being alone and crying over a boy into your pillow on a Saturday night. Believe it or not.
3. Go hug your mama. Hug her as tight as you can, for as long as she can stand it. When she laughs and says "Jeez, what's up with you?" ignore her and hug her some more. You don't realize it now, much she'll turn out to be one of the most influential people in your life. Ask her all of the questions you'll need to know later. Did she get morning sickness when she was pregnant? When did she know she was in love with Dad? How did he propose, exactly? Find out minute details. Believe me, it's important, and Dad's good with details like "the first time I saw her she was wearing short-shorts and a white tank top and I thought she was the most beautiful blonde I'd ever seen," but not so much the "I asked her to marry me looking out over a mountain-scape at dusk exactly a year after we met" kind of stories. There's going to be so much you wished you knew. Go hug her again. Tell her you love her. She'll be kind of surprised, but it will fill her heart.
4. Be nice to your family. Not that you're particularity mean to them, but later on in life, they're all you've got. They're the only link to your past, and the people you'll miss most when they're gone.
5. Just be nice. Try to be nice to everyone,
even especially the people who everyone else makes fun of. I know you're concerned about fitting in, walking that fine line between being cool and being liked by everyone. You don't realize it now, but that person people are teasing, is dying on the inside. Just like you, he just wants to fit in. Don't join in the teasing, don't follow the crowd. Smile and say hi when you pass the "unpopular" kids in the halls. Your smiles are making their day.
6. Study hard. As hard as you can. Do your homework. You will open yourself up to a world of possibilities if you keep your grades high. Don't drop that math class. Math is important. In about 10 years, you're going to look really silly pulling out a calculator at work to do simple division.
7. Take care of your teeth! Wear your retainer! Wait, check your tray before you throw it in the garbage at the mall food court. That one move is going to cost your parents a LOT of money in dental bills.
8. Don't be shy. Say what you want. Be straightforward and honest. You will learn this later in life, but not before being caused a lot of pain by holding back your feelings. If you're mad, get mad. If you're sad, cry. Tell people if they are pissing you off. If you like a boy, tell him. You'll feel SO much better.
9. Listen to Dad's crazy expressions more. Later on, you'll realize they are the pillars of your values. "It's life it's own self," is a good example. "All is well," and "You'll only be cool if you don't try to be cool," are others. Now, you roll your eyes when he starts telling you his three rules in life: Don't lie, don't feel sorry for yourself, always pull your own weight. Later, you'll realize this is some of the most important advice you've ever received.
10. Know that you can't control the outcome of any relationship, romantic or otherwise. During one of your more dramatic episodes with a boy, a smart (and SINGLE!) older cousin will send you a piece of writing that will change the way you think about love. Forever. You'll continue to send it to girlfriends going through breakups for the next 15 years. Just so you don't have to wait, here's a little preview:
From the book Letters to my Son by Kent Nerburn:
"It is a mystery why we fall in love. It is a mystery how it happens, when it comes, and why some love grows and other love fails.
Sometimes, hopefully at least once in your life, the gift of love will come to you in full flower, and you will take hold of it and celebrate it in all its inexpressible beauty. This is the dream we all share.
More often, it will come and take hold of you, celebrate you for a brief moment, then move on.
When people fall out of love, they want answers where there are no answers. They want to know what is wrong with them that makes the other person no longer love them, or they try to get their lover to change, thinking that if some small things were different love would bloom again.
There is no meaning beyond the love itself, and until you accept its own mysterious ways, you will live in a sea of misery.
If you fall in love with another, and they fall in love with you, and then love chooses to leave, do not try to reclaim it or to assess blame. Let it go. There is a reason and there is a meaning. You will know in time.
Remember that you don't choose love. It chooses you. All you can really do is accept it for all its mystery when it comes into your life. Feel the way it fills you to overflowing, then reach out and give it away.
Give it back to the person who brought it alive in you. Give it to the world around you in any way you can.
Remember this, and keep it to your heart. Love has its own time, its own seasons, and its own reasons for coming and going. You cannot bribe it or coerce it into staying.
Love always has been and always will be a mystery. Be glad that it came to live for a moment in your life.
If you keep your heart open, it will come again.
I know you'll be fine. You'll love. You'll live, and you'll learn.
Just wanted to give you a little help along the way.
Go get 'em, tiger!