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Dear younger me

Do not get married! Think it through…love is not always enough.

Would a love-struck, soon-to-be-married 35-year-old take this advice?

What if it was a message from the future, from her 43-year-old self?

That’s the question Chris Johnson had in mind when he created the WisdomArc Time Machine. The contraption goes against everything Doc Brown taught us in “Back to the Future.” The goal: write a message giving advice to your younger self (and disrupting the space-time continuum).

Johnson, an artist-in-residence at San Francisco’s Exploratorium, can’t explain the mildly absurd idea without laughing.

“In a way it’s like a reservoir of wisdom that gets sent from people in their own futures to their own pasts,” he tells TRBQ host Dean Olsher.

Participants can write about any topic, but love is among the most common.

You will fall in love with a beautiful girl in college so no need to waste time with others.

Don’t settle. The right guy is out there. And become a nurse. Youll love it.

what were you thinking never get married at 18 there is so much out there to experience first

Johnson calls it “engaged art.” And he says when it comes to relationships, many of the responses have a heaviness to them.

Chris Johnson

WisdomArc creator Chris Johnson talks with TRBQ host Dean Olsher

“There’s a lot of regret for lost love,” he says. “A lot of people look back at their lives and realize that they had an opportunity for what could have been true love and if they had been more self-aware or been more compassionate, maybe things would have worked out differently.”

In a shameless imitation of the WisdomArc, The Really Big Questions recruited Esquire Magazine writer and editor A.J. Jacobs to pose the same question to his Facebook friends. This time, the advice was limited exclusively to love.

Much of what Jacobs got was pain, regret and warning.

Bad boys are a waste of heart.

Love yourself, and take responsibility for your own happiness, because you can’t share what you don’t have.

Those “Red Flags” are trying to tell you to STOP.

Jacobs says the responses surprised him, but not because of the sadness.

“I knew there would be a lot of die-hard romantics out there,” he says in an email. “But I was surprised how many realists there were. Not cynics. There’s a difference, I think. These were life-loving realists who realized that a long-term steady love has many advantages over the head-over-heels variety.”

Julie Alef is the one who warned her younger self about bad boys. She says that knowledge is “hard fought and not for free.”

Alef is 51 now, with plenty of stories about actors, musicians and convicted felons to caution her grandchildren with. But she won’t use them.

She says that would be just as futile as her own warning to the younger Julie Alef.

“They aren’t going be listening anyway,” Alef says. “You can only hope that your note to your younger self is something that you can share and be heard. But realistically, we didn’t hear it.”

That kind of fatalism seems to be the general sentiment. Marissa Kalman is now 20 years married, but before that she was in a toxic on-again, off-again relationship. She wishes she could spare her teenagers the same heartache.

“I think I had this notion that if only I could tell them how to avoid all the pitfalls of adolescence and young adulthood and heartbreak, that I could spare them all of these misfortunes,” she says. “But I think they’re not ready to hear them yet.”

Not so different, Kalman admits, from herself.

“If I’d gone back and told my younger self this news at an earlier date, I’m not entirely sure that it would have really changed the course of my life,” she says. “I think I had to be ready to hear it.”

Thirty-four-year-old Stephanie Spissu agrees about the futility thing. Unlike Kalman and Alef, though, she isn’t too concerned about it.

“The more I thought about it what I really came up with in the end was that I wouldn’t tell myself anything,” Spissu says.

That’s despite the fact that past-Spissu is a prime candidate to receive advice from future-Spissu. She is currently in a serious relationship with a guy she didn’t notice in college. So she couldn’t be faulted for writing a note similar to what this 22-year-old sent her teenage self through the WisdomArc:

you found love and its awesome. date billy

Spissu holds to a Doc Brown, “Back to the Future” philosophy, though. She believes having her eyes opened, so to speak, to her significant other earlier in life may have ruined it.

“It probably wouldn’t have been right,” she says. “We wouldn’t have been able to commit, or our lives would have been going in different directions … and what I have found now with him may not have ever happened.”

Her solution: No advice.

“If I had tried to tell myself anything it would have been wasted on ears too young and too inexperienced to pay attention to it at all.”

The other person in Spissu’s camp, surprisingly, is the one who started all of this.

WisdomArc Creator Chris Johnson says he sees two common reactions to the experiment.

“One is that they can think of crucial moments in their lives when they wish that they had been wiser, that they had taken a different path,” he says. “Other people realize that even if you could do that, it might interrupt the arc of your life that got you to be where you are now.”

Johnson takes the latter approach.

“I’m 65 and just got married, so I’m obviously in the midst of a deep love relationship right now,” he says. “But I guess the other, earlier relationships were preparation for the life I’m living now—and I’m very grateful.”

Encouraging words.

Still, some of the advice is haunting.

things are going to go down fast, so do everything you can. Love before it’s too late!

And some, for a 16-year-old, would simply be nice to know.

you will find love

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  1. Dear younger, firmer, and more free spirited 16 year old me….
    First of all, put down that Three Musketeer Bar, Diet Coke, and pack of Salem Lights. Wait, the Diet coke is the least evil of these three. Hang onto the diet coke.
    Second of all, your prettier than you think. Of course you are going to get asked out. Don’t settle. You are going to break hearts. Your heart is going to be broken. Many times. But let me tell you this… from your 45 year old less firm, less free spirited self, its worth it. Your experiences, no matter how good or bad they are going to be, will shape you into the person you are today. Your not that bad if I do say so myself.
    Third of all, your kids will put you through the wringer, but they will be fine. Your a better mother than you thought you could ever be. Keep on loving them as much as you can and praying for them. Start early and do it often. Support them, but keep them safe.
    Thirdly, you will always be in love with your husband. The man you met when you thought you would be alone forever. You may not always like him, but you will be as in love with him each day as you were the day you both said “I do.” Even more. He’s your best friend. He holds your hand everyday. He loves you more than you could ever imagine. And he is kind.
    And lastly, something you knew was always there, but you didn’t realize it until you were in your 20’s and many things had already happened. Both good and bad. Trust in someone other than yourself. Trust God. He knows you better than you do. Your road will be easier if you follow him. You can’t do it all. Don’t try. Know your limits and recognize them in an intelligent way. Slow down.
    Oh…and never, EVER…drink tequila. Take my word for it. Once is too much. : )
    ~Cheryl

  2. Pay attention to how the people in your life affect your wellbeing, and how you impact the other person. If the exchange is not positive, it is time to reconsider the relationship. Some relationships can be improved with communication and change, so don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. If you don’t ask for what you need, no one else will do it for you because they can’t read your mind. Be willing to accept that not all relationships are worth their investment in time or pain.

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