Family & Friends · Marriage & Life Partners

Letters to My Younger Self: Be Open to Love in All Its Expressions

3584131250_6c97dc84e3_zImage from Flickr via Tyler Burrus


Editor’s Note: Today we are debuting a new series at Women’s Voices for Change—Letters to My Younger Self. We discovered, through many conversations with our mothers and daughters, with our girlfriends, spouses, and partners, that our younger selves would be much more content, much more at peace with our lives, and much wiser, had we known then what we know now. We asked our Contributors for their candor, courage, and honesty in this assignment—to embark on a time-travel of sorts, a dialogue with their 20-, 30-, and 40-year-old selves. As we expected, they weren’t always comfortable as they conjured up the good and the messy about their lives. Self-study is always hard work. For this series, you’ll witness women sharing with their younger selves—and, by extension, our younger readers—the conclusions they’ve come to about life, love, family, career, and friendship. We start with 53-year-old Suzanne Russell, a constant and loyal friend to the work of Women’s Voices. She looks back at her 30-year-old self, a wife and a new mother, and charges her to begin to appreciate the man who will become her life partner for twenty years and counting.


Lesson Learned: Be Open to Love in All Its Various Expressions

Dear Thirty-Year-Old Suzanne,

You have been blessed with a big heart and a great capacity to love. Love comes easily to you and you have been extremely lucky in love. I wish you could appreciate this more.

I wish that you could see that your husband, Casper, loves you and that his love for you is “good enough.” Stop questioning it and finding fault with him. You are making yourself unhappy. People who know Casper have said that he idolizes you. Several psychologists you have spoken to together have also confirmed that Casper loves you deeply. He is proud to have you as his partner and he looks to you for guidance and inspiration.

Different people express their love in different ways. It doesn’t make any sense to compare the ways in which you are loved. You were lucky enough to experience an intensely creative and passionate love when you were in your 20s. Now you are married to a man who is your best friend. He is not an intense person, but he is reliable, loyal, and loving in his own way. Casper’s committed love is just as good as your earlier boyfriend’s more creative love.

Maybe certain types of love are more suitable to certain stages in life. Maybe intense passion is not sustainable. Maybe creative playfulness turns into competition or self-limitation. Maybe comfortable cooperation, respect, and shared values are the most important qualities for married life. I don’t know for sure. What I do know is that you and Casper will have a special relationship, and that is very valuable. Take good care of it.

You have recently had a baby and you are already pregnant with your next child. You and Casper are thrilled with Alexander and amazed by the miracle of his new life. Alexander is also part of Casper’s love for you. And the love you feel for your baby is also love for Casper. You guys are a great team. You will succeed in making a wonderful, warm family and raising two very fine children.

You will also include many refugees who have made their way to Denmark in your happy family circle. Casper will support you in your work with refugees and even take on a father role for several young men from Afghanistan. You will inspire Casper to create several corporate social responsibility projects. And, after years of lecturing, you will make Casper understand what structural discrimination is. He will even start a program that mentors female lawyers with the goal of getting more women partners into law firms in Denmark.

Despite all his growth and demonstrations of love and commitment, you continued to subconsciously compare Casper with your earlier boyfriend. Even after many years of marriage, you will still blame Casper for not being more passionate, more sensual, and more attentive. You will miss the closeness that you felt to the boy whom you called your soulmate. He died some years ago in an airplane accident, and you will forget the difficulties you had together.

Luckily, you do get wiser.

Twenty years from now, you will be struck by the realization that you have been unfair to Casper. You will be at a museum with your daughter, Isabel, listening to Patti Smith talk about her book Just Kids, and you will have an epiphany. As Patti Smith is describing her extraordinary relationship with the artist Robert Mapplethorpe, it will occur to you that you have experienced a very similar, amazingly creative “young love.” Before that moment, you hadn’t appreciated exactly how unusual such an intense relationship is. You and your passionate boyfriend never became famous artists like Patti and Robert, but you feel oddly humbled and grateful to have known him.

At the same time, you will be ashamed to realize that, for years, you have been treating Casper as if he were missing something, somehow lacking. You have secretly expected Casper to live up to the same level of creativity and passion that your young love had. You will see that you were lucky to have gotten the opportunity to experience such special first love. You will understand that this boy was your crazy young Mapplethorpe. And suddenly you will recognize Casper and give him full credit for being your loving husband and excellent partner of more than twenty years.

After Robert Mapplethorpe died, Patti Smith eventually married musician Fred Smith and had two children. They lived in a suburb of Detroit. I am sure that Patti never made Fred feel bad for not being Robert. She is way too cool for that. On that day at the museum, you will decide to stop punishing Casper for not being your young boyfriend, and love him for being the wonderful mature man he is.

Love will come in many forms; be open to love in all its various expressions. Cherish the love you get from others. But remember, the love you give is just as important as the love you receive.

Keep feeling and spreading the love.

Suzanne, 53 years old


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  • Diane Dettmann January 24, 2015 at 12:14 pm

    Thank you Suzanne for the timely reflections. I remarried in 2007, six years after my husband died suddenly at the age of 54. Deep inside, I miss the relationship I had with my first husband and don’t always see the wonderful qualities in my new life. Your insights helped me step back, take a deeper look and appreciate the wonderful husband I have.

  • SISSY January 23, 2015 at 12:27 pm