If you had the chance, what would you tell your younger self as you set off into the dating world, palms sweaty and nerves trembling with inexperience?
The women of YouTube are taking that opportunity, as part of a campaign in honor of the upcoming International Women's Day. YouTube's #DearMe campaign is prompting young women, including YouTube stars like Michelle Phan, Grace Helbig and Hannah Hart, to dole out their best advice to their younger selves.
Much like the #ItGetsBetter campaign that spread the message of LGBT acceptance, #DearMe provides some perspective on what real love and companionship should involve. Each year, 1.5 million high school students experience dating violence, while stats show 78% of 17-year-old girls are unhappy with their bodies, due in part to misconceptions about what love feels like or what makes someone truly lovable.
Often it's only later that we start to see what love, dating and self-acceptance can really feel like. What we learn by then: We shouldn't waste time being worried about who might or might not be into us, and instead embrace the people who already love us. Whatever gender they are, if they're family or friends or someone we've only just met, it's being valued that's most important.
Don't spend time on those who don't respect you.
As YouTuber Laci Green reminds us, we can spend months of our high school careers obsessing over girls and boys who don't necessarily meet our actual needs:
"Also, don't spend any more time on those boys who aren't treating you right, OK? The ones who push you around and don't make time and treat other people poorly because you 'cause they think it's cool. They're not cool. Don't be afraid to walk out and find someone better. I know it's scary to be alone and you worry that nobody else will want you or love you, but when the time is right, there will be others."
Face the fear of taking risks in love.
Grace Helbig's #DearMe video focuses on leaning into the fear of meeting new people:
"Things like putting yourself out there or asking someone out on a date, just the simplicity of having a conversation with a stranger can be really terrifying, but if you follow your fear and say 'yes' to a situation or opportunity or person, sometimes you will find yourself in a really great place, with really great people, with really great opportunities, that you could have never seen for yourself before."
It takes a long time to understand your sexuality — and that's fine.
Hannah Hart wisely points out that some of the biggest struggles of early romance might not even be relevant to us 10 years down the line. Hart didn't come out until she was in college, but not knowing your sexual identity takes time:
"I know you're staying up late worrying about getting a date or falling in love or the man you're going to marry. Well, guess what? You're gay. This will all become abundantly clear in college."
Being single is perfectly acceptable.
Bunny Meyers reminds us that we're still viable, attractive and lovable people even if we don't have relationships quite figured out:
"Just love yourself and be yourself and appreciate yourself. If there's nobody around you who loves or appreciates you, that is OK. Because you will move on from the place you are now."
Real love doesn't always fit the clichés, so change your expectations.
Shruti Arjunanand reminds us that our expectations of love won't match up with our realities. In order to protect ourselves, we need to be discerning about who we let in:
"And of course, you are going to dream about your Prince Charming 24/7 and for that perfect happy ending. But life is not a Disney movie, it's not going to happen like that. Even if you're attracted toward somebody or you are making a good friend, you need to ... judge them a little bit so that you know they are true and they are not taking advantage of you."
Open yourself up to the idea of love.
Gigi Chao perfectly summarizes why we look for love: It's how we truly experience life. She says:
"That's how life will be experienced: when you open your heart and allow people to love you and love them back. Don't worry about all those painful and not-so-lovely relationships. They will pass. Soon it will all be good because you're doing a good job."
Loving yourself is the most important part.
Rebecca Black points out that love doesn't have to be defined purely in the romantic sense. Love for family, friends and even ourselves are just as significant:
"Don't be afraid to love. Even though you can never seem to find time for boys, channel your love into what you know. Love your family, love your passions and most importantly, love yourself."
The irony of the retrospective advice? Watching the #DearMe videos or flipping through the trending tweets, we're reminded how present some of these insecurities and worries still are for us. The context might change — from home room to work happy hours, from suburban basements to studio apartments — but the concerns with love and identity still linger.