To the dearest

Your Secret Admirer

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To middle-school me who swore that she would never ever cut her hair short again after that awful, cracked-eggshell cut she got for eighth grade:

Yeah, sorry about that.

The good news is that your latest haircut doesn’t make you look like a broken eggshell. You love the way it swoops around your head, the lightness it brings to your neck and most of all, the confidence it crowns you with.

I know that confidence is something you’ve always had a difficult relationship with, which in turn perpetually, frustratingly affects your relationship with everything else in the world — namely, with other people.

You used to describe your social anxiety as comparable to the tense moment right before a tsunami, when the ocean forebodingly draws back from the shore. There’s something even more terrifying about this moment before disaster than the actual storm itself, when the usual waves are swept away from the coast, leaving behind nothing but an eerie tranquility. It’s a sort of peacefulness that is all too much, so heavy that you can feel it closing in around your neck, so heavy that you know it’s a trap.

So, you run. You’re not some idiot who dazedly waits for the punch to land. You’re smart enough to get out of the way first. You anxiously wait for the other person to finish saying whatever they needed to say to you, fumble out a response and an excuse, and then finally make your grand escape. Back to safety.

The problem with running away is that it doesn’t actually stop the storm. It just puts more distance in between you and it. And more distance between you and other people.

Even your interactions with Mom, the person you love most in this world, were often clouded by this frustrating sensation of a building storm. No matter how important the topic at hand was, no matter how gentle her words were, you could feel those waves starting to gather. They were on the rise, welling up in your eyes as tears.

“Can we talk about this some other time?” you would blubber out. “I can’t do this right now.”

Things went on like that for a while, you evading all stormy conversations with practiced ease. Leaving everything important left unsaid.

Then, you discovered that you could write letters instead. You found a way to avoid the tsunami-plagued shore entirely, to rid yourself of that mind-scattering fear so that you could properly focus on getting your thoughts across to others in just the way you wanted to. It wasn’t quite the same as direct conversation, but it was nonetheless better than the complete lack of communication you had with people before.

And the more letters you wrote, the more appreciative you became of the words themselves. It was amazing how a pen and a bit of paper had been able to untangle your mess of a mind, smoothly separating all the steadier parts away from the fear and anxiety. Letters and writing were no longer just a solution to your communication crisis now. Writing was your way to brave the entire, terrifying world, and to express yourself to it.

Now you dream of being an author, of having your words reach a worldwide audience. I know it seems rather uncharacteristic of you — how willing you are now to share yourself, from the ridiculously superstitious to the hopeless romantic to the other most mortifying parts, with anyone you can.

But I think what will be most of all surprising is that nearly all of your present, precious human connections in college don’t actually rely on letters or any other form of writing. You’re going to scream Taylor Swift songs at the top of your lungs at karaoke with a guy who went to a rival high school, who’s honestly way cooler than a lot of people at your old school. You’re going to  spend most of your dinners making the cringiest dirty jokes with the funniest group of girls you’ve ever met, all of you laughing so hard that you nearly get kicked out of the dining hall. You’re going to get pretty good at coming up with quick comebacks against a jock who seems like he would’ve bullied you in high school, but is currently a fantastic friend.

And even when you feel like that tsunami is catching up to you again, you’re not going to run anymore. No letters needed — you’re going to go straight up to this group of people and say:

“Hey, I need someone to talk to right now.”

Writing is still undeniably important in your life (you’re also working on a novel now!). But you’ll learn that the best way to foster human connection is to just put yourself out there, among other humans.

It’s still a little terrifying sometimes, I’ll admit. But it’s time to stand your ground through that nerve-wracking calm, against the storm itself, because you’ll be all the stronger for it. Sometimes crashing is a good thing, because someone almost always helps you get back up. 

So, dearest one, no more hiding behind your hair, alright?

Geraldine Ang writes the Wednesday column on human connection. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.