A Letter to My Sixteen-Year-Old Self

Dear Little Hattie,

Nice backpack, nerd. What are those, your initials embroidered on the front? Is that to keep people from stealing such a clearly awesome bag? Also, this is probably a good time to tell you to mix up the wardrobe a bit. This may seem offensive to you, but it is possible for one girl to have too many fleece vests.

Oh, hey! You know that little notebook where you and your best friend write all your little inside jokes, observations, and crushes? Keep it somewhere safe. Otherwise, you’re going to lose it, and a popular guy in the grade above you is going to find it and make it his mission to find out whose it is.

What else? Stop pining after that mopey kid with the floppy hair and checkered sneakers. I know you think that when he puts his head in your lap to talk about what’s on his mind, you’re reaching a new level in your relationship. You’re not. Here’s a pro tip: if a teenage boy can have his face that close to your vagina and not want to interact with it, he’s not interested.

While we’re at it, stop fostering this jokey, platonic, buddy-buddy rapport with every guy you know. Sure, right now it works as a defense mechanism because you’re terrified of sex. But in a little while, when the fear is replaced with desire, you’re going to have no idea how to change the dynamic. I mean, it will work itself out eventually. But senior year, you will literally laugh in your first boyfriend’s face the first time he tries to kiss you.

Girl standing in jeans and a long-sleeved shirt and vest
Fashion Don'ts get their faces blocked out...

And I won’t tell you not to kiss him in your driveway that night, and then date him for five years before having a fiery explosion of a breakup. Because you know what? So many wonderful things happen to you as a direct or indirect result of that event. You will reach the end of your 20s and feel so much appreciation for everything that came after that breakup that it will be terrifying to consider that you could have missed out on any of it. So, at least in that sense, that asshole is worth it.

Okay, let’s talk about something you’re doing well. That great little group that you find yourself spending more and more time with? Keep it up. They’re just as awesome as you think. They’ll be nice to you, they’ll love you, they’ll make you laugh, and they’ll grow up to be an inspiring and entertaining group of people. As the years go on, you’ll miss each other, you’ll reunite, you’ll celebrate together, and you’ll cry together.

So say yes to driving around town for no good reason and hanging out the passenger window. Say yes to making fun of Delilah even though you can’t turn it off. Say yes to crawling out onto the roof to look at the sky and talk about the future. Say yes to pep talks inside the running track. Say yes to another night of movies and video games on the L-shaped couch in the basement. Say yes to underage drinking, to trips to the beach, to all-night delis, to off-roading, to walks on summer nights, to nicknames, to impromptu dance parties. You won’t regret any of it.

Also, be sure to cherish that house that you love: the little hiding places, the way the trees look in the fall, the chipmunks in your mom’s garden. In a few years your parents will sell it, and when they do a part of you will know that you’ll never really feel home again. And you’ll miss that town, where you’d done so much hurting, growing and dreaming, where you’d memorized every house and every turn in the road. The first time you come back, years later, will be for a sad occasion, and as you make your way up there you’ll wonder how it will feel to be a visitor in your own hometown. But as you and your friends drive around this place where your lives began, this place you knew before you knew anything else, you’ll be struck, above all, how little you do feel besides gratitude.

So I guess that’s it. Have fun, but trust me that all I’m saying is true. Especially about the vests.

Older Hattie

Photos: Getty and courtesy of the author

8 replies on “A Letter to My Sixteen-Year-Old Self”

Wow, I got a little misty on this one. I have a pretty similar list. I wish I could give 16 year old me a hug and tell her that life is going to turn out as awesome as she’s hoping. And that BFFs really can happen. And enjoy those pants, because it’s the only time she’s going to be able to pull them off.

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