Blood Is Thicker, I Suppose: On Finding Sisterhood Outside Your Family

I think my deepest heartbreak was the ending of a seemingly deep female friendship. After it happened, I read the essay, 'On "Sisters' by Briallen Hopper, and a particular passage has stayed with me: 

"I've lost close female friends twice since I grew up. Neither of my lost friends has sisters, and each of them found in our friendship a scope for sister-style ardor, recrimination, and fury that I ultimately couldn't share. Our intimacy couldn't bear its own weight. There are estranged sisters, but there are no former sisters. Even a dead sister is always a sister. But those two women are not estranged friends: they are no longer my friends at all. When they cut ties, there was no root system to keep us connected or grow us back together." 

I think that this perspective is interesting, but it sort of pisses me off. I’m a triplet: shared a womb with two boy fetuses, grew up alongside two disgusting boys, and I now have two men for brothers. I will never have a sister. I’m pissed off because in this passage, there’s an unaddressed element: there’s space to act poorly with family, and friendship doesn't have to and shouldn't tolerate that. And to confuse friends as a biological family is to abuse them in the same way, which friendship cannot possibly bear.

I don't have a sister, and I never will, but I do know that I treat my family way worse than I would ever treat a friend. I used to sit on my brothers’ chests and steal the remote control out of their hands. Kick them in the balls, if necessary. And when they grew taller than me, I learned to be verbally quick. I still can strike fear into their hearts with a single look. What is it about family that allows horrible behavior? Blood is thicker, I suppose. There is less room for rejection if you share the same genetic code— you’d be rejecting yourself, in some weird way.

Ultimately, I think friendship is special because there is something fragile about it, it isn't just a given. 

I remember ending a friendship with Maggie Casey in the third grade because I feared it: “My mom said you’re going to grow up to be jealous of me, so we can’t be friends.” It didn’t feel right as I said it, but I was being fed something that I thought was true. She cried, and we didn’t speak for a long time. I missed the donuts her mom would buy, special for us, the morning after our sleepovers. I missed making up dance routines to the Annie Oakley soundtrack. I missed our friendship. She had one brother and one sister.

I didn’t understand the power of female friendship until I went to an all women’s college: “It’s a women’s college, but like, it’s across the street from Columbia. So like, I’m not worried.” My entire life I had been taught to be in competition with other girls. I had to be the prettiest and thinnest. I walked through campus, comparing my body to every person I passed; “Am I bigger?” “Am I smaller?” They kept walking, unaware of the exchange, and I kept telling myself I was losing, I was losing, I was losing the game. The only competition that existed was in my head. And I grew tired of it. 

I’ve been lucky enough to have created magical female friendships. Some during college, and some post: there’s Jenna, Chelsea, Kaylin, and Nia (surprisingly, they all have only brothers). They are all women that I can text at 3 AM and say, “The cat just threw up on my bathmat and all I can hear is my own heartbeat. Is that normal?” And they’ll say, “Yeah, I’m eating a personal pizza watching Ru Paul’s Drag Race. Are you okay?”

There’s only been one real friendship heartbreak. It still haunts me from time to time. Did I do something wrong? I must have done something wrong, otherwise, the friendship would still live. I fucked it up, I did it, I am wrong— runs on a loop until I cut the tape. Because the truth is— she is no longer anything to me. A phantom my anxiety likes to play with, to haunt me when I least expect it. In that way, Hopper is right: no roots were there to save us.

The death of one female friendship does not mean the entire institution is ruined. Although, it is interesting that my friendships that still live, those women only have brothers. There is a need for a female bond and maybe that’s because they understand the fragility of friendship, not confusing it for biological sisterhood.

I’m not afraid of the hurt. Mostly because I know that I am working through that hurt by building stronger, deeper friendships. With other women, with myself. I have to be me before I can be we. I am growing friendships that allow me to be myself, but they are also pushing me to do better, to be better. And when I fuck up, I apologize. Conversely, when they fuck up, they apologize. This isn’t a matter of jealousy, which I was taught to believe in the third grade. This is a matter of accountability and trust. I am there for my friends, and they are there for me. 

Ultimately, I'm better for that one friendship ending. I’m myself in a way that the dead friendship never allowed for. It died for a reason.

The friendships that I have continued to foster are the ones that allow growth for both participants. The friends I have kept throughout my own transformation bolster rather than abuse or drag down. In the same vain, I have watched my girlfriends’ grow and bloom before my very eyes. And because I have witnessed their power, I’m starting to recognize my own power, and I am excited by it. It’s a feminist symbiosis.

Blood is thicker, sure. But the women I have chosen to grow with will always be my sisters, with or without my blood, because I treat them delicately— like they aren’t a given.

by Paulina Pinsky

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