Growing up, I always expressed sorrow to my friends who didn’t have sisters. The world I knew was one of sisterhood: My sister and me against everything. My sister and me creating worlds with our dolls, our stories and our little plastic pets. My mom and her two younger sisters singing karaoke every time we were together. My dad’s two older sisters telling stories of their childhood in which they teamed up against their brother.
I lived in the stories of Little Women, Little House on the Prairie and The Penderwicks. To a little girl who only knew a life where sisters were best friends, the idea of living without one made my heart heavy and mournful.
Who does one play with if she doesn’t have a sister? How does she spend her free time? Who listens to her and sticks up for her even when she’s wrong?
Who does one play with if she doesn’t have a sister?
What troubled me even more, though, were my friends who didn’t get along with their sisters. I watched them fight, call each other names or try to push each other out of their rooms with great sadness. Didn’t they know that their sister was supposed to be their best friend?
This sadness carried with me throughout middle and high school as I watched sisterhood play out in my life. I would find myself turning into my grandmother as I looked at my two younger cousins and said, “I know you’re fighting now, but you two will be best friends one day.”
My neighbors down the road had three little girls who came to feel like my little sisters. When they bickered, I would tell them the same thing: “One day, you two will be best friends, and you’ll laugh about how much you fought with each other.”
The same was true in my own life. Though my sister and I would fight—knock-down, drag-out fights with hitting, chasing and yelling—we would turn around and defend the other when she was in trouble with our mom for instigating the argument.
“If she gets in trouble, then I get in trouble too,” the innocent party (usually my sister) would declare nobly. We were on each other’s side no matter what, like Jo rescuing Amy even when she burned her manuscript.
We were on each other’s side no matter what, like Jo rescuing Amy even when she burned her manuscript.
It was not until college that I saw sisterhood for what it was. It was more than just a gift one was born with but one that you could also cultivate. I had many friends who did not have sisters, whose sisters were terrible to them or who were only children. Yet, they had all learned the art of being a really good sister despite never having one themselves.
I watched in awe as they held space for me when I needed it, showed me how to listen patiently or demonstrated that they only wanted good things for the women in their lives. Despite being surrounded by sisters all my life, I had no clue that one could cultivate sisterhood without actually having a sister.
I had no clue that one could cultivate sisterhood without actually having a sister.
Some of my friends without sisters by blood have confessed that they still have a deep longing for a “real” sister. Yet, they are the people who have shown me ways to beautifully cultivate sisterhood.
Showing up really counts.
I grew up knowing how to show up for my family. We were 30 deep in times of tragedy and times of celebration. What I didn’t really know was how to show up for my friends when they needed me. I learned how to cultivate sisterhood by showing up, whether that was to offer comfort during a difficult time or to celebrate a big moment.
Often, we feel like we can only celebrate the big things: a new relationship, a birthday or a new job. My college friends taught me otherwise. We celebrated everything from passing exams to the sun coming out to my roommate’s first date with her now-husband to watching Dancing with the Stars every Monday night.
We cheered when someone made a big step in believing her self-worth. We celebrated when someone wore a shirt she previously wouldn’t have felt comfortable in. We applauded when someone went to therapy or was painfully honest about where she was. To this day, I celebrate all the big and little things we accomplish.
When my best friends and I would get together, we weren’t looking for sugar-coated words or fake happiness. We were looking for raw, sometimes painful truth. No matter where any given one of us was at, the others were willing to meet her in the middle of her truth. There was no pretending or lying. Because of that, we are closer than I could have ever imagined.
Sisterhood is a truly special bond. Whether or not you have a biological sister, it is possible to create this level of intimacy and closeness. Cultivating true sisterhood is possible. It just takes intentionality.