Letters From a ’Tween

Sorry, kid. You didn't get to marry Kurt Cobain.

Almost twenty years ago, my middle school English teacher had us write letters to our future selves. Yesterday, I found that letter while cleaning out old boxes. I found a series of letters I wrote to myself from ages twelve to twenty-one, a pivotal decade in my life. What started as a middle school English project morphed into a time capsule of my youth. More optimistic (and less maudlin) than a daily journal, these letters were annual form letters to myself. In them I was able to celebrate my triumphs and mourn my defeats without the daily grind of adolescence to tarnish them. I asked questions of my future self in the hopes that future me would gain wisdom I currently lacked, like about fashion and boys. I have reread these letters a few times over the years, but this time I decided to answer myself. Many times over the years I have wanted to go back and have a conversation with my younger self. Well now here’s my chance. Without further ado, here’s the answers to the hard-hitting questions of a tween to her future self:

How are you?
I am fine, thanks for asking.

How was high school?
High school wasn’t all that bad actually. Emotionally draining, but ultimately redemptive.

Did I ever get the hell out of Cobb County?
Yes. You did in fact “get the hell out of Cobb County.” However, you did find that new places don’t always solve your problems.

I weigh eighty pounds. Did I stay that way?
No. You no longer weigh eighty pounds and that’s okay. What is a normal weight for a twelve-year-old isn’t the same as what works for a thirty-year-old. You are a healthy weight for your age and that’s what matters. If you are asking if you are beautiful, the answer is yes.

Did we finally get a date with Michael S. Was it awesome?
Yes. You did go on a date with Michael S., and no it wasn’t all you thought it’d be. Good kissing is important.

Did you marry Kurt Cobain? Because he is fine! But kind of sad.
Sadly, Kurt Cobain died before you could marry him. Yes, he did seem sad.

Can you explain boys’ fashion?
I don’t know why boys had chains connecting their belt loops to their wallets either.

Do you still talk to your friends?
Yes. Through the magic of Facebook (long story) you still keep in contact with your friends. No we don’t hang out, but I do like their statuses. Friendships are more fluid now. It’s complicated, don’t worry about it.

What color is your hair? Did mom ever let you dye it?
You have brown hair right now. Yes. All the colors.

And since you asked (twice), yes. You do have a boyfriend (a fiancé in fact). In fact, you had lots of relationships (of all kinds and genders) over the years. Some were great. Some were… not so great. But each and every one of them was worth it. Because that’s the question you are really asking. Is all this effort going to be worth it in the end? Is the heartbreak, rejection, and awkwardness you feel now ultimately going to serve a greater good? You are asking if you will find value and worth… and love. I can promise that you will find all of these things and more. You will have careers and friends and adventures that will thrill you and test you and strengthen you, even when they seem to break you. You will flourish because you are fearfully and wonderfully made. You are valuable and worthy—of love and everything else.

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  • Laura C

    I just realized that APW now = Sassy in my teens. (This is high praise.)

    • Kayakgirl73

      I loved Sassy back in the day. I was a charter subscriber, I had signed up for a magazine called Teenage I think that went defunct and Sassy got that subscriber list. I had my old issues in my parents garage until they moved ten years ago.

  • KatieE

    I love this- excatly what I needed to read today.

  • Bets

    I wrote letters to my future self, too! I think I got the idea from a young adult novel, and I wrote them on my birthday every year from thirteen onwards, meant to be opened on my birthday ten years later. But I’ve been busy with life in my twenties and had forgotten about those letters… I think they’re still at the back of the closet at my parents’ house. Worth a visit home!

    Some of your questions sound familiar: I remember my younger self was hugely concerned whether I would be married by 25, ideally to my grade eight crush, and whether we’d settle down in our home town. Though I did subsequently date said crush in high school, I’m now happily engaged to someone that my tweenage self could not have imagined… a good reminder that it’s more than okay when life doesn’t turn out the way you expect it to.

    I love your gentle reassurances to your younger self.

    • Read them! It’s been such fun to read the old letters. I wrote them at the end of every school year from seventh grade till college graduation. It was actually pretty encouraging to find out that overall, I was happier than I remember. My journals were full of sad songs and weeping, but when forced to recap an entire year I was able to find more joy than I remembered.

  • StevenPortland

    What a great way to end the tween month on APW! Great article.

  • Amanda L

    I used this (http://www.futureme.org/) a few years back, and it was neat. I was in a rough spot, so I sent myself an email for my birthday a year in the future and ‘checked in’. It was nice to remember how bad I thought things were at the time, and how well things turned out in the end. I think I’ll go ahead and send myself one right now!

    Actually, I’ll share my questions here. What would you want to know about yourself a year from now?
    How was the marathon?
    Are you pregnant? (Have you been trying to get pregnant?)
    Are you still in ?
    Who do you work for?
    Do you have a new dog?

    • Thanks for sharing that link, it’s so cool! Today happens to be my birthday, so I just sent future me a birthday check-in note for next year.

      • JSwen

        Happy Birthday!

    • This is awesome. I just sent one to myself on the day of my wedding next year. In no uncertain terms I told my future self to chill the eff out. I feel like I’ll need that.

      • scw

        this is so smart. I might do the same thing!

      • Meg Keene

        May I suggest you send that for a day or two before the wedding? Or a day after? The day of your job is to not check email.

        • it included an admonition: “now turn off your phone and go get married.”

  • ruth

    “Because that’s the question you are really asking. Is all this effort going to be worth it in the end? Is the heartbreak, rejection, and awkwardness you feel now ultimately going to serve a greater good?” THIS! I still ask myself these questions, and I’m a long way out of middle school. This is beautiful – thank you for sharing!

  • Kayjayoh

    That was so sweet, I think I’m going to cry.

  • KM

    Love this!

  • swarmofbees

    What a great piece. Though, I am left kind of bummed that it didn’t work out with Michael S. I hope he improved his kissing game.

  • Caitlin_DD

    I love this piece! I never put a lot of thought into those letters when I was younger, but now I look forward to getting them!

  • “You are valuable and worthy – of love and everything else.”
    Beautiful. I think I need to tell myself that more often now. I don’t know what I would have written myself, asked myself when I was a kid. I know I was sad and lost for so long. And that had I written myself letters, I probably would have thrown them out by my mid-20s. That was a rough time too. But sometimes it takes looking back at where you were to see how far you’ve come, no matter how hard it is to look.
    Even when I look back at last year, things have changed a lot ( maybe not in the ways I’d hoped) and in one more year, things will be so so different, that I know. Maybe I should write myself a letter.

    Also, my husband still insists on wearing the same wallet and chain he’s had since high school. What’s a girl to do?

    • KA

      Mine does too! Well, he just replaced the wallet after 25 long years together. I mean, if that’s how long a chain can work to not lose something, I have to say I support the concept.

      Also, I really love this, and I am completely intrigued by your Newhart-themed wedding Addie.

      • Think small Vermont inn. Winter vacations at your grandma’s cabin. Quilts everywhere. Incongrously bright colors for a January wedding. Snowboarding/skiing. Several people with the same name (both my BIL and FI have the same first name). And all the eyeshadow.

  • ElisabethJoanne

    I went to a private high school in the suburbs in the ’90s. We weren’t allowed to have visible chains with our clothes. One week, we had a guest speaker, a pastor from the City. His son was our history teacher, and the son was also an alumnus of the high school. Anyway, the pastor wore a chain on his wallet. The son was embarased to have someone so connected to the school, and presented as a role model to the students, break the dress code, but, as the son explained, the pastor had actually had his wallet stolen! He needed that chain.

  • pandaonaplane

    This was excellent. I got the hell out of Cobb County too! East or West?

  • You had me at Kurt Cobain.

  • Lindsay Rae

    This is wonderful.

    I am sad because I wrote myself a letter in the 8th grade to open on my 25th birthday. I knew where this letter was over the course of 12 years, through college and even in moving into my new home with my fiance. I knew where it was two days before my 25th birthday. Then it disappeared. It’s been almost a year and it still hasn’t turned up. It’s the strangest thing and I am DYING to know what was in it!!

    My fiance jokes he opened it before my birthday, saw that I wrote “I hope I am married to a rich doctor, and we live in Europe” and threw it out!

  • “Did we finally get a date with Michael S. Was it awesome?

    Yes. You did go on a date with Michael S., and no it wasn’t all you thought it’d be.”

    Change the name and the story is the same. I thought it would be magical to go out with J. And it just wasn’t. I mean, who shows up for prom wearing a baseball hat? And that was just the first in a list of J named guys that just weren’t it for me at all.

    I have decided that all those bad dates had a purpose. They make for great stories!

  • Ani

    “If you are asking if you are beautiful, the answer is yes.”

    Wow, this one sentence conveyed the journey from insecure kid to mature woman, and it got me a little teary. I wish we could all go back and share that love with our worried younger selves.

  • Soraya Swan

    *love* this. Every New Year, I used to make a list of questions just like this for One-Year-Older me. In between the years I spent a lot of time wondering about the future–would I even make it out of this terrible pre-adulthood stage alive? If I did, would I be this magically awesome person? 15-year-old me wished desperately to have a conversation with 25- or 30-year-old me and find out. And now 25-year-old Soraya wishes she could go back and have *this* very conversation with 15-year-old Soraya, because these questions speak to a courage and tenacity that deserves validation and encouragement. I wish I could have given younger me that when she needed it, but this piece is a great reminder to do the next best thing–to thank and honor that younger self now, because at 15 she was too busy doubting to see herself for the magically awesome person that she was then. Sounds like the same is true for you :)