Dear 16-year-old-me,

On principle alone, you will resent this letter. You will cringe at the thought of something so cliché, convinced that a retroactive letter like this is the written equivalent of a cheesy time capsule, and you will be tempted to chuck this over your shoulder without a second thought. So I will ask you to bear with me, because if there’s anything I’ve learned about you (and me), it’s that patience is not our strong suit.

I’ll start off by saying that there are three main things that are still exactly the same:

  1. You will still have a hard time controlling your incessant snacking.
  2. You will still be easily offended. You will still take things a little too personally, hold everything a little too close to your heart.
  3. You will still waste hours upon hours on the Internet.

But worry not. Things have also changed, despite your inability to tear yourself away from both Facebook and tortilla chips. That still continues, stronger than ever.

I remember your promises, you know. Things like “I’ll find a career path that I love and can provide for myself with“, “I’ll avoid procrastination at all costs in university”, “I’ll live the single life in college at some point”, I’d never move in with a college boyfriend“, “I won’t let a boy affect my decisions.

I remember them because they are still a part of me, even if they have changed drastically since five years ago (five years ago, jeez). They were still the building blocks of my adolescence. They shaped my thoughts, my actions, and ultimately, myself as a whole.

Yet here I am now, pursuing a career that will be financially challenging, writing a blog post instead of studying for my upcoming final exams, still very much in a relationship with a guy from school, and moving in with said guy in two weeks’ time (after living with each other for nearly a year).

I can hear you scoffing at me already. “Are you insane? Where’s your sense of independence? What happened to wanting to meet new people and not engaging in another long-term relationship?”

And maybe that’s the point of this letter—to quell some of that obvious bristling you’re doing over there.

High school was a weird time, as it is for many people, I’m sure. You are waist-deep in a long-term relationship that is stringing you to another human being, and you will develop these feelings of self-induced fear that you will never be thought of as an individual, that you will always be one half of a pair. You will stress for hours that people will only invite you to things because the two of you are a package deal, or that they will refer to you as “his girlfriend” as opposed to by your given name. You will quake because high school is prime time to establish your identity, and you risk not just losing that opportunity, but destroying it, too.

Which is why you are probably ripping at your follicles right now, screaming at me, asking me why on earth I would embark on that same risk now, five years later.

To be one hundred percent honest with you: At first, I wasn’t entirely sure of that decision either. I questioned myself for days, actually, before agreeing to go on that date, before passing that one-year mark, before co-signing that lease. I worried, just as you did, that I was losing my sense of identity.

But ultimately, I signed my name next to his. I scoured the web for used furniture to furnish the new apartment. I made that decision.

What I ended up realizing was that the stage of a relationship is not a determinant of your (or my) state of being. Whether I am in the throes of my first dates with a guy or making dinner with him on our one year anniversary (yes, I know you gag at the very thought of anniversaries), I am still completely capable of establishing my sense of self. I can fear the strangeness of relationship “stages” and I can continue to imprison any nugget of trust I may have to give, but I can just as easily try to be multi-functional: I can decide what I need to do, what I need to be—or rather, what I am.

You are rolling your eyes at me right now, I’m sure, for my cryptic words and seemingly evasive explanation. But hear me out.

All this time, you worried that people would see you approaching and your hand would be superglued to his, that people would look at you and wonder where he was. You feared that you wouldn’t be able to figure out what the hell you wanted to do with your future or what you valued because you’d be too immersed in a relationship that kept pushing forward. You panicked at the thought of becoming grossly dependent on another person, regardless of your age.

Yet today, I am intertwining my fingers with his at my leisure. Today, people will see me and ask how my exams are going (ugh). Today, I am working to sculpt my prospective career, I am defining and redefining the things that matter most to me. Today, I am an independent in a relationship with another independent.

This relationship has not come to define me, I’ve realized. He and I have defined it, and we have helped define each other in small ways. And I know you’re over there raising as many red flags as your hands can carry at the thought of a boy “defining” me, but isn’t that how we grow as people? We define the people we meet, and we let them define us. Because that two-way exchange is a sign. A sign that you are willing to learn, to change, yet  that you will always hold fast to your sense of individuality.

No matter how much you will balk at the thought of growing so close to another guy, I want to let you know that I have thought long and hard about it—that I have remained conscious of how my relationship both has and hasn’t affected me. I want to let you know that there are steps that we will take that will terrify us, that will keep us up late at night wondering if we’ll wind up regretting our decisions. I want to let you know that I have learned, and that I am still learning, how to make those decisions.

And I want to let you know that you needn’t harbor those worries so stubbornly—let go for now, and I’ll do the worrying for the both of us.



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