I grew up feeling like an only child. I have a brother who is nine years younger than me, but because we have such different personalities and there was such a large age difference, we had very little to do with one another growing up. We were never interested in the same things at the same time, so I don’t have any memories of going places as a family. Though we love each other and are respectful of one another, I can’t say that we are close at all. We know the basics of each other’s lives, but nothing too deep or meaningful.
I married well. My husband is kind and loving and supports me and our family well. But (maybe like many men) he’s missing something when it comes to being able to go to the emotional place I go to at times. When I’m feeling blue or having a complete meltdown, he’ll be concerned and helpful, but he isn’t able to have a conversation with me that goes to the root of what I’m feeling. It’s not because he isn’t trying; he just seems to be unavailable in that way. I don’t hold it against him, but it does leave me feeling unheard and alone.
I often find myself looking at friends who have a sister; I feel so envious of how blessed they are and how I was skipped over in that way. The feeling is so intense, it’s almost like I feel like I’m missing a limb — something so basic and necessary. When I’m not in a good place, I crave having a sister to confide in, someone who can know me intimately and be there for me in a way that no one in my life has ever been there for me.
Lately, with everything happening in the world, I’m feeling this more intensely than ever and it makes me sad and sometimes even angry. I have no one to talk to about my fears and loneliness. It’s not at the level that I feel I need to make an appointment with a therapist. The idea that I would have to pay someone to be there for me makes me even sadder! (No offense.) What I’m looking for is just what most other people have and maybe even take for granted.
How do I get over these feelings of being victimized in this way, of not having a sister to turn to? By the way, these are not new feelings. I’ve felt this way for as far back as I can remember. It’s just that with all this quarantining, it’s worse than ever and on my radar almost constantly.
If our lives were puzzles, I would be hard-pressed to find one puzzle that has every single piece included. It may sometimes appear that way, when we look at certain individuals who seem to have it all. Maybe there are a handful of people who have actually won the lottery of life, where they have achieved and acquired everything they could have ever hoped for. If these superbly lucky people truly exist, they are few and far between.
Most of us have missing pieces, parts of our story that are neither happy nor uplifting — health issues that are a constant source of anguish, or maybe a marriage that feels more like a curse than a blessing. For some, the missing piece takes the form of being childless or struggling with the child given to them. It could be never finding fulfillment professionally or perhaps experiencing feelings of social ineptitude. I can go on and on. There is no shortage of difficulties that can make a person feel troubled, or, as you said, “victimized.”
I can devote my answer to the obvious — encouraging you to be in touch with feelings of gratitude toward all those pieces that are actually perfectly interconnected and worthy of appreciation. But I’m going to tackle the more concrete aspect of your situation. Though our thoughts and emotions will always be paramount, sometimes we have to just roll up our sleeves and get busy “fixing.” First, a reality check.
Many of us make the enormous mistake of assuming that we know what is going on in people’s lives because it just seems so obvious. Assumptions are often incorrect and need to be challenged. The assumption you’ve been holding on to all these years is that anyone who has a sister naturally has a best friend, a confidante, a soulmate. Though this is sometimes the case, many sisters are close in the way that you are close to your brother — loving, respectful, but with only a surface knowledge of one another’s private lives. It’s not for any “bad” reason, but simply because the chemistry for that type of closeness just doesn’t exist. These sisters whom you envy may call each other every day, or perhaps once a week, but maybe they talk about “nothing” as it relates to the type of deep connection you are yearning.
So what to do? Whether someone has no sisters or has sisters they don’t feel particularly connected to, where do they go from there? Look for other ways to fill the gap. You seem to think that without a sister, you have no one to confide in. I’m not sure where that idea came from, but you can create your own sisterhood with one or many other women who are likewise seeking deep connections with others.
When the obvious Plan A doesn’t work out, we have to figure out what Plan B would look like and how to make it work. This doesn’t only apply to you and your feelings of being alone without a sister. The person who never married and feels lonely can develop relationships that won’t take the place of a spouse but can feel just as loving and supportive. Someone who never had children can connect to nieces, nephews, students, or children of friends in a deep and meaningful way. There is always a Plan B and sometimes even a Plan C. But it takes action. It won’t fall into your lap.
The sooner you lose the notion that only a sister can serve as an intimate buddy, the sooner you will be receptive to finding other likeminded women with whom you can be vulnerable and share your deepest thoughts and feelings. Lucky for you, this particular missing piece to your puzzle is easily replaceable!
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Hewlett. Esther works with individuals and couples. Together with Jennifer Mann, she also runs the “Navidaters.” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 516-314-2295. Esther offers phone sessions.