Dear 20-Something-Year-Old Me
Yesterday, someone online asked Black women 35 years old and older what advice they would give to Black women in their twenties.
It’s such an interesting question. I don’t think I would have necessarily listened to anyone telling me what to do, but then I thought about what advice I would listen to…and I wrote my response based on that.
I wrote a response and it felt real to me. Real enough that I decided to post it here because sometimes I think certain messages should be shared widely. This isn’t the exact post – I made some changes because I felt like I missed a few things.
This is the letter that I would write to my past self.
Dear 20-Something-Year-Old Me,
Everyone is telling you that you don't know what you want. And it’s frustrating because they aren’t telling you anything you don’t already know. Every choice you’ve made to stand on your own was you trying to figure out who you are without the restrictions of others, and that the ones telling you what you don’t know are the same ones putting you in a box. This shit isn’t going to change, ever. People will always assume they know you better than you do. They are wrong.
Don't let them set your limits for you. If something sparks your interest, research it. Try it. Try it as safely as possible. Shit, try it twice. Try it as many times as it takes for you to make a decision about it and if you are indifferent, that’s cool too. But whatever you do, don’t decide not to try because some person said it’s not for you. They don’t have a fucking clue what’s for you. And neither do you.
Recognize that you will change your mind as you learn more stuff and as shit changes around you. Change is a constant and comes with or without your consent. Get used to adapting to the shifts happening around you cuz it will not stop happening.
You are better looking than you think. Attractiveness is not limited to physical presence, or intelligence, or looking the way society says you should look to be attractive. All that shit is a lie, and it’s usually to keep you feeling insecure and sell you some shit you don’t need. There are infinite forms of beauty and you will always be surprised at what you will discover.
Sex is great for some and not remotely interesting for others. Be open to the idea that other people will think of sex differently and focus on figuring out how you choose to incorporate it into your life. You’ll learn that it’s not what people tell you it is and a lot of them are lying to you.
Put yourself first. Don't sacrifice your needs for everyone else. Definitely don't sacrifice your needs for a partner. People encourage Black women to do that entirely too often and it is taken for granted.
Sex does not equal love. Lovers have the shelf life of fucking milk. Don’t sacrifice shit for some potential relationship because you will meet many unsuitable people intent on convincing you they are better than they are. Every sex partner ain’t a keeper. In fact, most aren’t. Learn when to let go.
Fucking on the first date is fine and eliminates a lot of assholes in the beginning. But only if you want to. You are never obligated to have sex with anyone, regardless of how much attention they give or how much money they spend.
Feelings change. People change. Relationships change. People who once loved you will hate you. People you once disliked may, after many years apart, become friends. You will be lonely a times. Sometimes for long periods of time. That is natural. Single does not equal lonely and choose your friends with care because they are the ones who will ride with you through a lot. But also know then to let those friendships go, too.
Always have an escape plan. This applied for relationships, jobs, neighborhoods, communities. Take the time to realize that many things are temporary and that you can not only survive but thrive without them. You will be amazed at what you will survive.
Trust your instincts. If you find yourself asking other people to tell you what to do, stop and take some time alone to think about what it is you really feel. Your emotions are a pathway to your authentic self. Your emotions tell you when something or someone is harming you before your “logical” self can recognize it. People are brilliant and have learned a myriad of ways to hide their harm in good-intentions and devious behavior. If interacting with someone makes you cry, and you are not sure why, take a break from that person because your emotional self is being hurt in ways you don’t logically understand yet.
Your anger? Valid. Your frustration? Valid. Your sadness? Valid. Your happiness? Valid. Your confusion? Valid. You will experience a wide array of emotions, many of which you will have to learn to recognize again and again. As humans, we have an amazing capacity for self-soothing through self-deception. We constantly compartmentalize our feelings because our society tells us that our emotions are lies. That we are misunderstanding situations that hurt us and that we need to recalibrate our pain into something else that keeps them comfortable. We are told that our sensors are the problem, not their behavior and then we numb ourselves to the pain they continue to inflict. When we are harmed, we call ourselves weak and useless until we are able to take many hits in rapid success and keep moving. We learn from a young age that few, if any people will maintain space for us to feel, so instead we learn to hide our feelings, even from ourselves because that’s how we survive. It happens to us while we are young, impressionable, seeking approval and validation. We are rewarded for suppressing our emotions, silencing our pain and we watch those who do not suffer silently be punished. We learn that the world has no tolerance for our humanity, so we stop allowing ourselves the space to be human until it becomes habit to pretend we are fine when we are not.
Find spaces where you can drop your shields. Find those spaces where you can feel and process who you are and what you need. Recognize the people who are trying to silence you - the people who are trying to use you. They are trying to make you less than who you are and that is unacceptable. When shit feels off, believe your instincts. The lies we are fed are constant and confusing.
Remember that other people will always prioritize their needs first and don't feel guilty when you do the same. Or feel guilty but recognize that what you are doing isn't necessarily wrong.
Protect yourself. Our world is full of monsters and predators who condition you to sacrifice yourself for their gain.
Don't be a monster. Learn to check yourself and care about how what you do impacts others. It doesn't mean not to do it, necessarily, but be aware of when and how you do harm, real harm, not that gaslighting shit where they try to convince you to sacrifice yourself for them. It's not an easy thing to recognize but it is a common thing in our culture.
It's okay to dislike your family. It's ok to limit or avoid contact with them. Too many people think that being related means they can treat you like shit and you have to forgive them. You don't.
Most emotional abuse will come from people you love because you trust them to care for you, but they are human and will put themselves first. Recognize that and learn how to set boundaries to ensure your emotional and physical safety.
You don’t have to fit. You don’t have to be who others tell you to be. People say it’s not an easy road to walk, but I’ve watched many people break under the strain of trying to conform to the standards of others. You are learning your boundaries and limits and that’s fine. None of this is easy for anyone and we all fuck it up and as long as you survive, you have a chance to learn from it. Make the effort to learn from it.
Learn to love yourself in a world that will tell you that you don't deserve love. Care for yourself in a world that tells you that you are unworthy of care. Appreciate yourself in a world that tells you that you are less than nothing.
Remind yourself that you are as amazing and special and worthy as anyone else. No one out here is better than you. We all bring different ingredients to the same soup and while sometimes it's transcendent, other times it's a hurl-inducing mess. Only experience will show you how to mix everything together and make it into something worth savoring.
And that takes time.
I love you. You need to love you, too. I hope this helps you do that.