Coming to the end of University, you can’t help but feel a little nostalgic. After all, the majority of soon-to-be-graduates will have been in full-time education for 16 consecutive years, an era which is now coming to a complete end.
Having reached this point in my own life, I’ve recently found myself fondly recalling the wonders and woes of first year and before, the days of being an angsty teen when everything was the worst it could possibly be and the best it was ever going to get, simultaneously.
And these are the things I wish I’d known then.
1. No boner is your responsibility
I wish that when my teenage boyfriend had shaken his head and tutted “Hate to waste a boner.” when I wasn’t really down for ‘stuff,’ that I hadn’t felt guilty and apologetic, running home to scrawl an emotional diary entry about how I’d let him down. I wish I’d believed when I was told that losing your virginity is more or less a futile and anticlimactic exercise. That there’s no holy moment of blossoming womanhood, and it kind of doesn’t really feel that much different than what you do to yourself, just less pleasurable and with more rogue body parts in inconvenient places. (And I wish I hadn’t made a scrapbook about it, which is a genuine thing I did, and currently lays in the bottom of my wardrobe at my parents house which I’m praying they never find…)
2. You don’t have to be the girl in every mosh pit
Because there will be that time at your first ever music festival, when you were so anxious about the toilet situation that you’d popped a few laxatives the night before you left in the hopes you’d be safe for the weekend, only to have had no such movement thus far, then lurch into a mosh pit on the first day and someone will elbow you in the stomach a little too hard and you will poo yourself a bit.
3. Not all boys are shit. And some girls are really shit
I wish I’d known that I didn’t have to be in a big group of girl friends who all had pre drinks together and went on ‘girl’s holidays’ and bitched about their boyfriends over brunch, to be happy. In fact, believing that so ardently would morph me into a very abstract and undesirable form of myself which would only ever end in tears. And I wish I’d known that boys aren’t just for breaking hearts and being really fucking into sports. That really, if I stopped trying to intentionally make myself an object to be sexualised, I’d find my best friends for life.
4. That actually, no-one really knows what the fuck they’re doing
As the relief would have been extraordinary. Because when you look around, everyone’s still just bumbling around making it up as they go along and kind of always will be, but now with responsibilities and mortgages and y’know, like… fountain pens and stuff.
5. Don’t kiss more than one boy per party when you’re drunk
It’s Hollie’s birthday, her parents are away and she lives in one of those big, sprawling houses on the outskirts of town which has a bar in the garden. It’s the height of summer, you’re single and someone is passing around a punchbowl of their ‘Signature Mix’. The faces of the crowd are unfamiliar, her friends from other schools and neighbours. You had a nice chat with a boy in the queue for the toilets earlier, and he was hot so you kissed him because you wanted to. But one or eight gulps of Signature Mix later, and you can’t really remember which one he actually was. Was it the boy in the blue polo shirt, or the boy in the blue t-shirt with the stag on it?
The night burns on and soon people are drunk enough not to care how they dance. The boy in the blue polo advances and starts dancing with his hands around your hips. He really is very attractive, so it must’ve been him. You kiss him because you want to. A sudden chant erupts from the group in the corner, and the words pierce the air, gaining momentum and volume with each incantation; ‘Katie’s a slut! Katie’s a slut!’
The boy in the blue t-shirt with the stag on it stands silent in the middle of that group, a face of disgust. You’re so upset you leave the party, and decide to walk the 6 miles back to your house – A group are headed that way anyway so you tag alone behind, shivering. A boy falls back and joins you. When you reach your house, he tries to kiss you, but you step away, thank him and head inside. As you leave, he still calls you a slut for not kissing him.
6. To bite my tongue on the internet when it all went sour
Because if you’d have just sat back, not retaliated and let them do what they want, they would have got bored with you and moved on quickly to some other menial entertainment. But you didn’t. You didn’t want to be seen as weak so you kicked up in response. You fought back because you believed you could outsmart them, oblivious to the fact that every word you typed added further fuel to an inferno which would only ever have been but embers.
7. The dynamics and social structure of the school, college, uni become instantly irrelevant when you leave
In six months, no-one’s going to remember the £250 dress you cried about when your parents wouldn’t buy you it for prom and you had to wear a £15 New Look dress instead. In 2 years, that time you screwed up on an exam so badly you got a U and sent it back for a re-mark only to get a LOWER mark, is going to be an anecdote at best. That time Debbie said she was never going to talk to you again, that time Hayley told the fit ski instructor on the school trip she was single even though she was dating Harry, that time when it all hurt so much and the stress was so unbearable you couldn’t even imagine it would ever get easier.
I wish then I could have seen how beautiful and innocent it was.
How perfect and wondrous it was to be so young and so full of frustration and contempt, yet still with a blossoming, tender heart so desperately seeking for the ground in which to anchor its roots.
And that’s why:
I’m glad I didn’t know that an erect penis is not your obligation, and losing your virginity is no big deal, because through that, I learnt that a female is not a gift preserved for the glory and enjoyment of man. Something going in did not take something away.
I’m glad I was that embarrassing girl trying to start mosh pits at school gigs, because from then on, the best times of my life would be to do with boys in bands. I’d grow to be comfortable, empowered even, being a girl in a band, my idolisation of our hometown teenage gigs translating into a powerful respect for those who learn to play music.
I’m glad I experienced just how gross people can be, regardless of gender, and learned there’s no such excuses as Mean Girls and Boys Will Be Boys. Just shitty people.
I’m glad I never knew that in fact everyone is clueless, because there is nothing more powerful than hope. Don’t get me wrong, it’s quite the reassurance now to know that still nobody really knows what the fuck they’re doing, but the idea that someday I would, was as sacred to me then as it is now.
I’m glad I was called a slut, which made me first question what it actually means. For girls, they’re called sluts when they do, sluts when they don’t, sluts from the way they dress, or even from the photos they take. When really, doesn’t it just boil down to trying to shame and control a liberal female?
I’m even glad that I didn’t bite my tongue. Despite it all, I’m glad I went to that party, that they stole my car keys and destroyed my car, that they all watched and laughed as I tried to clean the dog poo off my window and rotten eggs from my seats, when those photos went viral on facebook, and I tried to stand my ground, only to make things so much worse. I’m glad they told me that everyone hated me, to kill myself even, because if I hadn’t know how bad it could get, then I’d never know just how strong I could be, when I managed to pull myself back together again.
And most of all, I am so, so glad that I didn’t know that it didn’t matter.
Because despite how it may seem now, with the uncanny alteration of perspective provided by time and age, it really fucking did. Everything matters most when you are in the present of it happening. And what is existence but one perpetual present tense?
Time and age seems to make any advice to those younger than us, simply condescending. Yes, we went through all that too, but we’ve had enough experience after to alter our perspective of it. There’s a big difference between how things feel once they’ve happened, compared to when they’re actually happening. You won’t spare a thought for that girl who’s trying to get with your boyfriend in ten years time, but what does that matter when it hurts so much now?
We needed that chance to make the mistakes and feel the pain to grow.
It was exciting, challenging and exhausting, it was stressful, hilarious and brutal, but truly in it’s entirety it was beautiful. There is such beauty in even the harshest of negatives, and I wouldn’t have exchanged any of the darkest times for any of the lighter, because each have been the essential foundation of character from which I, as a strong adult, have grown. I firmly believe there is a lesson to be learned from every situation and every person you meet. There is purpose in even the smallest of occurrences, should you acknowledge them. And to build infallible strength and depth of character, we all need that blissful ignorance of youth, from which through trial and tribulation, we shall emerge, fully-formed and in bloom.
And that’s why there’s actually nothing I know now, that I wish I’d known when I was growing up.