Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

Topic of the Day: What Advice Would You Give Your 18-Year-old Self (In Only Three Words)?

Last week my family took a vacation to Chicago, where I lived for seven years prior to moving to NYC to close the gap in my long distance relationship with Drew. I typically go back twice a year for long weekend visits to see my close friends who still live there (none of whom have kids, so it’s always a nice break from the parenting world for me). Of course, with the pandemic, this time it was a longer spread between visits – a year and a half – and I stayed for eight whole days to make up for some lost time (and to really give myself a mental palate cleanser after… well, everything). Drew and the kids were with me for the first half of the visit, and then they went back home and I moved from our airbnb into my friends’ place for the remainder of the visit. It was so much fun, and I came back feeling refreshed (which lasted, oh, about 12 hours until the anxiety of… well, everything, settled back in, but that’s a topic for another day). Today I want to talk about a topic a friend in Chicago brought up on our lunch date: What advice would you give your 18-year-old self, using only three words?

My friend didn’t hesitate. Her advice would be: “Don’t leave (the name of her ex-partner).” They’ve been broken up for over 15 years, so I was a little surprised to hear that. She asked me what my advice to my 18-year-old self would be and I couldn’t really think of anything good. I like where I am in life right now and I’d be afraid of retroactively doing anything that might change my trajectory, even if it might mean avoiding some pain. “Maybe ‘wear more sunscreen’?” I said. That’s boring though. I posed the question to a couple other friends I met on the beach later and one immediately said, “Have more sex!” and I was like, “Ok, yeah, that’s mine, too!” (But only if it wouldn’t change the trajectory of my life, and maybe it would have…). I barely had any sex outside my serious relationships and, you know, maybe I missed out on some fun there.

I think another good bit of advice to my younger self could even be summed up in two words instead of three and that would be: “Travel more.” I thought I couldn’t afford it when I was younger and poorer, but the truth is it would’ve been much easier to cut back on other things while I was childfree and carefree than finding the time, budget, and patience to travel with the young kids I’ve had for the past ten years. The window where my relative financial freedom AND my freedom from parenting responsibilities was really short – a few years – and I regret that I didn’t make the travel thing work on a smaller budget in my 20s. (The good news is that it’s MUCH easier to travel with my kids now that they’re older and more independent and mobile, so once it feels safe to do so, I am looking forward to seeing more of the country and world with them!).

Anyway. What advice would you give your own 18-year-old self in three words?

41 comments… add one
  • Hannah July 21, 2021, 7:03 am

    “Value yourself more”

    …which would cover everything from looking after my physical health better (maybe my back problems wouldn’t be so bad now if I had), to not dating an endless string of unhappy men that I mistakenly thought I should try and make happy.

    Reply Link
  • Allornone July 21, 2021, 8:45 am

    Sleep with Joseph.

    Reply Link
  • Phoebe July 21, 2021, 8:55 am

    Invest in Microsoft.

    Seriously, many things occurred to me, but what Wendy said about changing my current trajectory made me hear those tire-skidding noises in my head. I wouldn’t want anything to interfere with my husband and kids.

    Reply Link
  • ktfran July 21, 2021, 9:59 am

    As boring as “wear sunscreen everyday” is, I think it’s excellent advice I wish I could tell my younger self. Especially for those of us who grew up when a lot of your readers did (late 70s, 80s, 90s). I can’t believe I would occasionally frequent a tanning bed. GROSS!!

    Reply Link
    • Copa July 21, 2021, 10:55 am

      Ha. Same. I was so irresponsible in the sun and there was maybe a four-month period when I was 19 where I went to the tanning bed regularly. OMG.

      Reply Link
      • MaterialsGirl July 21, 2021, 11:11 am


        DO NOT TAN

      • Copa July 21, 2021, 11:22 am

        I had to switch dermatologists a couple years ago and when the new one was doing the intake the nurse asked questions like, “Have you ever been to a tanning bed? How many times?” and “Have you ever had a sunburn? How many times?” Like, listen. I do not know how to quantify either of these and can we just write down on my chart that I was an idiot? I did the tanning thing regularly only for one semester in college. In the summers I’d use tanning lotions that were SPF 4 or, if I was being “careful,” 15. I baked and burned and thought I looked more attractive for it.

      • Kate July 21, 2021, 11:57 am

        So obviously I grew up in the 80s and no one was careful with sunscreen. I didn’t go to tanning beds, but I “laid out” and didn’t reapply. Anyway, the sun damage started to show in my late 30s, and I will say it hasn’t seemed to get WORSE since then as I’ve diligently used Vitamin C serum, retinol, and daily sunscreen. Everyone reading this should be using those!

    • ktfran July 21, 2021, 12:42 pm

      I wasn’t a habitual tanning bed person. I was a habitual lay out in the sun person. I’d wear sunscreen until I got a good base tan then it was sporadic after that. Nearly all of my friends were similar, some even applying tanning oil.

      I use all of those serums, etc. now.

      Reply Link
  • Bittergaymark July 21, 2021, 10:13 am

    “Become A Hitman.”

    Nevermind the pay… Job satisfaction alone must be incredibly, incredibly high.

    Reply Link
  • MaterialsGirl July 21, 2021, 10:24 am

    Say “no” more

    Reply Link
  • ron July 21, 2021, 10:30 am

    Be less serious

    Reply Link
  • Sachiko Roxanne July 21, 2021, 10:32 am

    “tell them no”

    Reply Link
  • Copa July 21, 2021, 10:51 am

    I was thinking about this a lot recently as my birthday approached. Not really a milestone bday, but the first in my 30s to freak me out a bit. And I thought back to a decade ago, when I was in my mid-20s and feeling lost as a recent graduate, recently single from my first LTR, trying to find my professional footing. I wanted to go back and hug my younger self and reassure her. I think I’d say the same to my 18-year-old self. “You’ll be ok.”

    Reply Link
    • MaterialsGirl July 21, 2021, 11:11 am

      @copa, i just hit 36 and i’m crying inside about it

      Reply Link
  • mrmidtwenties July 21, 2021, 12:13 pm

    Join a trade.
    The financial hit of university then graduating into a horrible 2012 job market, and trying to repay all that school debt while working dead-end jobs all could have been avoided. I carved out a nice career for myself in my late twenties and have finally experienced financial freedom the past few years, but I would have been totally happy doing a trade and would be much further ahead. Even into the future, there’s such a deficit in tradespeople- there’s longterm job security that I don’t know is there for many other industries.

    Reply Link
  • Lucidity July 21, 2021, 12:47 pm

    Learn to code.

    Don’t buy pricey, trendy clothes – invest in basic, timeless pieces. Don’t buy skintight either, get a slightly looser fit, it’ll look better and you can keep wearing it all year even as your body naturally fluctuates in size/shape.

    Think before you buy something. Do you really need it? Do your research and buy smart – the highest quality version of the thing but at the best possible price. No impulse buying!

    Ask yourself what YOU want, not what the guy wants.

    Don’t project what you want onto a guy, pay attention to his words and actions and not your fantasy of him/the relationship.

    Do what you want when it comes to dating and sex, not what you think you’re supposed to do.

    Reply Link
    • Lucidity July 21, 2021, 4:09 pm

      Whoops – somehow missed the only 3 words part. Facepalm.

      Reply Link
  • Maggie B July 21, 2021, 4:37 pm

    I share many others’ butterfly effect worries–the dumbest things I’ve done still led me, sometimes in rather direct and obvious ways, to where I am today. And even aside from that, some of the painful experiences I put myself through are still part of the richness of my life, and my past would be undesirably blander without them.

    But if I were giving advice to someone in my exact position at age 18, I’d need 6 words:
    “Don’t marry X… (I actually didn’t)
    Don’t f*** Y” (I did)”

    Reply Link
  • Peggy July 21, 2021, 5:04 pm

    “You do you”. In this context, I would not worry so much about what others might think and be more “myself”.

    Reply Link
  • Ange July 21, 2021, 6:03 pm

    Get that cadetship


    Go study journalism

    Which seems weird now as it’s something of a dying trade but it could have set me up a LOT better than studying classical history lol.

    Reply Link
    • Kate July 21, 2021, 6:18 pm

      My husband majored in Journalism. He’s not a journalist but it does actually help him in his job… he runs a website related to his industry and also his company’s social media accounts, and he’s a big personality in his sport (which is part of his job). He also used to have an Internet radio show and he still does a regular podcast. That all helps him be a strong salesperson because he’s out there all the time.

      At the very least it helps in business communication.

      But whatever, history, it’s fine, I was an English major.

      Reply Link
      • Ange July 22, 2021, 4:59 pm

        That’s what I was thinking, you can use journalism a lot more than history. I didn’t want to be an academic/do post grad or be a teacher so I effectively studied a degree where I didn’t even want the few jobs you could get with it, it was dumb. I always loved writing and I was good at it, even when I was just the 16 year old work experience kid I was getting articles published in the paper. I really should have stuck with it.

      • ktfran July 22, 2021, 6:54 pm

        A lot of journalism majors end up in my field, proposal writing. It sounds kind of boring, but I’m also involved in strategy and I try to make my proposals read like story. I interview and pull themes out of people. Ask hard questions. Etc.

        I’m also into page layout. So between the writing/editing and layout, it can be fun and challenging.

    • Copa July 23, 2021, 9:45 am

      One of my college majors was English. I was kind aimless in college — I picked majors I liked without knowing how I’d turn them into a career, but everything worked out okay! I work with former journalists at my current job and have at basically every job I’ve had. While there are fewer good traditional journalism/media jobs out there, there are some good alternative paths out there that use the same skills.

      One of my HS friends majored in medieval history and then went on to get a masters degree that was, like, studying rare manuscripts. Super obscure. Even in her mid-sized midwestern city, she’s always found relevant gainful employment, like museum roles that tap into her ability to research and write well.

      Reply Link
      • Ange July 23, 2021, 7:51 pm

        I ended up working in sport which I do love but it was definitely not supported by my degree. Nowadays I kind of wish I had a degree in that but can’t be bothered going back uni.

  • Part-time Lurker July 22, 2021, 7:53 am

    Save more money.

    Reply Link
  • Helen July 22, 2021, 9:38 am

    Stop drinking now. If only I could go back in time

    Reply Link
  • Bekahtravels July 22, 2021, 9:57 am

    “Leave the church.”

    I’m 36 and haven’t attended in years, but I’m still deconstructing the shit they put me through. But I meant my husband (not a Christian), when I was a missionary. So I wouldn’t want to miss out meeting him!

    Maybe, “your voice matters” would be better.

    Reply Link
  • Another Jen July 22, 2021, 10:17 am

    Have more fun!

    Everything always felt so fraught and important when I was younger. I wish I could go back in time and tell my teenaged self that everything doesn’t have to be such a big goddamned deal. More sex, less guilt. More spontaneity, less overthinking. More joy, less worry.

    Reply Link
  • Kate July 22, 2021, 1:31 pm

    “Don’t get tattoo.”

    When I was 19, I got a small but ugly/trashy tattoo on my left boob, on a total whim with my boyfriend. Then in my 30s I spent soooo much time and money doing 8 laser sessions to get rid of it, and you can still sort of see it. Plus the laser was way more painful than I remember the needle being, and it burned and scabbed my skin every time.

    Unpopular opinion, I think most people’s tattoos look meh at best, but this one was truly bad.

    Reply Link
    • Prognosti-gator July 22, 2021, 2:10 pm

      I’m not going to tell people what to do with their own body, but the reason I never got tattoos is that I never wanted something enough that I thought I’d be happy with it forever. Sort of like picking one shirt you’re going to wear forever!

      I think back on things I thought were SOOOO important and integral to me from my teens or my 20’s and realize I no longer care about those things (or at least not to the same extent) and glad I never etched them on myself.

      Reply Link
  • Happygeniusheroes July 22, 2021, 3:50 pm

    Study abroad

    It’s my biggest and only regret. I seriously undervalued the ability to spend months in another country with minimal responsibilities. I had no way to know it at the time, but I could/should have made it work.

    Reply Link
  • Kate July 22, 2021, 4:46 pm

    Everything is fixable.

    Reply Link
  • Anonymous July 23, 2021, 2:52 am

    Take the chance!

    Reply Link
  • Yajaira July 23, 2021, 6:49 pm

    Love more often

    Reply Link
  • Kiki July 23, 2021, 11:36 pm

    Yes I can!

    Reply Link
  • Liz July 26, 2021, 9:15 am

    Wear the Croptop.

    I spent so much time thinking “if only my stomach was a little flatter” or “once i lose those three pounds” or “not for my body type” to not wear things i wanted to wear. Or I would constantly compare myself to others thinking unless I had THE BEST body ever, I didn’t “deserve” to wear something. Now im my 30s I am like, EFF THAT and rock whatever I want to. I wish I could tell my earlier self to have that confidence.

    Reply Link
    • Kate July 26, 2021, 9:47 am

      I like the videos I see on YouTube where girls who are mid-size or plus size recreate outfits that they thought they could only wear if they were “skinny.” Or outfits other girls have pinned under “To wear when I’m skinny.” They always look super cute and prove you do NOT have to be a size zero to wear whatever tf you want.

      Reply Link
  • Carrotstick21 July 26, 2021, 1:30 pm

    Freeze your eggs.
    or maybe, “don’t marry W” which would prevent the first from being necessary.

    Reply Link
  • Jolie Moore August 4, 2021, 8:19 am

    Get therapy now.

    Abuse from your parents isn’t love. Abuse from your husband isn’t love. You were programmed to think abuse was love. Stop thinking that.

    Reply Link

Leave a Comment