37 year old me checked in with my past selves, and these are the questions they asked me.
This is 28. Do we ever stop sleeping with people who treat us badly?
Oh babe, you are in the wasteland right now! It’s a nightmare, isn’t it? I hate to tell you this, but we don’t really learn how to say no to bad sex until we’re in our early 30s. It’s one of the terrible by-products of having lacked any comprehensive education about desire and intimacy. We were taught all the mechanics of reproduction and birth control (not that it always worked – hi 25 and 26!) but not a lot about how to have actual conversations about what we wanted from sex. Couple that with the general self loathing that women are socialised into from girlhood and it’s just really fucking hard to figure out how to tell a dude he sucks (and not in the right way).
I hear that. Why do so many of them have such filthy bedrooms?
I know! It’s so fucked up. It’s like, you can literally be afraid to touch anything in a guy’s room out of fear you might catch whatever seems to be growing out of the stain on his bare mattress, but you’ll still find yourself worrying if he’s going to call you disgusting for having an unwaxed bush. (Sidenote: he does.)
Listen, there’s more bad sex coming your way. I’m sorry about that. But there’s some good sex too! And the good sex starts becoming more frequent and the bad sex less so. Watch out for jackhammer guy though. You’ll date him for a bit. He’s not only bad in bed, he’s also mean to you. You’ll come home one night after clocking the biggest career high of your life so far and he’ll give you the silent treatment, because self professed male feminists just aren’t that fucking trustworthy after all. Godspeed, 28.
35 here. I’m about six months pregnant right now. I won’t lie, I’m in a bad way. Mental health has been scratchy at best. I’m counting things again. You know what that means. I’m not great at conversation right now, but I want to know if we make it. And is it worth it?
I’m so glad you’re here, 35. I know pregnancy hasn’t been easy for you. The anxiety has been crushing, and I know you have some very dark thoughts. Some days, it doesn’t feel like you’ll be able to avoid succumbing to them. I remember how scary that felt. The nights I woke up feeling like I couldn’t breathe because of the panic, having to pace the floor or stand on the balcony and gulp down the cold winter air. It’s good that you’re talking about it with people though. Perinatal anxiety affects more pregnancies than people realise, and it’s one of the biggest precursors to PND. We need to have better treatments available and more understanding, and way less shame about seeking help. Have you started listening to the music yet? There were three songs that became real prayers for me – ‘Hold On’, ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ and Tim Minchin’s ‘When I Grow Up’. I used to listen to them in the shower and cry, imagining what it would be like when the theoretical thing thrashing around inside of me became the actual human child I had wanted so badly. It didn’t cure it, but it did help. And yes, we do make it. Actually, by the end you’ll be arguing with doctors who want to induce you for being overdue. You want to give it a bit longer to happen spontaneously. In the end, you compromise. A good lesson for parenthood, probably.
But you asked me if it was worth it. Oh my god, yes. It is. Loving our son has been the most profound experience of my life. Every night, I go to sleep thinking my love for him couldn’t get any bigger than it already is. And every morning, I wake up and discover that, just like him, it’s grown a little bit more overnight. He isn’t the most important thing I’ve ever done, but he is the thing that has without a doubt brought me the most joy. We dance together and sing during the day, and I marvel at the wonder with which he looks at the world as it opens up before him. At night, we snuggle in our chair and read his bedtime stories. I kiss him goodnight and say, ‘See you in the morning!’ and he, clutching his dolly, replies, ‘Hoot! Hoot!’ I will do everything I can to preserve his gentleness, his kindness and his sensitivity.
In her piece, ‘The Last Days of Pregnancy: A Place of In-Between’, Jana Studelska writes, “To give birth, whether at home in a birth tub with candles and family or in a surgical suite with machines and a neonatal team, a woman must go to the place between this world and the next, to that thin membrane between here and there. To the place where life comes from, to the mystery, in order to reach over and bring forth the child that is hers.’
You are in pain right now, but you are surviving every day. Soon, you will find yourself in the in-between, the place where life comes from, the mystery. And you will reach forward as I did to bring forth the child that is yours. Yes, it is worth it. You cannot possibly know yet how very worth it this journey is. But you will. I cannot wait for you to meet him.
Hey. I’m 15, but I’ll be 16 in twelve weeks. This is kind of an embarrassing question, but will I ever get a boyfriend?
Hey girl. Almost 16, hey? Almost ready for your driver’s license!
Yep! I’m going to take the test on my birthday. I can’t wait!
Ha, yes I remember how desperate I was for that laminated card. Freedom! Hey, just a tip – study for the written component a bit harder. You’d hate to go in there all blitzed out on excitement and then fail and have to wait a whole week to do it again. I mean, I would probably cry a lot if that happened to me.
Nah, I’m sure I’ll be fine.
Dear 15-almost-16. Yes, I am pleased to report that you definitely do get a boyfriend one day. When you’re ready for one. In fact, you get lots of them. But you know what else?
You also get a girlfriend. Lots of them!
Wait, what? I don’t like girls like that!
I think we both know that’s not true. It’s okay. You’re going to have a lot of fun, and one day you won’t be scared at all to tell people. One day, you’ll actually be proud of who you are. Taste the rainbow, babe.
Hi 37. It’s 25. Is she going to die?
Hello darling 25. There’s no easy way to tell you this, but yes. She’s going to die. We try everything we can to stop the cancer, but it’s just wreaked too much destruction on her insides. I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.
One day not too long from now, your parents are going to invite you home for dinner and they’re going to tell you that she’s ready to go. They’re going to ask you to say goodbye and to go away and not come back until it’s done. You won’t understand it at the time. You’ll feel angry and empty and rejected. But eventually, you’ll see that this was what she needed to do to survive the hardest decision of her life. It’s okay to cry about it. I still do.
And the love, it doesn’t disappear even though the body does. Years after you huddle in a small funeral home to say goodbye to your mother, the love that you shared is still every bit as alive as it ever was. She was the first person you knew. She brought YOU from the mystery. Her scent and touch will be forever seared into your memory. She taught you everything you need to make the right decisions about your life. Her song is still in your heart. You won’t be able to hear it for a long time at first, because nothing can pierce the somber bells of grief. But soon, even they learn how to blend perfectly with the music your mother left behind.
It isn’t fair. But, as she would say, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.
Hello. It’s 13 here. Does it get better?
Hi 13. It’s really nice to see you. I mean that. Not just see you, but see you see you. You don’t know how to look at the big picture of you yet. You look in the mirror and count what you think are flaws, and then you write them down in the diary that contains endless pages of drawings of what you think of as your grotesque, hateful body. I know you spend every day fiercely monitoring the traffic that passes in and out of your mouth. No food allowed in. No words allowed out. You obsessively count everything – calories, cracks in the pavement, the number of times you wash your hands every day, the patterns you feel compelled to follow as a talisman against danger. There’s almost a quarter of a century between us but I can still see you so clearly. Not for the first time, I find myself wondering why everyone else seems oblivious to it.
It does get better. I know you can’t see how it will right now, but I promise you it does. Adolescence sometimes feels like a battleground with no clear exit strategy. People who seem like your allies can become enemies without you realising. You will struggle to understand what happened, and you’ll assume it has something to do with your insufficiencies as a girl, a friend, a human. And one day, you will find yourself on my side of this conversation and you will tell yourself the same things I’m telling you now.
You are not insufficient. You are exactly who you need to be. You are beautiful, you are brave and you are entitled to love and kindness just as all girls are. You are going to have a wonderful life, and it will take you to emotional realms some people are never lucky enough to experience. You will fall in love. You’ll have your heart broken. You’ll break a heart. You’ll say goodbye to someone forever. You’ll say hello to someone who will transform your life in the most profound and perfect of ways. You’ll travel the world. You’ll get to meet girls just like you, and you’ll tell them that yes, it does get better.
You can’t see the big picture of you now, but I see you. I know every single thing there is to know about you, and I love you. One day, you will love you too. I promise you that.
CLEMENTINE FORD is the author of FIGHT LIKE A GIRL (Oneworld Publications) out now in the US. She is s a writer, broadcaster and troll agitator based in Melbourne, Australia. Regularly described as a ‘flamethrower’, she is part of the new wave of feminists unapologetically igniting the conversation around gender equality in the southern hemisphere. Clementine is a columnist for the Sydney Morning Herald, and has written about feminism and equality for The Guardian, Cosmopolitan, The Telegraph, The Sunday Mail, The Big Issue and ABC’s The Drum. Her TEDx talk on rape culture (‘Your Vagina is Not a Car’) has received almost 1,000,000 views. FIGHT LIKE A GIRL is her first book.