I know the age of 20 is confusing for you, so I’m traveling back in time to give you a heads-up about what’s coming in life. Feel relieved? Good.
Right now, at 20, you’re a girl consumed with swirls of emotions about nearly everything in life. You feel battered by some of what’s come your way. You aren’t sure what you want. You aren’t sure who you are or what your value is. You aren’t sure what family means anymore. You’re moving forward in the ways you know how because it’s all you can do, but you’re in a state of near-panic on a regular basis.
First off, let me let you in to something you know in your gut: he’s not the right guy for you. For some involved psychological reasons you’ll realize over time, he’s come to represent the sense of family you’ve lost. But here’s the thing: love isn’t actually supposed to be hard, at least not 90% of the time. Mostly, it should be as easy as breathing. You won’t be able to believe me until later, when you meet the right guy. In the meantime, you have an enormous amount of growing to do, and you can’t do most of that while you’re trapped in this back-and-forth with him that’s tearing you apart. In the next few days, you’ll get a sweet birthday gift from him where he’s trying to woo you back. He’ll be very angry when it doesn’t work. You’re going to stay strong. You’re going to be lonely for a while–for a longer while than you will admit. And then you’re going to start moving on because it’s the only thing to do. It will get easier.
The truth is that life is going to continue to break your heart. That’s hard to embrace (pain is so difficult!), but it’s just true. Another guy is going to break your heart. (There are more guys between, but they won’t matter. That’s a good thing.) Several friends are going to break your heart. Health problems are going to break your heart. World events are going to break your heart. Family members are going to break your heart. Work that you love is going to break your heart. Your own limitations and frustrations are going to break your heart. You have this basic idea that your goal is to get to some good point and then ride it indefinitely, but that’s not how life works. Each low you dip into breaks your heart, but it also breaks your heart open, and as it fills back up again, you are more the person you were (and are) going to become. And, sweetheart, the person you’re going to become is the person you’re needed to be in this world. You’ll never be perfect, and that will stop being the goal. Instead, you’ll embrace what is possible within imperfection, within limitations, and that will become something you are known for.
One thing you’re going to learn is that what life best needs from you is flexibility. When you’re inflexible, you are at risk of shattering into some very depressed pieces. It can be easy to try to hide from life when change is involved, but that is change, too–of the worst kind. The more you accept that change is a near-constant and that life is built on shifting variables–as scary as it sounds–the more life will open up for you to create options. You’ll still be learning that at 30 (you’ll probably be learning it forever), but you should open your mind to its possibility as well as you can. (It can feel like trying to pry open a clamshell that’s snapped shut. And that’s okay, because it will come in time.)
Your life at 30 isn’t going to be at all like you imagine it might be. You’re going to be finding your way in a new place, in a new career, in nearly a new life. You’re going to be doing what you love in a capacity you wouldn’t expect. You’re going to be in the best physical shape you’ve been in since you were a small child. You’re going to be living in a city that you never pictured yourself in (at the beach, though!). You’ll feel some ambivalence (that’s as common a part of life as change), and you’ll also enjoy it. You’re going to have helped a lot of people, in various capacities, and be working on helping more. You’re going to have a husband who currently makes more money than you . . . and it will still make you a bit uncomfortable at times, but it is one of the things you’ll learn to navigate. In some ways, your life will be so much better than you picture it being possible at 20. You’re going to have built amazing friendships. You’re going to need to build more friendships in your new location. And since I know what you’re probably struggling with the most right now, let me reiterate that being alone and, then, later, being with the right guy are really going to change your understanding of what it means to be you and what it means to be part of a couple. (I can’t give too much away, but I can tell you it involves something like holding hands while simultaneously evolving as individuals. It’s easier than it sounds, most of the time.)
Sometimes, life is going to be hard. Sometimes it’s going to be very hard. Some moments are going to fill you with despair. That’s actually okay. You’re a really emotional person; it’s something you’ve grown up believing is a weakness. But it’s one thing you’ll have learned to appreciate between 25 and 30. (That guy you’re going to marry? He’s a big help with that. You’ll also learn a lot about it on your own, too.) At thirty, you’ll have learned to treat yourself gently and to remind yourself to treat yourself gently when you’re struggling with feeling harsh.
More than anything, I just want to give you the understanding that you’re more resilient than you realize. Other people will see it in you long before you see it in yourself. You’ll see it in others–in many, many people–before you begin to appreciate it about yourself. Resilience isn’t about handling things well; it’s simply about handling them without becoming (at least for very long) bitter, mistrustful, hateful. You will retain your beliefs in love and possibility. You will keep on growing. That is resilience.
Your dearest friend (who loves you and believes in you more than you can know),