My sister

Drink: A white beer

Location: Brussels, Belgium

I’m still learning how to explain the concept of meaningful coffee conversations and knew that explaining it to my sister would be challenging. Still, there was a window of opportunity to see her – beyond our twice yearly – and I thought it would be poetic if she was the first.

We have different principles, viewpoints, and priorities; and we don’t manage our emotional healths the same way. I guess it shouldn’t have been surprising that our conversation started awkwardly.

“Are you interviewing me?”

“No! It’s supposed to be casual but with purpose.”

“This feels like an interview.”

We talked about the concept – and how I could better explain the idea of the project. I think she was probably an incorrect first choice; perhaps, after a few more instalments, when I’m more comfortable with the concept, she’d be a great match.

Part of the project is based on giving advice, but I did not want to straight-up ask. I am more curious about how people’s different life experiences have impacted their decision-making process. It starts with simple, clich├ęd questions: What do they regret? What would they do differently? Why?

I asked her then about the choices leading up to her current position – her life, her job. When she was a child, what had she wanted her future role to be? I realised that I had never asked. Being the younger sibling, I had always assumed she knew her path and was blissfully skating on it.

In the end, we shut down the interview style. Ultimately, what I realised was that because I know her so familiarly, I was assuming and filling in gaps about her experiences. (It also, possibly, didn’t help that we were both quite sober.)

Instead, she told me a story about how she nearly got trafficked in Geneva. That was an anecdote left out on Christmas dinner.

The side effect of this conversation not going quite as planned was that it made me much more conscious of my relationship with her. It has been easy, in this family, to take each other for granted – to see her as my big sister, instead of her own being and person.

I discussed this with a few friends – those who are only children, those who have only one other sibling, and those with multiple. What was common among the sibling-ed folk was that, when raised together, there is this notion of “family is family” and that a lot of things slide. (See perpetuating toxic cycles.) There are good and bad things to this, but what I’ve become more conscious of is how much bad do I let slide or how much do I continue?

On this topic, it has to be stressed that I come from a very privileged position. Neither of us were or are dependent on each other emotionally, physically, or financially.

Do you take your siblings for granted? Do they take you for granted? How intentional should you be at seeing them as their own person with dreams and fears separate to your existence?