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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Zunter

Advice For The 20-Year-Old Woman I Used To Be

I often wonder what advice I would give myself if I could go back in time and communicate with my 20-something self. After some thought, I came up with a few pieces of advice I’d give myself after experiencing some significant lessons in life, love, and relationships.

Those older men you dated weren’t necessarily better

When I was 20 I started a pattern of dating much older men. At the time, of course, it was flattering to get the attention of a man who had more experience and who perhaps had more interesting stories to talk about than a guy my own age.

I felt grown up. They liked me because I was intelligent beyond my years. Right??

Not necessarily.

I just didn’t feel as though I related to guys my own age when I was 20. However, looking back, the older men I chose weren’t exactly classy intellectual types either. Nope. In fact, most of them were just charming players who had other young girlfriends on the side just like me.

Those older guys didn’t respect me more or less than someone my own age would have. In fact, those older men should have known better than to pursue someone who wasn’t even at the legal drinking age yet.

More importantly, I should have respected myself more.

That said, I did learn some lessons from those older men. I learned that very few of the older men who wanted to spend time with me actually had any intention of being in a long-term relationship. Many of them were incapable of holding down a real relationship with a mature woman their own age. That’s why they preyed on younger girls.

I learned the hard way that if you don’t respect yourself and your body, no one else will either.

I was so naive and passionate about love when I was 20 — but in reality — none of the relationships I thought I wanted with much older men would have worked out long-term.

The 20-year-old I used to be thought she was in a romance novel and probably did read way too many romance novels in her teens.

Final Word: Older men may be better at smooth-talking, but their age doesn’t necessarily make them more trustworthy or dependable. Respect yourself more.

Beauty does fade & relationships will end — so focus on cultivating your talents

When you’re a teenage girl in your early 20s, you’re often focused on your looks to a great extent. But many of us don’t even realize how beautiful we really are until we look back at pictures twenty years later.

When I was 20, I was intensely wrapped up in the idea of being beautiful on the outside and loved by someone I desired. Those two things always seemed to go together in my mind.

Until we get older, we often don’t see our true inner beauty. Many of us become sucked into the mindset that we must appear desirable and attractive to a potential partner at all times in order to be accepted and loved. I’ll admit that I fell into that trap.

I quit university after my first year to travel. I was and I think I still am a gifted painter. I also love to write (spoiler alert!). I brushed all of that aside for many years and became consumed with traveling, partying, friends, and romantic relationships. I know now that I should have worked harder on my talents so that I could have had something to fall back on in my later years.

I worked all through my 20’s. I was a waitress and bartender — I sometimes worked retail. I made money, but I didn’t go back to school or hone my talents for the future.

I had no concept of the future. I was 20. I was a romantic. I wanted to be in love. I was living in a fantasy.

Looking back, I could have attended a community college for art or writing which would have helped me out later on in life when I decided to dive into writing.

Final Word: Focus on evolving your talents and skills rather than pouring all your energy into your ego and/or relationships.

One day you might be raising your own children — so remember your mistakes

I never thought I would have kids — but I did.

I want to be honest with my kids about the mistakes and questionable choices I’ve made in my life. I don’t want to pretend to be perfect and I want my kids to know that I’m a human being with flaws. I certainly won’t encourage them to do many of the things I did, but I’ll let them know I understand their urge to do so.

A lot of the lessons I’ll teach my kids will involve admitting I did all the things parents warn their children never to do. I’m not going to lie about that part.

If I could tell my younger self ahead of time, I’d mention being prepared to relive her mistakes in order to teach her future children. Maybe I’d ask my younger self if she’d really want her child to be doing that ill-advised thing she’s about to do. Would she do it anyway? Probably.

The most vital message I’d tell my younger 20-year-old self is to remember empathy, compassion, and understanding when she becomes a parent.

I’d tell my 20-something self to be firm as a parent, but also to remember. Remember the excitement, passion, and newness of everything. Remember that the young always think they’re invincible. Remember that she once thought she was invincible.

Experimentation is a rite of passage for young people. You can’t control the mistakes your children make but you can pass down the wisdom you gained from your own adventurous, perhaps misguided experiences. And besides that — just be there for them when they mess up.

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