Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Discomforts of Sibling Rivalry

No two people are alike. We know this. Even if we share DNA, which we all do. Of course, some share more DNA than others--e.g., siblings. But still. It all mixes up in its own special blend and expresses in its own special way related to both nature and nurture. I know this. So why can the differences feel threatening, or at least unsettling or discombobulating or stew-inducing?
     That's me, above, at the beach. Photo courtesy of my sister, who is great with a camera and with original angles on things. We were at the Jersey shore, because I went to New Jersey last week to visit my sister and her husband. Even though my sisters and I can be a prickly bunch (I have another sister, but she wasn't with us in New Jersey), we had a good, rich visit. Still, I couldn't help noticing how the differences between us rattled me. Even what some might term superficial differences. 
     Example: clothing. My sister has a very interesting and stylish wardrobe, takes pleasure in putting her clothes together in intriguing ways, keeps her eyes open for new ideas, and looks good and put together pretty much all the time. 
     Not to say that I don't care about clothes. I do. And I too have some interesting pieces and try to put them together in interesting ways. It's just that most of the things I own are 20 or more years old. I don't shop much or easily.  Agony is a more accurate descriptor of my feelings while shopping. Also, I work at home, so I don't need to consistently refresh my wardrobe. My approach to wardrobe issues makes sense, and most of the time I'm comfortable with it. So why did the fact that my sister's wardrobe outdid mine (see, now I'm framing it as a competition) have to stir me up? 
     Competition (or the related rivalry) is a discomfort that is built into most sibling relationships. At least in my case, this competition and the way I deal/feel in it, is a foundation for how I manage and negotiate difference/diversity in the world. I compare. I size up. I see where I stand in relation. I'm clearly ahead. I'm falling behind. Often, I'm fully side by side. But it doesn't take much to stimulate that comparative/competitive thing. Some say "celebrate the diversity," or "Viva la difference!" Yes and yes. But still. Diversity has many facets.


elaine said...

I think it is time to complete the idea. Are you going to compete or not? If you see iyour sister's closet as a challenge, the gauntlet, the glove, lace up the gloves--as a competition---go shopping! For clothes and for places to wear them. Someone told me that women, as they grow older sometimes grow schleppy. Who needs schleppy? The impulse to dress is repressed! Liberation is at hand. Support the economy, your patriotic duty!

Susan Messer said...

I guess it's true that we only feel competitive about the things that matter to us. Yes, I'm aware of the patriotic duty, though I've never been much of a patriot. said...

Competition begets competition, one of life's contests that beget no winner.

Be comfortable in your old clothes and be yourself. Those who care about you don't date your wardrobe. "Schleppy" is an expression, not a fact.

What is a "patriotic" shopper? Do they fly the Flag? I admit ignorance about this term.

If a coset full of clothes that go out of style as soon after they are worn a few times is someone's idea of bliss, fine. For them. Remember the chemise? It made me hurl.

Jeans and shirts are often the uniform of thinkers. Let's see if that comment creates some ire.

In the meantime, schep on and spend your money of the things that satisfy you!

Susan Messer said...

Ha! Feisty.

The idea of shopping being patriotic is that the US economy is weak because people aren't spending enough money. It's a confusing thing because "they" [the economic analysts] used to complain that people weren't saving enough. Now they want us to stop saving and start spending. But people feel insecure about their jobs and money and so on, so they are reluctant to spend. said...

I haven't had the need to comment twice, but after more thought, I must.

Your writing speaks of and to your patriotism if not in an obvious patriotic way.

One must come to terms with who and what runs the mind. If not, we will run amok trying to please everyone but ourselves. Being appropriate in dress and manner makes more sensible.

As the old saying sort of goes, the oldest slippers fit the best.

Jim Poznak said...

Susan, your honesty about sibling rivalry is refreshing and brave. said...

I don't know about the Midwest, but bacon is being pushed upon us in AZ - bacon/chocolate syrup/coconut topping. Shall we help the economy and eat this combo? It may help our economy although yesterday we were told that bacon is one of the worst foods we can push through our arteries.

Ninety-nine percent of the clothes we buy are not made in this country.

Economists are paid to complain and confuse. And be wrong!

I think the work force would do a better job if they dressed comfortably. 'Business clothing" and ties make about as much sense as stuffing our bodies into uncomfortable clothing before enjoying a tasty meal.

Susan Messer said...

Thanks for the comments. My intent in the post was mostly to own up to the feelings of rivalry, the triggers, the confusion of managing them. Whether or not I will fully engage in the competition is another matter, and probably unlikely. Time, interest, motivation, comfort level. All are factors. Self-acceptance is a daily challenge. Not the highest value in life, perhaps (some might argue for continuously pushing the limits), but one of them.

Margaret P. said...

I have a lot of sisters, but I am distant enough in age from them that I don't feel what I would call "competition." Yes, the one I get into the most arguments with is in fact the one closest to me in age, so I think there's an effect there that shouldn't be overlooked.

If I think about the "competition" feeling with this sister, I can definitely pinpoint the feeling of jealousy. She is glamorous, she is an artist, she is hilarious. I look at her and know I came close to being those things too, except for the natural diversity in the genetic makeup among my parents' children.

There are plenty of glamorous artists and funny people in the world to be jealous of, but I'm not jealous of them because we didn't come from the same gene pool (not sure that's a correct scientific statement, but you get my meaning). But when I look at my sister I see possibilities that maybe, just maybe, could have been my possibilities.

Susan Messer said...

Margaret P.,

I like that conclusion--about seeing the possibilities, that "maybe just maybe." All of these (competitive, comparison, jealous) feelings have continued to resonate in me over the past week since the visit and attach to others around me--the people we had dinner with on Friday, the ones we saw on Saturday, the author of the novel I'm reading, and so on.

Margaret P. said...

So at the heart of it, the sibling rivalry is only what stirs the feelings up from the bottom of the pot, like the burned stuff when you've had the flame up too high and you haven't been watching?

Susan Messer said...

Now, that, Ms. P., is a very interesting way of putting it. I'm wondering whether there might be just a little something extra as well, though. Like, it's something you've been trying to tell yourself really doesn't matter that much to you; you've got plenty of other wonderful qualities, accomplishments, unique sets of talents. You know you do. You do. But then it burbles up. The focus keeps shifting (what it is I'm jealous or threatened about). It could be anything. Well, probably not anything. I wouldn't be jealous about a huge satellite dish that took up the whole back yard. Or living on a pig farm.