The XX Factor

Sisters Are Doing It for Themselves

Yesterday we heard from Abigail Pogrebin on being a twin sister . Meanwhile, the mailbag on the subject of sisterhood was as compelling as anything I have received here. I am grateful to everyone who wrote in and am pleased to run three extracts of submissions today. The dynamic of being a sister seems to have a real push-me-pull-you quality to it. The competition can be agonizing, but nothing is as sweet as the support.

We’ll begin with Adrienne R., who wrote the following:

My sister and I are just under two years apart. It’s just the two of us, and I’m the younger of the set. We were fiercely competitive as kids-there were the unavoidable comparisons of “Why can’t you do X like your sister?” We both loved dance, and my mother strove to allow us to be individuals. She enrolled my sister in jazz, while I did tap. We both loved to sing, but in our school choir, I begged our director to move me to the alto range (Sis is a soprano) so that we didn’t have to compete over who was the stronger or better singer. Sis did dance in high school, so my mother, ever trying to get us to be individuals, tried to get me into sports, which I loathed, and still do to this day. It was difficult to be just me when we were growing up, and I’m sure my sister’s side of the story is the same.

Once she went to college, our relationship changed, and we became closer than best friends. We’re each other’s touchstone and we check in with the other several times a week. I was her maid-of-honor at her wedding, and one day, she’ll be my matron-of-honor. I was there in the room when she gave birth to her daughter. I have so many special memories of my sister, and I’m so grateful to have her as a part of my life!

Unlike Adrienne, 25-year-old Jamie Letzring wrote from Minnesota that she found her relationship with her sisters has deteriorated as she has grown up.

I have two sisters, two OLDER sisters. Becky is 32, Jill is 30. Several things have framed our adult relationship in what I feel is a negative light. Everything was well and good until I became an adult: got married, got a job, finished my master’s degree, had a baby, got a career, and started being a boss at age 25. Now things are getting shaky. I’m not such a little sister anymore. It makes other people feel old, perhaps? I feel as though they’ve been searching for a way to keep me down, or to remind me that I’m just the little sister. “Know your role” is what I imagine them saying when they are together discussing me. My mother knows how I feel, as the littlest one, the baby, who’s never been allowed to grow up in the eyes of my sisters and isn’t respected as an adult peer. She encourages me to speak up to them. I say it’s not worth it. Love them anyway despite their flaws, smile, and keep your mouth shut. That’s what a real adult does.

Finally, Vesna Koselj wrote that being a twin sister can be a more complicated relationship than the one Abigail Pogrebin described.

I am one half of a fraternal twin set and struggled with my own identity in my early teenage years. My sister and I ended up going to a different high school (coincidentally, not on purpose to grow apart) but I always felt that that gave me a chance to develop a sense of who I am, outside of my relationship to her. I still believe it was very helpful for me to be able to develop relationships with people who only knew me for me and I have always expressed this as advice to parents of twins.

The reason I am writing to you, though, is this: I moved to another country some years ago and have found love in my new home. But my boyfriend often says I am still competing with my sister every day. He finds it quite amazing (and not always in a good way) how I need to compare lives with her I would describe myself as being very close to her-we talk to each other every day) and-the way he puts it-keep score. He finds my relationship with my twin sister to be something by which we both define ourselves and he notices that any changing of the designated roles seems very dangerous and scary to both of us. He thinks this is quite unhealthy. I don’t know-I don’t have the privilege of looking at it from above, but I would admit to the fact that this particular sisterly relationship is very important in my life-much more so than the one I have with our older sister.

Photograph of Ashley and Wynona Judd by Evan Agostini/Getty Images.