33 Women Shared The Biggest Surprises They Faced Growing Up, And It's Intensely Emotional

Reddit user u/BeerisAwesome01 posed the question, "What was the biggest surprise from growing up as a little girl to a grown woman?" on the subreddit r/AskWomen. The thread filled with many truly emotional revelations from various women. Here's what they shared:

1."There is no prince, fairytale, or rom-com ending. Life isn’t that simple. Marriages end. People do terrible things. Young women need to value themselves first, make choices for themselves, not over-value a partner, and live their lives separate and distinct from others’ opinions, desires, or needs of them. This world will easily steal your life if you let it."


2."That being picked on and left out as a kid does not mean you won’t have oodles of lovely, amazing friends as an adult."


Women hugging and walking down the street
Westend61 / Getty Images/Westend61

3."That I still feel exactly the same most of the time. I thought adults knew what they were doing."


"I feel like this is the biggest let-down of being an adult. I feel like I know so little and am always wondering where the grown-ups are. Becoming a mom has also highlighted this, as I am somehow fully responsible for these tiny people, but don't feel fully able to care for myself."


4."How incredibly painful periods can get, and how poorly our health is researched and regarded. There's no fix except for hormonal control, which doesn’t even work well. I never thought that as I arrived in my mid-20s, I'd be just 'sucking it up' when I'm on the verge of either passing out, vomiting, or calling an ambulance. I damn near broke my hand punching the floor because I panicked from the amount of pain I was in, and the doctor basically told me that there's nothing to be done."


A woman holding a pad and touching her abdomen
Boy_anupong / Getty Images

5."You can't escape sexism. I thought that if I had a career and a supportive partner, I could hide from it. But, I've come to learn that sexism is alive and well in my relationship with the dynamics around housework. I've also been a software engineer for 10 years now and have also come to learn sexism is never going to 100% go away at work. I'm expected to just pretend it's not there."


6."How much I would miss having guys as friends. I was a big tomboy, and getting older, it was really hard to see things change from us having fun doing 'bro stuff' to them wanting to do me. Gross. One of my best friends is a dude, but even then, boundaries are important to keep in mind. On the flip side, it's been nice changing from a pick-me as a teen to later adoring women and not seeing them as a challenge to my sense of self anymore."


A woman holding her hand up to a man
Stock-eye / Getty Images

7."People will literally go out of their way to hurt you. There are people with bad intentions. People will use you and abuse you. It even comes from people you love or feel closest to."


8."That my parents were once the age I am today. I have a lot more compassion for what they went through/the decisions they made."


A couple leaning on one another
Halfpoint Images / Getty Images

9."Having my 'womanhood' highlighted by so many people, including strangers. I grew up in a conservative, Christian atmosphere, and I was essentially sexualized from a young age. I was constantly told that I needed to remain pure, not have sex, and be as womanly as possible before I even knew what a vagina was. The church is so obsessed with sex, especially a woman's virginity, that when I started to develop, it was almost like I was being chastised for how I was born. It didn't help that I grew to be well-endowed in the chest. Everything I wore was sexualized because I could not hide my breast size. It was even worse when I got my period and was told by people at the church that I was a woman now. No, I was a scared 11-year-old girl who just wanted to run around the neighborhood barefoot, climb trees, and ride my bike to the store, NOT have to worry about making grown men sin because my developing body was a temptation to them."


10."I thought marriage was everything I ever wanted — like it was a destination for my entire life. I was brought up very southern Baptist. My parents gave me a hope chest (a large cedar chest) when I was 12. I began putting away items in it that I would use when I had my own home with my husband. I got married when I was 22 to my high school sweetheart. Every day before we married, my heart wanted to be free. I did not want to marry him, but I didn’t want to hurt him. I literally trapped myself in a marriage by thinking, 'I don’t believe in divorce, so if I marry him, I’ll never leave and then I can’t hurt him.' I still left out of misery a few years later. I was stunned to realize that I could survive life without being married. Not only that, but the fact that the men I have been with all expected me to be their maid, cook, and caretaker was quite off-putting. If I wanted another child, I’d have one."


A wooden chest
Grace Cary / Getty Images

11."That the world has lied to me. You can't ever have it all. There always has to be compromises and sacrifices. The people in charge don't have the answers either."


12."I always thought as a little girl that women and little kids were protected in society. Now that I’m a woman, I realize we are the most vulnerable, sadly."


"I feel that. As a child, I had no idea what lurked in the minds of grown men. They went from being my protectors to eyeing me up and down like a piece of candy. I miss the innocence of being a child. It's sad to me how sex is shoved in your face and that you're just expected to like it. Blossoming into a beautiful young lady felt like I joined the meat market. My beauty and body far outweighed my brains and brawn. Definitely a wake-up call."


A woman looking upset
Tinnakorn Jorruang / Getty Images/iStockphoto

13."The mental load. I never understood why my mom was so stressed out over the littlest things, but now I get it."


14."Time becomes guarded treasure. When you were young, you let it pass you freely. Now, it slips away, and it steals from you."


An hour glass
Jordan Lye / Getty Images

15."Growing up, I just assumed I would have kids, but in my 30s, I realized I didn't want them at all. I really didn't expect that."


"I assumed I would get married and have kids by my 30s because that’s just what you do, right? Here I am in my 30s with no kids, absolutely loving it, wanting to never have any at all. Little me would be so shocked."


"Me, too. I dreamed about a beautiful wedding, a beautiful partner, and beautiful children. When I hit puberty, I knew I would never have children, and at that point, I realized how expensive weddings are."


16."That sex is a very major and essential part of romance for most people. Since I never wanted to have sex with my crushes (no matter how much I liked them), and a sexless romance was actually my ideal relationship (rather than torture for me), I'm asexual instead of the heterosexual that I thought I was. As a result, my prior plans of finding a partner the way most people do (general dating apps, friends, meetups, hobbies, etc.) was basically thrown out the window. To find a partner as an asexual someday, I will have to embark on the dating equivalent of a mystical treasure hunt with little guidance and in faraway, little-known islands (aka ace-dedicated dating sites/apps, which are not as well-developed and as prominent as general ones like Hinge, Bumble, OkCupid, Tinder, etc.)."


Two hands holding each other
Meng Yiren / Getty Images

17."How much the world hates women. How this world is made for men. How women give, give, give, and give, and we are expected to ask for nothing in return. And we always have to be grateful. Things are changing, of course, but..."


18."The way I get treated by adult men is very different from how my dad treats me. I was always listened to, my opinions and thoughts were always valued, I was never talked down to. I didn’t know that there was a world in which being a woman would count against my intellect, opinions, and feelings."


A father and daughter hanging out in the kitchen
Oliver Rossi / Getty Images

19."That it often seems like life is not for our own pleasure and happiness. Not even the bodies we're born with. We're expected to be overjoyed and act nothing less for having our autonomy effectively policed from the moment we come out of the womb. That, as a woman, you're expected to mature before you're anywhere near the concept. All while 70-year-old man-babies are allowed to exist."


20."For me, the most surprising thing has been how effortless and lovely it is to make friends with other women without competitive vibes. I was raised in an environment where women were essentially pitted against each other like prized racehorses, instead of actually being seen and heard. As I’ve healed from that experience in the last few years, it's been very enlightening, and I’ve been able to make the kinds of friendships that I never could've imagined as a child."


Friends taking a selfie
Solstock / Getty Images

21."How many girls play video games just like me. In my neighborhood, I was the weird kid who played video games. It's nice knowing that I'm not alone."


"It’s even more isolating because us girls don’t turn our mics on in game chat because we get objectified in two seconds."


22."I get cat-called less as a grown woman than I did as a child."


A woman yelling at a man
Realpeoplegroup / Getty Images

23."That the disappointments don’t stop, I just learned to cope better. I saw a picture of myself in first grade when I was at my mom’s house last night, and I could see the disappointment in my eyes. Life was so hard growing up. I expected the world to be soft and kind, but it never was. Now I’m 37 and just learned to keep it moving."


24."Accepting the sad reality that our 'value' in the eyes of society (especially in this generation where you're made to feel like the Crypt-Keeper once you hit 25) decreases as we age. It's funny, I spent so much time wanting to 'grow up' when I was younger, and now that I'm in my mid-20s, I'm absolutely terrified of getting older. I still feel like a teenager at heart most days, until I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and realize, 'Oh shit, I'm only getting older from here on out.'"


A woman holding an image of an older woman in front of half of her face
Dimitri Otis / Getty Images

25."How scary the world really is. I used to get so, so annoyed when people would try and tell me I couldn’t do something unless one of my brothers came with me (like walking to the gas station) because, in my mind, I was the oldest, so I should be able to go alone. I’m 18 now, so I’m still getting there, but I have realized how absolutely terrifying this world is as a woman."


26."I think the biggest surprise is I didn’t have to get married and have children. It’s a fairytale lifestyle. I did fall for it and came to find out the fairytale was actually a nightmare because I also wanted a career. So, now I've found myself, a full-time working mother, living within a government who does not care at all about allowing us to bond with our children during the most important developmental stages of their lives. FMLA gives us three months, which isn’t nearly enough time, and daycare costs are astronomically expensive. I was basically working to pay daycare."

"There's been a lot of surprising and disappointing factors along the way. I really feel that, as a woman in general, we take on the bulk of childbearing and rearing responsibilities and don’t get any recognition for it. The least the government could do is help us bond with our children for a longer period, possibly even allow half-day workdays to get more acclimated to the transition from 'new mother' to 'new working mother.'

I don’t regret having my children, I just regret not being taught this information in school or doing research to find out how much of my life I actually have control over prior to committing to having children. Now, I’ve made sure to let my daughter know the best ways to navigate her life and to make sure she has all the information needed to make a great decision for her future."


A woman holding a baby
X-reflexnaja / Getty Images/iStockphoto

27."How sexualized I was as a young girl and never realized it. And now that I’m older, my looks from my youth are more 'normal,' or I should say 'acceptable.' Heaven forbid a woman ages…"


28."The majority of all relationships are conditional, and people HATE when you set boundaries. Learning how to set them is always hard work. Trying to protect yourself feels impossible most of the time. I thought I would be a kick-ass person by now who people would fear to abuse. The body remembers!"


Two hands touching each other
Maria Korneeva / Getty Images

29."That men who’ve known me since I was 8 would be sexually attracted to me in my teens, up until my 20s, and hit on me. One even said he’d wait until I’m 18, and then I'd have no choice but to give him a chance."


30."How stigmatized and isolated you are as a childless or child-free woman. Once you hit a certain age, society expects it of you. Having children is a huge emotional and physical responsibility. Pregnancy and childbirth are only two parts of it. You have to nurture and raise that life into a person. Your job isn’t over as soon as they turn 18. They will always need you. When you don’t have kids and people around you do, you realize the circles you are left out of and how many people just stop talking to you."


A woman holding a baby as her kids stand behind her
Natalia Lebedinskaia / Getty Images

31."My mom was right about most things. A few examples: My hips and pooch aren’t 'problem areas.' I did meet the right man who treats me well, and I kissed my prince while the others were just frogs. My dad is not Batman; he’s the Joker. I did have to work 10x harder than the boys I grew up with to end up in the same position. Relying on a man for money was a massive mistake. Family is chosen, not blood."


32."That I have an expiration date. I never thought much about it as a teen and just thought my mom had a lot of trauma that led to self-loathing. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I grasped society’s hatred of aging women was that strong. If I am 'old' (which really can just mean middle-aged), fat, have stretch marks from pregnancy (even though much of my value in society according to the American Republican Party is to bear the next generation), it means that I'm irrelevant. In some ways, aging feels like an accomplishment. I’ve earned those wrinkles and saggy areas. It also takes the pressure off of trying to feel cute at a bar. But, it also stings. Why does my age and achievements that society requires of me also mean that I’m undeserving of being/feeling attractive unless I invest significant time and money (Ozempic, Botox, expensive workouts)?"


An older woman seeing her younger self in the mirror
Ralf Nau / Getty Images

33.And: "How much the world is about controlling young girls and hating grown women for not being controllable like they used to be when they were younger. This patriarchy shit sucks."


I felt this in my bones. Women, what's something that really surprised you about growing up? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Note: Submissions have been edited for length and/or clarity.