The Hard Facts: Sister Act

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.

“Last year…the British psychologists Liz Wright and Tony Cassidy found that young people who had grown up with at least one sister tended to be happier and more optimistic, especially if their parents had divorced. Another British researcher, Judy Dunn, found a similar pattern among older adults.” (“Why Sisterly Chats Make People Happier,” The New York Times, 10/26/2010)

It seems I’m not the only person wondering about whether family can suffice as best friends. In an essay that became the Times’ most emailed article of the day yesterday, Deborah Tannen examines a collection of recent studies, all of which found that having sisters will make you happier, no matter your gender.

But why? Tannen argues it’s not the type of communicating women do—our face-to-face emotional gabfest isn’t any better or more productive than male side-by-side bonding—but the frequency with which we do it.

There’s plenty of similar research about cross-gender friendships. Both men and women get more emotional satisfaction and support out of relationships with female friends. It’s time with the ladies that determines our loneliness factor. If Tannen’s reasons are correct—if we like sisters better because they’re willing to talk a lot—then the same could likely be said of female friends. We women have the whole relationship thing down pat.

I wonder if I would be less aggressive about this search if I had a sister of my own. The ultimate BFF is probably one who is more like family than friend. But that’s not what this search is about. At least not for me.

I’m not trying to recreate a sibling relationship because I already have a great one. Maybe I’m the exception to the rule, but I talk to my brother all the time. Almost every day, if gchatting and instant messenger count. We rarely talk about feelings, and when we do there’s always an air of awkwardness, but we don’t have to. We can read emotions without addressing them. Instead we talk about mutual friends, family, TV, and general observations about the world.

As I’ve said previously, my sibling relationship can’t replace what I am looking for in a BFF. But maybe I’d change my tune if I had a sister waiting in the wings. Tannen sure paints a nice picture.

If you have a sister, do you talk to her often? Do you talk about feelings more than activities? If you have a brother, do you wish you spoke more? Is one more eligible for friendship than the other?


Filed under The Gender Gap

18 responses to “The Hard Facts: Sister Act

  1. gail

    i was at a lecture by a family psychologist. he talked about how close his two sisters were. he said, “the talk at least once a week.” i was sitting next to a friend who has 3 sisters and i have one. we turned to each other as he said this and laughed hard. that’s not what i call close. i speak to my sister at least 3 times a day.
    but then….i talk to my brothers a lot too.
    maybe i just talk a lot.

    • Lorrie Paige

      I totally agree with you Gail. To me, it seems like the family psychologist’s sisters are friendly toward each other, but not what I would call “close”.

      If the sisters only SAW each other at least once a week, but in between, communicated with each other in some way, then I would consider the sisters as close.

      I don’t have a sister, but I have often thought it would be probably cool to have one.

  2. I don’t have a sister, but obviously my brother was pretty lucky to have me growing up. 🙂 We were kind of opposites as kids, so my mom always said she was glad that we had each other as influences – I helped him become more sensitive and tolerant, and he helped me develop a thicker skin and sense of humor. All of which are good qualities for us to share with our friends, so I think having siblings in general can be helpful.

    I never wanted a sister growing up, but now I do kind of wish I had one because all the girls I know who have sisters are definitely BFFs with their sisters.

  3. I have a sister but we’ve never been super close. When we were young we fought a lot…we were kinda close when we got older and lived together, but then I moved out and realized we both have different “life values” if you will. She still lives at home and goes out ALL the time…whereas I can do without the constant partying. So sometimes it’s hard to be close to someone you just don’t share a lifestyle with. It would probably be easier if we lived a lot closer…but people seem to always assume that if you have a sister you have a built in best friend. I can tell you, that is not the case. Although, we will always be there for one another. Because we have to be 🙂

  4. San

    I have a sister. We are fraternal twins (I don’t know if that piece of information is important or not) and we talk all the time. Like, daily. Even though we live 6000 miles apart. She truly is my best friend and we talk about everything. Literally everything.
    It’s an amazing bond.

  5. I have 2 sisters and 2 brothers. I am really close to my little sister. We do not talk on the phone because we are both horribly awkward phone talkers! So instead we exchange blackberry messages and emails. I am close to one of my brothers that lives here in the Twin Cities and confide in him about quite a few things – and his wife. I woudl also say that I am very close to my 2 sisters-in-law and confide in them quite a bit – more so that my older sister, which is kind of interesting.

    I wasn’t always close to my little sister, though. There were many years where I woudl roll my eyes when my mom said my sisters would be my best friends some day. I will say that I don’t think my older sister will ever be a best friend because we are WAY too different, but my little sister and I are definitely best friends. But it’s still different than the relationships I have with my friends and I don’t need my friends ‘less’ just becuase I have an awesome sister…

  6. Becky

    My sister is three years younger than me, and we are the only siblings. From the time she was born through high school, we fought A LOT. We ended up at the same college for a year – even the same dorm/same hall. We always had different friends and looked at life differently.

    However, as we have gotten older, especially in our 30s, we have grown much closer. It isn’t that she is my best friend, it’s that we grew up together and are there for each other – and finally realized that our outlook wasn’t as different as we thought when we were younger.

    We have supported each other, cheered each other, gave each other objective (and subjective) opinions, and are basically THERE for each other, no matter what happens.

    My family doesn’t do rifts, grudges, silent treatments, or cut each other off – so even if we get mad and argue now, we still make up and keep going.

    Even though when we were younger, I would wish for a brother, a twin, to be an only child…. Well, now I wouldn’t change having her as my sister for anything. She is the only one I can say certain words, phrases, or share memories with and knows EXACTLY what I am thinking or mean.

    She will always be my sister, but I am lucky to call her friend!

  7. Virginia

    I have three older sisters and no brothers (until my brother-in-laws). We are very close, I’ve actually had people tell me they’re jealous of our relationship! Of course when we were little there was fighting, but miraculously in a house full of girls, we never fought over boys and got along well. Now that we’re older, we’re great friends and supporters of each other. I definitely count my sisters among my BFFs!

    We try to have family dinner once a month, as far as individual contact, on average:
    -first- phone every two weeks or so, see each other about once a month.
    -second- phone multiple times daily, see her two or three times a month… it would be more often if she didn’t live an hour away.
    -third- phone every couple of days, usually see her at least once, sometimes twice a week.
    They also communicate, of course, I know my first and third sisters speak daily.

    I find that I focus on different topics with each sister, but we speak mainly about what’s going on in our lives: their kids, work, etc. We’re not an overly emotive group, but we can talk about feelings. One of my sisters is going through a separation, so there are more frequent conversations about how she’s feeling, but I’d say that’s more situational than representative.

  8. Ana

    ha. snort. not feeling this one. I get along OK with my sister (now). but she is in the category purely of “family” (i.e. people that make my blood pressure rise). I enjoy spending time with her & her family once in a while, I care about her, but not the first person I go to with anything good or bad.

    • Lorrie Paige

      Ana, this is so funny in that that’s EXACTLY how I would describe this online close-knit group of only women I’m a part of.

      We all consider each other “sisters”, and many of them consider us friends as well, but (so far) I would never consider any of these women my friends (online or if I happen to meet them offline) because, like you described, that’s how I feel about them (including the blood pressure rise! lol!). They are not my kindred spirits–aka: friends–but they feel more like family to me. Although I do consider family can be friends if one gets along real well with them and have that special bond as only close, genuine friends have, but yeah, nope, it’s just not there with my “sisters”, but I do love and care about them as if they are family to me.

  9. My only sibling is my sister, who is nine years younger than me. Early on there was too much of an age difference for us to connect, but now, she is my go to person. I tell her things that are in confidence and I know she will never betray my trust. It’s nice having that guarantee.

  10. Liz

    I have a twin sister and we talk every day on gchat. I wouldn’t say we’re friends, we’re just sisters. We talk about tv shows, friends, what we want to eat for dinner, send each other links to lolcats or etsy finds, etc. The little random things I don’t feel comfortable bugging a friend with. We talk on the phone about the same random things if one of us isn’t online.

    But put us together in the same room and it takes probably 5 minutes before one of us does something that starts a “lively discussion”. Our friends get annoyed because we usually end up yelling at each other at least once but that’s how it’s been since we were kids. We’re certainly better when we’re in different states. She annoys me less when I don’t have to see her all the time.

  11. Caz

    I’ve heard this research before and I don’t like it. Maybe it’s true, but I find it annoying.

    Mostly because I have a brother. Only one. And that means he benefits from having me as a sister, but I don’t benefit, because I don’t have one. Yeah, blah blah it’s something I should get over, and my bro and I can be close in other ways that no one else can understand.

    But pretty much I think it’s because I’ve always wanted a sister and never had one. So hearing I’m ‘losing out’ because of it just annoys me.

    /end rant 🙂

    • I kind of feel the same way — I’m an only child, so any time I read some article about how people with siblings are happier, healthier, more well-adjusted, whatever, it’s annoying. Because, it’s not like it’s something we can change! 🙂

  12. megan

    I have both a brother and a sister. Maybe we’re all just not old enough yet, but we’re not really friends. As in, I have no idea what the “sisterly chat’ thing is at all…I can sya that it pains more that my sister and I aren’t friends than it does that my brother and I aren’t friends. I guess I just feel like my sister is too cool for me or that that’s what she thinks!

  13. My sister has not spoken to me in two years. I got one e-mail and a thank you note after her wedding in October 2007 and haven’t heard from her since.

    I finished chemotherapy in November 2007 and radiation in January 2008.

    We’re both in our 30s.

  14. Elizabeth

    I have an older sister, we used to talk everyday at least 2-3 times, gchat all the time, until our schedules became so busy that literally the only times we would talk to each other is while we were eating! When I was in elementary school, we fought everyday in every way possible but things got exponentially better when I started high school.

    I wouldn’t call her my best friend, but she is the closest person to me

  15. Pingback: The Hard Facts: Everyone Is Better Off With a Female Friend | MWF Seeking BFF

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