Dear Kid,

This is a story that happened long, long before you were born.

This is a story about the you in the mirror and the you in other people's eyes.

...

When I was growing up, the mirror was not my friend.

My hair was not my friend.

My too-thick, never fashionable glasses were not my friend; my clothes were not my friend.

Overall, I didn't have all that many friends.

"It's okay," I told myself, "sis can be the pretty one, sis can be the creative one, sis can be the one with all the friends and all the boys. I'll be the smart one, the hard-working one."

But what happens when the pretty one turns out to be the smart one as well?

Suddenly, it wasn't as fun to be the hard-working one.

Years passed. I kept trying to find a niche. Maybe I'd be the funny one.
(Didn't work: few people got my jokes.)

Maybe I'd be the EcoNerd.
(Didn't work: this was the nineties, and eco-nerds were a dime a dozen.)

I finally found a home with my university's local geek hangout, and that's where I met Him.

...

I didn't know enough about how to make friends. I didn't know enough about relationships. Most of all, I didn't know enough about myself.

So before I knew it, he was introducing me as his girlfriend. Before I knew it, we were having fights and getting back together. He told me that I was the pretty one, and I didn't believe him. He said that I had a beautiful voice, should be a voice actor, should work in animation, and I didn't believe him.

You're still the ugly sister, said a voice deep inside. Don't let him see other girls, or he'll figure it out. Don't let him get away, because he's the only one who's ever noticed you, the only one who's ever thought that you were special.

If you let him go, you'll be alone forever.

Forever feels like a long time when you're 18, and in your first relationship.

...

This story doesn't have a happy ending.

In a sense, it doesn't have any ending at all. Just a series of paths that trail off into the distance. And they lived...

What I'm trying to say, kid, is this:

You may know yourself better than anyone else. Everyone else, after all, is not-you, standing on the outside, unable to look in to what's really going through your mind.

But sometimes, it takes an outsider to see the "you" that everyone else sees.

... Aw, screw it. What I really really want to say is this:

Don't undersell yourself.

And never "settle" for someone because you think you can't do any better. It's not fair to you, it's not fair to the other guy, it's DEFINITELY not fair to the One True Love who might be waiting around the corner, hoping that you'll look their way.

Brought to you by the Ambivalent Nostalgia Society, and a store that I avoided for four years because my ex worked there.