In her book You Were Always Mom's Favorite! Sisters in Conversation Throughout Their Lives, Deborah Tannen explores the connection, competitiveness and special bond that makes sister relationships so unique. Read an excerpt.
"I love her to death. I can't imagine life without her," a woman says of her sister. Another says of hers, "I want to be around her all the time. She's the only one who knows all kinds of stuff from the past. All we have to do is say one word, and we know when the other one will start laughing." I heard many comments like these from women who told me that their relationships with their sisters are among the most precious aspects of their lives.
I also heard comments like this one: "I don't want anyone to kill my sister because I want to have the privilege of doing that myself."
Though they sound so different, these remarks have something in common: the intensity of feelings behind them. Sister relationships are among the most passionate of our lives. One woman explained, "My relationship with my sister is more deeply emotional than any other." Yet another, after telling me ways her sister had hurt her—tales of betrayal that made me wonder why she still talks to the perpetrator at all said, "No matter how difficult my sister is, she is still part of me, part of my past, my present, and my future." Then she added, echoing the comment I quoted at the start: "Love her or hate her, I can't imagine life without her."
Conversations with sisters can spark extremes of anger or extremes of love. Everything said between sisters carries meaning not only from what was just said but from all the conversations that came before and "before" can span a lifetime. The layers of meaning combine profound connection with equally profound competition. Both the competition and the connection are complicated by inevitable comparison with someone whose life has been so similar to yours and yet so different—and always in your view.