When you were still in my belly, just after I found out that you were a girl, in the middle of my pregnant-lady-insomnia nights, I wrote you this letter. I’d take you to New York City for your thirteenth birthday, and I’d hand you this letter over ice cream sundaes at Serendipity. I began to worry, though, What if something happens to me? I wrote and printed the letter; I tucked it in a place where you’d be sure to find it. But, I thought, What about all of the daughters of mothers like mine, who, for some reason or another, can’t, don’t, or won’t tell them all the things that they need to know?
This is The Talk that I wished my mother had given to me. I want you to know so many things and I don’t know what order to put them in, so, I’ll begin in the middle. It’s totally okay to have sex with as many people as you want: boys and girls, strangers and friends. Never let people shame you about wanting to experience the fullness of your humanity. When you do feel guilt or shame about being human, because there are times that you will, that’s normal too. As much as you can, as often as you can, try to give yourself a break from self-criticism. If you don’t want to have sex with someone, that’s okay too; just firmly tell them, No! You will eventually find, however, that some men will try to convince you that they won’t know that you truly love them unless you have sex with them. Don’t buy what they are selling, for it it complete and utter bullshit. BUT, if you do fall for it (like I did), be kind and gentle to yourself when later you realize that you were duped. You aren’t the first, and you certainly won’t be the last.
Be careful. I can’t stress this enough. Get pap smears regularly; get STD tests regularly; get the HPV vaccine. Get on birth control and ask him to wear a condom. If he doesn’t put a condom on — which there will be a time when he doesn’t and you will let him get away with it — make sure that he pulls out. If, by mistake, you get pregnant (like I did), know that it’s okay to have an abortion. Of course, you don’t want that to be your only form of birth control, OF COURSE. But. Most women I know have had at least one. Just know having an abortion does come with emotional consequences. Some women feel regret immediately. Some women feel regret later, in their late-thirties, when they realize that their window is closing. I felt relief immediately; however, not a year goes by that I don’t say to myself, “If I had her, she’d be twelve now.” Also, if you have an abortion, talk about it. The secretive nature of abortions is what contributes to the stigmatized nature of abortions.
If you are gay, that’s fine. If you are transgender, that’s fine. If you are straight, that’s fine. Just be you, but if you want to try to be someone else for a while, that’s totally understandable too.
There are issues specific to promiscuous sex and dating. There were some boys I could have sex with and be friends with and not get obsessive about, and there were others who I’d fall in love with, boys who would never love me back. I’d get all loopy in the head. I’d wait, impatiently, for a phone call or text that would never come. Unfortunately, that’s part of it. Unrequited love is the most crushing feeling you will ever feel.
There is a separate set of issues you will discover in monogamous relationships. Avoid the following: wanting to look good for him, seeking approval from him, or relying on him to boost yourself confidence. You will make this mistake, probably more than once, and that’s okay. Don’t cheat or lie, to him or to yourself. If you do — admit it, apologize, journal and reflect about why you did it, and then begin the painful process of forgiving yourself. Remember that love is always painful and messy and hard, but that it’s always healing and messy and good too.
There will be times that you are so hurt, times when you didn’t feel it was possible to be in so much pain. Edith, when I was pregnant with you, your Dad left me to gamble and pursue a meth addiction and the heartbreak I felt was so deep and so painful that I swore off love forever. Or so I thought. Don’t be surprised to learn that, when and if you think you’ve successfully shut your heart off for good, the universe may have other plans. I worked every day, for many days in a row, to forgive your father. One day I finally concluded that love couldn’t be as painful as loneliness, and so I opened up my heart again. I found that the pain actually could go deeper, but that my chasmic threshold for sadness only meant that I get to feel love that much more.
Daughters, there will come a time when you feel alone in the universe, but I’m here to tell you that you are not. Because all of the mothers are right here behind you. We are propping you up; we are holding your hand; we are making sure that you are still breathing. We love you, we support you, we forgive you, we understand you, and it’s all going to be okay.
This letter started as a letter to you, dear Edith. Then became a letter to all of the daughters. It’s also a letter to all of the moms and all the not-moms. It’s really, I see now, probably, mostly a letter to me.
I love you more than the most,