Sister Envy: Why I'm Jealous of Women With Sisters

Growing up as an only child, there was absolutely nothing I wanted more than that warm, cozy relationship my friends with sisters seemed to have. It wasn't until I was older that I realized it was mainly a fantasy.

Jul 27, 2013 at 1:30pm | Leave a comment

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Looking psyched, as usual.

Growing up as a shy, adopted only child in Washington, DC, I got pretty good at distracting myself -- finding solo ways to speed the slow passage of time. But that didn't mean I liked it. That didn't mean I wasn't, at times, crazy lonely. What I wholeheartedly believed would cure me? A sister. One or more, younger or older -- didn't matter. I just NEEDED A SISTER, dammit.

When my friends with siblings talked about all the cool stuff they did with their families (big family Christmases, pizza nights, stealing each others' Halloween-candy haulings), I seethed with envy. Even the not-as-fun things, like pushing each other down the stairs and launching spiteful, spontaneous snowball attacks, seemed peachy to me. Their domestic lives just sounded so perfect -- like living inside a warm, protective little bubble of blood ties that nothing could invade.

There was nothing wrong with my own home life, of course; I had two parents who loved me very much, who had actually chosen me. Still, being adopted (and knowing nothing, then, about the birth parents who'd given me up), I felt the lack of familial blood ties really strongly. Not looking like anyone in my family, not sharing any unique family mannerisms or affects or behaviors, sometimes made me feel like an alien in my own life.

Though I would've been OK with anything, sibling-wise, I reserved my spikiest stabs of envy for the friends who were graced with sisters. Boys were fine; I liked to look at them, and flirt with them, and sometimes even talk to them. But in general, dudes and I didn't completely click; not in that deep, meaningful way that I connected with other girls.

So, to me, my friends with sisters had EVERYTHING. Even the ones who weren't super-close -- there was just something about that bond that seemed to perfectly capture my idea of unconditional love.

One of my best friends growing up had the ultimate sister relationship; theirs set the bar for all others. They were only about a year apart, and they were individually pretty in their own ways, but they shared the same skin tone, the same eyes. They were best friends who could complete each others' sentences. They would cuddle in bed, and make tea for each other without prompt, and hold each others' hair back when they puked. Lost in my jealous, tunnel-visioned ideas about what Everyone Else Had But Me, all sister relationships looked like theirs: BFFs and family members, mushed into one.

Of course, knee-deep in my personal pity party, I conveniently ignored anything that contradicted my rosy sisterhood ideal. Like my friend "Jenna," whose sister, "Anne," had gone off to college and essentially disappeared. Jenna had no clue what Anne was doing, or where she was living, or what had become of her. HOW COULD JENNA LIVE WITH HERSELF?! I wondered. I was floored by her apathy when it came to what OBVIOUSLY must have been her most sacred relationship.

A high school friend, "Carrie," had an intense love/hate relationship with her sister, "Bonnie," who was a couple years younger. Sometimes Bonnie would storm into Carrie's room when we were hanging out -- listening to depressing mix tapes and stuffing our faces with candy, usually -- and demand a cigarette. I'd watch in horror as Carrie would shove poor Bonnie out of the room and unceremoniously slam the door in her face. HOW COULD SHE TREAT HER SISTER LIKE THAT?! My sis-obsessed inner critic felt wounded by Carrie's cruel mistreatment of her sibling. What a horror show!

I never once considered that my friends with sisters struggled, too -- that they were embroiled in their own family heartaches. And I never once considered that my fantasy ideal of a Perfect Sisterly Relationship was just that: a fantasy. Something to pull me out of my own head and distract me from my perfectly imperfect life.  It wasn't until I was in my twenties that I even remotely entertained the possibility that my friends with sisters could have been jealous of ME, with my tiny, neat little 3-person family unit; me, with my super-attentive parents; me, never having to share my toys, or dole out cigarettes, or hold ANYBODY's hair back while they puked.

My obsession with having a sister was just part of a longstanding grass-is-greener complex (I still grapple with it  daily); I'd compare how I felt to how others looked, and I'd inevitably come up short. 

I'm old enough now to realize that we all struggle, and yearn, and dream, and want things we can't or don't have. We're all convinced, sometimes, that the other girl has it better, that our lives would be complete if only [fill in the blank]. But there ARE no perfect relationships -- sisters' or otherwise. And trying to stay grateful for the life I have, instead of pining for the life I want, is probably the best shot I've got at happiness.