Sisters Are Your Built-In Gal Pals.
My sister is my best friend. We hang out all the time, tell each other our deepest secrets, and live next door to each other (not even kidding). Throughout the years, we’ve changed and gone through oh-so-many phases, including separate angsty adolescent ones featuring all-black attire, but maintained a friendship at every stage.
That’s not to say we haven’t had explosive fights, because we certainly have. Some of them kept us from being on speaking terms for months—yes, months—at a time. Despite this, we’ve always managed to resolve our differences and bounce back.
While I know I am extremely lucky to be related to my best friend, I’ve found that my situation isn’t quite as common as I thought. Many of my girl friends aren’t particularly close with their own sisters. Some don’t really even stay in touch with them. I know that feeling as well.
Lisa, the aforementioned sister, is four years younger than me—but I have another sister, Kelly, who is seven years younger than me. I love Kelly dearly and wish we were closer, but our age difference and distance (she’s in Ohio, and Lisa and I are in California) make it tough at times. For as long as I can remember, she was “the baby” in the family. When I left for college, she was still a kid. But now, there are no excuses: we’re two grown adult women with a deeply built-in bond we’d be remiss not to explore.
The thing is, it takes actual intention and effort, especially when you’re 2,000 miles apart. Like cultivating sisterhood with friends, it takes work to build and retain friendships with sisters. Here are some first steps to approaching this:
1. ACCEPT YOUR SISTER AS THE PERSON SHE IS RIGHT NOW.
It’s easy to pigeonhole your sister a certain way. Like Kelly, maybe she was the baby in the family. You see her as someone who is younger and looks up to you. It’s easy to view your sister as the person you made her out to be in your mind growing up. Realize that, like anyone else, she has grown and changed over time, and is a multidimensional person with her own unique perspectives and outlooks on life. That will always be in flux, so try to accept her as she is.
Lisa and I have been through so many stages of life together, growing side by side. It may be incremental, but looking back, we notice the changes. For example, there was a time when I liked to go out and drink all the time. And then she had that phase. Now, we’re both more grounded. With Kelly, it almost feels like every time I see her, she’s a different person. I have to meet her where she’s at, whether that’s a bright-eyed college freshman or a young adult about to graduate and find her place in the world. She hates when I treat her like the “little sister” and ask her generic questions like, “How are classes going?” So I try to keep it real with her and treat her the way I’d treat any other friend.
2. GET TO KNOW HER BY HAVING REAL CONVERSATIONS.
This may seem obvious, but it’s helpful to be reminded to have deeper, meaningful conversations. It’s pretty standard that Lisa and I will ask each other about our days and how work is going. Sometimes we send joke texts and leave it at that. We make a point to check in on the heavier things, like each other’s mental health, relationship dynamics with friends and partners, relationships to other members of our family, and worries and struggles. And then we talk about it and support each other.
When I’m with Kelly, we try to do activities she enjoys as a catalyst for conversation. When we’re apart, I try to regularly text her. I start out with the blanket questions (“What fun things are you up to this break?”) but then attempt to really pick up on little details she mentions and ask her more in-depth questions. It’s tricky to always respond immediately because we exchange quite a few lengthy texts at a time, but I always loop back in. Sometimes I may even write a reminder to myself in my planner to dedicate time to writing her back. The most important point I convey is that I am always here for her to talk about anything, free of judgement. When she wants to open up, I’m there to listen.
3. RESOLVE YOUR DISAGREEMENTS ASAP.
Like I said, there was a period of time when Lisa and I would go months without speaking. These were always painful times. When we fought, it got ugly because it usually involved a lot of long-standing bottled up frustration. We’ve learned, over the years, to communicate better and more frequently instead of letting it all out at once. When we fight now, we both take accountability for our actions and words, and try to resolve our disagreements quickly.
Kelly and I have probably only ever argued or fought a handful of times throughout our lives. I hope to keep it that way. She’s a sibling I don’t get to see often, so I’d prefer for us to never part ways with hurt feelings on either of our ends. If we get into a disagreement in the future, I definitely see us talking about it and resolving it ASAP—or at least before we go our separate ways. I’ve learned the hard way that life is short and holding grudges against loved ones isn’t a productive way to spend it.
4. HANG OUT, HANG OUT, HANG OUT!
You won’t get closer if you don’t spend time together. Lisa and I wanted a consistent way to hang out and catch up. I ended up switching gyms so that I could be a part of hers and take workout classes with her. It’s a fun and consistent bonding activity with healthy benefits. We try to go out to movies, go hiking, go out to get drinks, and get dinner on special occasions. But we also ensure we spend time in more intimate settings, where we can just chill out and talk.
Kelly loves foreign horror flicks, bubble tea, reading, and online gaming. When I’m with her, I try to do activities she likes. I don’t always love horror movies but I suck it up and watch them with her. (Am I covering my eyes half the time? You bet.) I also try to get her out of her comfort zone by encouraging her to do things she normally wouldn’t do, like going downtown for a show or movie.
The bottom line is that it’s important to convey that you’ll always be there for your sister. This is especially necessary when it comes to emotional support. Accepting your sister, hearing her out, resolving tension, and having fun together are all key to maintaining a strong and healthy bond. And, as you do this, you’ll have a lifelong partner-in-crime to stay in with, go out with, and go through all of life’s transitions with.
Originally written for The Good Trade: CLICK HERE FOR THE STORY.