Learning friendship and self-love: A letter to thirteen-year-old me

US teen movie Eighth Grade is coming to Watershed – and thirteen-year-old Kayla’s (Elsie Fisher) awkward journey through adolescence is all too familiar for some.

Trying to navigate her way through superficial social situations, a rude crew of mean girls, her super embarrassing dad, first ever pool party – in a lime green swimsuit – low self-esteem and conversations about sex with boys, Kayla is really up against it. Thinking back on her own thirteen-year-old experiences, Sumaya reflects on past friendships and how they helped shape her.

Dearest thirteen-year-old Sumaya,

First of all, that side fringe was not the one – a very poor life choice to be frank. We will continue to make a handful of other questionable decisions over the next couple of years. Quite a few of them will be in desperation to fit in with and be accepted by our so-called pals. I can remember so vividly the extent to which those decisions drained us. Always in the corner of our mind, leeching on what little energy we had. For a good while, our decisions will be guided by the right questions directed at the wrong people. We’re going to spend a lot of unnecessary time contemplating how we could possibly assume all these different roles people have in mind for us.

Take a closer look at all the bricks that build you as a person and think about who you want to be.

However, my dude, it’ll all be in vain because let me tell you now, the criteria for everyone’s approval will be constantly changing. There’s always going to be someone unhappy with the choices you make, so do yourself a favour and ensure you’re the one who’s content with them. We might play a small part in other people’s stories but at the end of the day, we’re all on separate journeys with our own stories to tell. Take a closer look at all the bricks that build you as a person and think about who you want to be. I really wish someone had told us that choices should always feel natural when they’re authentic and made solely in the interest of happiness and love. There’ll be a lot of hurt to go through and a tiring amount of talk surrounding everyone’s ideals, but eventually you’ll come to the realisation that no mould of a person is better or worse, they can only be different. That’s okay, and we shouldn’t be blistering our skin raw in attempt to fit into anyone else’s but our own.

Eventually you’ll come to the realisation that no mould of a person is better or worse, they can only be different.

It may not seem attainable in the slightest right now, but one day there’ll come a time we start to feel and actually let ourselves believe that our company is genuinely wanted rather than tolerated. Right now, you should really consider who personifies your definition of a friend, because no-offence-but-kind-of-offence to the majority of your current gang, they aren’t very good ones. And yes, my use of ‘your’ is intentional. It’s not only perfectly okay, but immeasurably important for you to determine a standard of which you deserve and are willing to be treated. For too long that standard is set too low, not only for a number of individuals you allow to pollute your life, but yourself. Don’t get me wrong, it’ll take the longest time to feel your value. Here we are seven years later and we’re still struggling to get comfortable with the fact we might actually be worthy of some of that love we keep trying to give everyone else. My point is, how do you expect to grow within a toxic environment where you’re constantly cut down? Surround yourself with people who nurture your growth, who don’t feel the need to be growing at a faster rate, to meet a taller height than you. Nurture their growth and grow together.

But yeah, the answer to your question? No, true friendships definitely aren’t supposed to induce that much dread. But I can promise you that one day there will be people in your life who make all the effort to ease the anxieties you’re riddled with. I’m sorry for all the traitors and the haters. I’m sorry the ones you thought would stay, left. I’m sorry you were always the pity invite, if that at all. Popularity will seem like the biggest thing. You’ll get caught up on all of the relationships lacking from your life rather than ones that are undeniably there (despite what you tell yourself) – the ones that are truly important. You’ll wonder why you’re missing from all the pictures you see on Facebook of that party in someone’s garden, in that same pose, making that same facial expression, wearing that same outfit as all of those other kids who are obviously struggling to find themselves too.

Here we are seven years later and we’re still struggling to get comfortable with the fact we might actually be worthy of some of that love we keep trying to give everyone else.

You’ll have a lot of friends come and go. We haven’t yet managed to downscale how sentimental we are to something healthier, so it’s likely each one will hurt just as much as the next and you’ll probably dwell on it for quite some time. But like the good, the bad will pass too (lmao maybe one day we won’t be so cliché, soz my g). Allow yourself to appreciate and process what you’ve lost, but don’t lose yourself in it. People change and as much as it can be difficult to come to terms with, sometimes that causes a shift in compatibility. Don’t waste your time, energy and patience where it’s not reciprocated – let them go. Any relationship is all about mutuality. You simply can’t force a will or feeling if it isn’t there, so don’t walk in circles hoping to reach a different destination. As irreplaceable as each friend feels, the places they leave vacant will be filled with beautiful human beings with the purest souls. They’ll tell you you’re beautiful with or without painting over the spots, scars and dark circles your old ‘pals’ urged you to cover. They won’t make humour of your body once your back has turned. They won’t get drunk off of WKDs at sleepovers only you’re not invited to, involving you only through texts letting you know how fat, disgusting and ugly you were (as if we didn’t already know lol). Instead, with the help of actual adult alcohol, they’ll be brought to tears when expressing how much they love and value you. They’ll show up for you in all the ways, big you up when you’re feeling your smallest and try their best to help you unlearn what past ‘buddies’ taught you to hate most about yourself.

Don’t waste your time, energy and patience where it’s not reciprocated – let them go.

A lot of tears are wept on your way to becoming the relatively functional twenty-year-old we are today, but please know that it truly does get better. I know it can be a little irritating when people sugarcoat pain instead of dealing with it for what it is. Sometimes life’s just shitty and the last thing you can be in the mood for is a bit of wisdom. Having said that, my love, you really will learn from it all. You’ll learn to trust in your instincts, you’ll learn to find your voice – you’ll learn to be a better friend to others and yourself. So, have fun with all the mistakes I know you’re going to make. I hope we continue to make them.


With more love than I’ve ever been able to give you,

Sumaya

Eighth Grade is showing at Watershed from Friday 26 April. Under 24s get tickets for just a fiver. Check out the film here, and book your ticket now. 

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