The letter below is part of an ongoing series featuring letters from authors to their teen selves. If you're a published author who'd like to participate in this series, we'd love to have you. Just click here and let us know you're interested. Today's guest is S. H. Cotugno, author of The Glass Scientists, out this week.
Dear S. H.,
When you are nineteen, your first-ever boyfriend will confess that he cheated on you, and you will not cry.
He seems a little distressed by this. He would prefer that you cry, that you shout and throw things at him, but you don’t feel like doing any of those things. Perhaps you feel nothing at all.
Somewhere inside you, a calculation has already taken place, a calculation that knows that, when you get upset, people sometimes get upset with you. Often, those people are smarter or more persuasive than you, and they convince you that you are wrong for feeling upset, and you end up apologizing to them, even if you don’t mean it. It’s much safer to not get upset in the first place.
And so you don’t. The calculating part of you shuts off the valves for sad and angry before you even get a chance to feel them. By the end of the night, you are comforting him and promising this little incident won’t change anything about your relationship. A couple weeks later, you head off to what you think will be your dream internship and proceed to have a three month long anxiety attack that nearly ends your career before it starts.
Don’t worry–your career is fine. You do eventually break up with your first-ever boyfriend, and you don’t harbor any hard feelings for him nowadays. Honestly, you had a fundamental mismatch in sex drive and probably should have broken up way earlier. But your inability to get upset that night will fester inside you for years.
You might have a tiny problem with people-pleasing. You want to be liked, and you don’t want to hurt the people you like, and you don’t want to end up alone. In the movie of the world, you want to be the sympathetic hero everyone makes Tumblr GIFsets about, but you fear you will be relegated to the role of the bitter ex, the uptight killjoy, the nag, a minor narrative obstacle so unpleasant and unremarkable no one bothers to make any Tumblr GIFsets about you at all.
You don’t want to end up like that, so you curate a version of yourself with all the messy parts removed. But the messy parts don’t go away, and sooner or later, they find an outlet. Mostly, they find it in books.
S. H. as a teen