Unbrotherly Love Among Sisters

It used to annoy me when I’d pick my diary up again. I felt this obligation to cover ground with broad strokes, summarizing what’s been going on since last writing. When the truth is, if there was anything remarkable happening, I’d be compelled to, well, remark on it. Instead of summarizing the whirlwind that is back-to-school errands and schedule coordination, I’ll skip ahead and dot the page with whatever comes to mind. Obligation can suck it.

My sister Lea was in town to hit up the US Open and to stroll in with her Beau to meet the family. He looks like her twin, dimples and all. They’re adorable. And they have so much in common, only I think he’s more polite. Lea and I always start off in love, then she leaves and I hate her mildly. I’ll always love her deeply–see how I felt obligated to state the obvious. It’s what we all do whenever we say anything appallingly honest. She felt the urge to put me down several times, about what a shitty dancer I am, when I busted into song on the outdoor deck during cocktails, about what a lousy driver I am, again about what a slow driver I am, and again saying something about how all that I care about are people’s perceptions of me. As I removed my makeup that night, I was pissed. Why the fcuk does she feel so compelled to rag on me? And each time she launched an insult, she laughed wildly. She’d never treat a friend like this.

To be fair, I put her down once, if you’d call it that. Mentioning that she doesn’t have a lot of patience. That she can grow acutely impatient around slow people, if I’m taking too long, say. But so are a lot of people. Phil is impatient, too. My father and I are pretty patient, and my mother is a Saint. Lea was pretty easy going as a child, until she hit the red zone, then, go hide.

I’d been talking about the finding that when you gossip, the things you say about others often actually stick to you. If you talk about how your friend is so shallow, then people will think of you as shallow. I was actually saying this after complaining about a gossiping friend. “I can’t be around it. It’s just so negative,” I complained. “But isn’t that exactly what you’re doing now?” Lea said. And she was right. Touche. I was grumbling about someone else’s need to always talk trash about others, while I was talking trash about her talking trash. Then I joked that I’d need to change my tactics and only ever say terrifically admiring things about anyone I knew. “Right, cause that’s all you care about, what others think of you.” Go fcuk yourself. I let it go. There were white tablecloths.

As much as anger isn’t pretty, it’s a gorgeous tool. We don’t get angry about things that we inherently know are false. Or do we? I used to think that my anger was a defense, that I deeply feared there was truth to what was being said. Lea wasn’t just remarking that I cared what people thought of me, because don’t we all on some level? While I had joked overtly, making it sound as if I’d only say nice things about others so I’d be perceived favorably, Lea dared to say that it was no joke. She implied that I only cared about my image. And what angers me about that is that I pride myself on being bare, on revealing my most honest self. That, and I guess it was also the last straw. After a weekend of being put down in jokes, I’d had it.

We resolved it quickly, or so I’d thought, that night when she texted to ask if I liked her new man.

S: Totally! He is just like you, only he doesn’t put me down all the time!
L: I said you look great!S: Bad dancer, bad driver…
L: Well
S: I am neither
L: You’ve improved a lot over the years
L: I’m sorry
S: Get sleep! I love you!

I left it at that in part because I justify behavior. She was anxious about introducing her man to her family for the first time, and what safer place to blow off steam than at your sibling, who’ll always love you? But the truth is, she does it when we’re alone too. When there’s no one to impress. And my fault has been accepting it. The older sister is supposed to be the mean one. I certainly was. So it feels like such a surprise to have my younger sister playing my childhood role.



  1. My darlings have a similar dynamic. My middle daughter often remarks that when she and her sister are apart – they have the most amazing relationship. They are 100% there for each other and the other’s best friend. But sure as can be – you put those two huge personalities in one room (or one house) – and all the oxygen gets used up instantly. Add their rock-star big brother and it takes no time for everyone to begin gasping for air.

    I guess that’s how I raised them. Fiercely protective – you wouldn’t want to look cross-eyed at one of my children in front of the other – but also so self-confident that sharing the limelight isn’t really an option.

    Now – the days of them being home together in a year are countable on two hands. Baby is off to law school in New York City, middle daughter all college graduated and independent and son on his way to Business School in Boston (via a month-long stop in Patagonia). Is my nest empty? You bet. Am I sad? Are you kidding me?! Most. Wonderful. Life. Ever.

  2. I don’t think that something has to be true to make a person angry. I am a stickler for truth and accuracy. I don’t really get hurt or offended if someone calls me out for one of my flaws, and trust me there are many. But it really gets under my skin if someone says something about me that is untrue.

    As for sibling dynamics, I honestly believe that our maturity levels revert to childhood when we are around our siblings (unless that’s just me?). I really love my sister and brothers, especially from afar. But when we are together, it takes no time at all for me to get frustrated and remember why I don’t see them much.

    Maybe there is some comfort in knowing you’re not alone in this.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.