FULL DISCLOSURE: I would never have thought to do this had Darren Hayes not done it first. The day before his 40th birthday, he wrote a letter to his 15 year-old self. I thought about doing the same, but honestly, my 20 year-old self would appreciate it more, so that’s what I did. I almost didn’t do it at all because I was afraid people would think I was just copying him, but his letter really inspired me, so I did it anyway. My intention was never to copy what Darren did, but rather to carry on what I thought was a really great idea. In the end, I think I learned a little bit about myself.
If there’s any one thing I know about you, it’s how much you love to get mail. After all those days of going to the Friley Depot to see if there was mail for you in your little mailbox, only to find nothing but campus flyers and coupons for food you didn’t want, I thought a real and proper letter would be most welcome. Even in 1992, they seem to be so few and far between. I’m sorry this ended up arriving at your parents’ house in Carroll instead of at college where it would have broken the mail drought but this is a letter unlike any you’ve ever received. In fact, I’d advise taking a seat if you haven’t already. You see, I am you and you are me. Well, you’re a much younger version of me – 20 years if you want to know the truth. You’re on the eve of our 20th birthday, while I’m sitting here in 2012, on the eve of our 40th. I will try not to spoil too much of the surprise, but I’ve been thinking a lot about you lately and thought that a little correspondence might be in order.
The passage of 20 years has not caused me to forget where you are right now. You’re about to embark on an amazing adventure. You’ve just finished up two years at Iowa State that have made you feel as if you’ve been whipped around on a roller coaster. The highs have been exhilarating but the lows have been crushing. During the last 6 months, rather than risk any more lows, you’ve been in a holding pattern, knowing that you’re about to leave all this behind and move on to bigger and better things. You’ve been accepted to pharmacy school and come August, you’re going to move further away from home than you’ve ever lived. That’s scaring the hell out of you right now. To many people, that sentiment will seem silly, because you’re only moving 200 miles from home. To you, it may as well be 2000 miles. I know that you’re scared of what lies ahead. It’s a total restart, which is both what you want desperately and fear terribly. I know that you’re worried that you won’t have any friends when you get to Iowa City. Rest assured, that won’t be the case.
While I can’t give specifics of what the next 20 years hold and I’m already risking a rip in the time-space continuum by contacting you at all, there are some things that I want to say, to put your mind a little more at ease. They are things I wish someone had said to me when I was 20, and now that I have a chance to do that, I’m not going to pass it up.
First off, you are an amazing person and I am so proud of you. Everyone around you can see that and when they tell you that (or some permutation thereof), they’re not just patronizing you – they really mean it. I have a hard time believing it even today, but I’m getting better at it. I know that you don’t feel like you have anything in common with other guys, like somehow the man you’ve become is inferior to the rest of them. They all play sports and swill beer and listen to music that sounds like noise to you while the music you listen to raises questions about your sexual orientation in their minds. I am here to tell you that this is all bullshit. Also, you don’t need anyone to tell you you’re a good man, except for yourself and by extension me, so I’m telling you now: you’re a good man. There’s no one right way to go about being a man, and the way you’re doing it is the right way for us. I wouldn’t want it any other way, even on the days that I think otherwise.
I also know how much you want a buddy – a guy friend that you can hang out with. Someone who is a good friend with whom you can shoot the breeze and feel connected to. That feeling is normal and okay. It also doesn’t go away. It is never completely satisfied because it can’t be satisfied. Be careful about trying to find one person that can be all things to you, because really, no matter how many people in are in your life, the only person that can fill that void is you, me, us. We have to be that for ourselves. Yes, that sucks. I know that loneliness can feel so very palpable, but as Stevie Nicks says “it’s just a feeling.” As a smart person once told me: feelings aren’t facts. Three simple words are the key to changing so much. I want you to remember those three words. It is my mantra now.
Next, I want you to please stop worrying about how little you’re dating right now. Yes, it’s very lonely and it makes you feel like a dork, but that doesn’t matter. From my vantage point, not dating lots of different girls was something I really did do right. It only takes one person and trust me, she’s out there. I can’t say much more than that. You’re just going to have to trust me on this one.
OK, now this one is important so I want you to pay really close attention. I don’t care how you do it or where you do it (although it would probably be best to wait till you get to Iowa City in the fall), but please go and find a counselor or therapist and start talking to them. You’re depressed and anxious and they can help. Going to talk therapy, contrary to what you think, doesn’t mean you’re crazy or that you need to be locked up. It just means that you can’t do this on your own any more. Talking it out really does help and having someone who is neutral and not invested in our life can be a lifesaver. Friends and lovers and parents are caught up in the trappings of your life and while that’s nice, it also makes them less than objective. Counselors and therapists get paid to be an objective third party – someone that is not directly involved in your life so that what you’re going through doesn’t affect them once the hour’s up. And if it does, it’s time to find a new therapist. There is no stigma to wanting to help yourself. Therapy is not as in vogue in ’92 as it is in ’12, but never mind that. Find someone and start talking. You will feel better, I promise.
There are going to be things that you want to do – causes you want to get involved in and people you want to meet that you’ll be afraid to for fear of how it will look. Don’t worry about it. If you see something you want, don’t be afraid to go for it. I know how much you worry about how people perceive you and let me tell you, they don’t spend even a tenth of the amount of time thinking about you that you think they do. You’re a very courageous person, but your lack of self-confidence gets in the way of that sometime. Blatant playground bullying has given way to the subtleties of young adulthood. You have expectations to meet, right? Those expectations are constructs. This is your life so live it how you want to live it.
On a lighter note, have faith in pop music. It will survive grunge but it won’t ever be like the late 80s ever again. You won’t ever care about the charts as much as you did in high school and that’s okay. There’s so much yet to come. You’ll be amazed. The places you’ll go, the people you’ll meet! In the meantime, you’ll probably have to keep listening to country for a bit longer. But this much I can promise you:
- You’ll still be listening to Madonna 20 years from now. And yes, she’s still putting out new material in 2012.
- Mariah Carey, who you’re already starting to be disappointed in, will continue to disappoint. She’ll never match the strength of her debut, but then again – how could she?
- If you think Cher at 45 is amazing, just wait till you see Cher at 65.
I wish I could tell you the next 20 years will be a cake walk because they won’t. But here’s the thing – there’s no prize for having successfully navigated around all of life’s potholes without falling in from time to time. You’re an amalgam of all your life experiences, your successes, your failures, your likes, your dislikes and all those people that have come in and out of your life. As our dad says, you only get 27,000 days, try not to let too many of them go by without noticing.
Don’t ever forget that I love you very much. If I could hug you, I would, but you know – the whole time-space continuum, stability of the universe thing.
What lies ahead is amazing. The next 20 years will go by in a flash. They are fast. Faster than you can believe. Don’t turn your back. Don’t look away. And don’t blink.
Much love always,