Dear me at 15:
I’m not sure what it is or why it happens, but sometime between the ages of 11 and 15 there is a paradigm shift in what constitutes Cool. You trade in glasses for contacts. You graduate from American Girl magazine to Seventeen. You stop telling secrets in the swimming pool at slumber parties and start making out with boys in the backseat of his car.
You grow up.
Eleven-year-old you was sort of portly. She was still under the influence of mom and it was 1995, after all, so she had the requisite face-engulfing tortoiseshell glasses and tangled mass of waist-long hair. But despite her awkwardness, girls were drawn to be her friend and she even once got to wear the most popular boy in 5th grade’s football jersey on game day. Eleven-year-old you knew what made her special; she was smart, and being smart made her confident.
When you’re 11 and you know that the cheetah is the fastest land mammal and there are 206 bones in the human body and you want to grow up to be a Supreme Court Justice and you raise your hand to answer questions in class, you have to own it. You learn that if you show one second of vulnerability, you are labeled the nerd and are committed to a life of social ruin. But 11-year-old you learned a trick called “Being smarter than you means I can figure out how to be cooler than you, too.”
I was so proud of 11-year-old you. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for you now.
Stories like this usually start with a boy, and yours is certainly no exception. I guess it’s no fault of your own that you were entranced by the ethnically ambiguous grocery store bag boy who drove his parents’ Camry. What’s not to love? But 11-year-old you, confident you, would’ve scoffed at his kind request to cease and desist all communication with other boys. You said okay. Eleven-year-old you would’ve thrown him the stink eye when he told you your tank top revealed too much. You changed your shirt. And I feel certain that 11-year-old you would’ve flipped him the bird when he asked you to help him with his homework. You obliged, and he played video games while you “helped.”
I want to say that I’m most disappointed that you surrendered 3 years of being a silly teenage girl. Or maybe that you followed a boy to college. But I’m mostly disappointed that you relinquished, at least for the time, what made you you. What had made you truly Cool. What had given you confidence and what gave you your voice.
Every girl has a story about a scumbag, but not every girl has a story in which she finds herself again. Count yourself among the lucky ones.
Holly is a doctoral student in communication. She currently makes better decisions about men and is a proud nerd. You can follow her adventures as she tries to banish her life of boring at http://herlifelessordinary.blogspot.com