Twenty Two: Letters to a Young Woman Searching for Meaning — by Allison Trowbridge

I am not twenty-two. I haven’t been twenty-two in almost nine years. But something made me pick this book up, and I am so glad I did. The author wrote it as a book of guidance for her youngest self, for other young women, and she succeeded.

This book is like a balm. (While at the same time being very clearly written by a white woman.)

Written gently, beautifully, it explores hopes and dreams and delights and fears. It does so with touching curiosity and encouragement, and reading it feels like watching a flower slowly bloom.

I can think of many young women in my life that would likely benefit from reading it.

One of my favorite mini-essays in this book began with the following:

We are living in one of the most remarkable periods in history for young women. When I look at you, dear girl, I see limitless opportunity. Never have young women been given greater access to the world—education to seize, information to gain, platforms to create, blogs to post, social networks to join, online stores to shop!

And ended thus:

A woman named Courtney E. Martin once wrote, “We are the daughters of feminists who said ‘You can be anything’ and we heard ‘You have to be everything.’”2
Don’t be everything, Ash. Be you.
Don’t do everything. Do you.
There’s only one you, and the world needs you desperately.

You don’t have to be 22 for that to resonate.

The author’s educational trajectory was very similar to mine – small liberal arts college, study what you love, with vague thoughts of law school. It was nice to see someone else toying with the same thoughts I myself had had in the past.

This part of the book stood out to me, when the author talks about seeing.

When you meet new people throughout your time on campus, don’t judge their shoes, their faces, their social standings. When you start to glance at their outfits, try instead to get a glimpse of their hearts. Picture them as the children they once were. Imagine their hopes and their fears and their dreams, and you’ll be so full of love for them you won’t remember to worry about yourself.

As someone who detests meeting new people and finds the experience very stressful – and then incredibly rewarding after I’ve done it – I loved this. I just adored this thought.

Another line I liked: We cannot stop the physicality of time, but we can expand the space within it.

She also made me ponder something about myself – when I am introduced to new people, be they professional contacts or potential new friends or men I might consider dating,  why do I always rely on resume-type accomplishments instead of obituary remembrances, the victories and values I’d prefer to have spoken over me after my death? What if I switched that around?

About love, she wrote in part:

I used to think relationships were only about finding the right person . . . until a mentor told me relationships are 50 percent about the right person and 50 percent about the right timing. We can meet a partner who seems like the right fit at the wrong stage in our lives, at a time when we’re not ready for a lifelong commitment. I’ve known fellows whom I could have dated, but when I was single, they were not. And vice versa. So friends we stayed. Right person? Who knows! But always wrong time. It wasn’t meant to be.

I also used to think I had no control over that timing. But we do, Ash, to some degree. If you are caught up in dating the wrong person, in an on-again-off-again merry-go-round of heartache, how do you ever expect to meet the right one?

Her story about her parents – about making a List of the qualities you wanted in your partner, and knowing what really mattered of those qualities – is one of the sweetest little things in this book.

I smiled when she wrote to herself, “He is not the last great guy you will meet, I swear it.” Many young women would benefit from being told that – more importantly, from believing that.

And this:

You are worth it. You are worth fighting for, worth sacrificing for, worth the commitment, worth the wait. You, my darling girl, are worthy of adoration every single day, in every single way. You are worthy of a confetti-falling kind of love. And if you journey through a love that takes you separate ways, I believe you can endure the break.

I believe your resilient heart will be all the more beautiful for it.

And, remember, in the words of Amy March, the youngest of the Little Women, “You don’t need scores of suitors! You only need one. If he’s the right one.”

She reminds us of the writings of Frankl, that we need a task, a community, and to see purpose.

It’s not all happiness and butterflies. The author works in anti-trafficking, and she talks about her experiences abroad. Some of it honestly did sound like poverty porn and white savior bullshit – building homes in Tijuana? While admitting that her construction skills were non-existent? Really?? – but I commend her for her anti-trafficking work which really did seem like it was very much based in empowering and assisting existing local structures and organizations who worked with the girls.

Also, she quoted Marina Keegan, which was pretty awesome.

All of that being said, the voice/tone can seem kinda cloying, a little too sweet, and it’s very Jesus-y, so if that’s upsetting to you for whatever reason (eg, people who have had bad experiences with religion and have a difficult time dealing with others’ sincere alignment with it, which happens), just be aware of it.

I enjoyed reading this book, and found many useful insights in it.

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