Dear 20-year-old Me,

You're running around your college apartment in a Blue Man Group tank top and a pair of boxer shorts because the only place you could afford in Davis, California doesn't have air conditioning. You're eating Pop Tarts for lunch while an episode of ER runs in the background. Tivo is the greatest invention in the history of the world. Just so you know, that cheap, strawberry-scented kids' shampoo you always buy isn't doing your hair any favors; adults use conditioner. And before you stick your tongue out at me and pretend you haven't grown up yet, remember what you're wearing on the ring finger of your left hand. That's right, it's almost your 21st birthday, and you think it's high time you got hitched for life. In honor of our birthdays, I thought I'd reach back and give you some insight about the next ten years.

The English major you're in the process of earning right now is exactly the kind of useless-on-its-own, all-purpose foundational undergrad degree everyone says it is. Even Dad is right about that one. But allow me to alleviate some tension here. You become a writer! By thirty, you haven't written anything anyone has heard of, but you've published some essays and some poetry. You've even earned a bit of money and you have a master's degree, too. Don't be smug yet. It takes you a long time to do all this.

First, you will spend several years working in a job you know won't fulfill you or make you happy, years tainted by resentment and doubt. Both emotions are a complete waste of time. Look at your job as valuable in itself, worth the lessons it teaches. Then get out. I promise that even a few years in an insurance brokerage will be useful to you in the long term.

Britney Spears. Umbrellas. Baldness. I don't want to go into it. Basically, 2007 will be a rough year, but don't worry; she'll bounce back.


And when it comes to that rock on your hand, that guy you're so nuts about...

He's it. Honestly, you lucked out. You haven't spent enough time considering your options or dating other people to be sure of what you're so sure of. That's okay.

In the next ten years, you will find that you have not yet experienced real, lasting, unconditional, all-consuming love. Every time you think you've got a handle on it, that man will surprise you and up the love ante. This will happen over and over, and I suspect the pattern will continue until the day you die.

Right now, you know nothing about sex. Bad news: Virginity doesn't make you a better person and it won't make you a better wife. On the other hand, it's pretty cool that everything you will eventually know will be discovered with your husband. Good news: Sex is brilliant and mind-bending and body-shaking, and it gets better with time. Fear not your naiveté; you're ahead of the game simply by being in love with the guy and committed to a lifetime of teaching and learning each other.

By his side, you will come to understand what George Bailey meant when he said that the three most exciting sounds in the world are "Anchor chains, plane motors, and train whistles!" Get your passport in order, because you'll be visiting fourteen new countries together over the next ten years.

Don't bother trying to buy a house in 2008. I don't want to scare you, but there will be a "global economic crisis." On the bright side, you'll be glad you're not a homeowner when it comes time to chase a dream to Europe.

After a while, you will begin to be surprised at how many of the friends you met in kindergarten suddenly have kindergartners of their own. Photos of these little cherubs will make your heart stumble. Do not mistake this feeling for envy. Yes, children are beautiful, but they are also equal parts effort and gamble. Take your time. Marriage is worth spending a few years on with your husband alone.

Avoid getting bangs again. (Seriously, I don't know why you keep doing that.)

Otherwise, this is a decade you spend getting a lot of things right. And the stuff you screw up will seem small because you've got a good partner to brave it and fix it with you.

Don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Accept help when it's offered. Extend your own hand to others as often as possible. And stop wishing you could lose 10 pounds. You're perfect. Look in the mirror and believe that today.

Life is going to be so good. Love,

30-year-old Me

TOP PHOTO: 20-year-old Audrey is very happy after having a real Breakfast at Tiffany's in San Francisco, California; LOWER PHOTO: 30-year-old Audrey is very happy after having dinner at Olivia in Oslo, Norway.