How can I connect with my sister?
November 7, 2012 10:55 AM   Subscribe

How do I develop and nurture a relationship with a family member with whom I share little in common besides mutual respect and a desire to build closeness?

Here are some things we've tried: Taking on crafts projects that are new to us both. Her teaching me something I don't know (knitting). Sharing an activity night in a group. Chatting over tea. Meeting for lunch.

We're sisters and I just find it hard to talk with her about things I find interesting, and the things that are important in her life are just so different than what directly plays out for me. She's more than 10 years older, and I admire and respect her a lot. I think those feelings are mutual.

I think I understand her, but maybe I don't. I do not think she understands me. She asks the wrong questions, like she's missing the point of what I'm saying. It's been like this forever-- I'm in my early 30's, how can I change it?

It's gotten to the point where she's been inviting me to spend more time with her, and, in a way, I would prefer not to. But, in another way, she's such a great person, and so kind and awesome, that I'd like to find a way to connect with her.

Any ideas?

I should maybe add that she is a busy mom and I have no desire for children.

I'm tapped out of ideas for things to do or talk about (but, I'm pretty decent at keeping conversation going for conversation's sake; it just seems entirely superficial, and I'm not into it). Also, I'm a full-on introvert feeling like she wants me around (A) to develop a fun, meaningful, sisterly relationship, and (B) because I'm a warm body to share space with. I am on board with reason 'A', but I can't at all relate to reason 'B'. I'm starting to feel like my spending time with her is almost charitable of me. And, because she's so sweet and I love her, it's breaking my heart. Help!
posted by little_dog_laughing to Human Relations (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Could you and she do something others-focused together? Volunteering at a nursing home to do crafts or read to residents or something? That would give you a shared topic of conversation.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:58 AM on November 7, 2012

I do not think she understands me. She asks the wrong questions, like she's missing the point of what I'm saying. It's been like this forever

Also, I'm a full-on introvert

It sounds like your sister is trying to reach out and have a meaningful relationship with you - and so do you! - but maybe that's difficult if you're an introvert and she's the opposite?

feeling like she wants me around (A) to develop a fun, meaningful, sisterly relationship, and (B) because I'm a warm body to share space with.

If your sister hungers for adult company because she's around children all they long, maybe you could do non-mom stuff that she can't do with her kids? Just talking, listening and supporting is usually how you create bonds with your family members.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 11:20 AM on November 7, 2012

There's a reason a lot of people have TVs in the family room! Start a regular movie night. She will be anxious to get out of the house, you don't need to make conversation during the movie but you will have a built-in topic if you decide to get coffee afterwards. It also builds a shared history between you.
posted by apparently at 11:24 AM on November 7, 2012 [6 favorites]

Scrapbooking, using the old family photos. Talk about the past while you do it, with the goal of uncovering how the two of you remember events differently. Should make for some great conversation and a lot of insight along the way.
posted by raisingsand at 11:25 AM on November 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

That's really great that you're trying so hard to be close with her, and you should definitely try some of the things others are suggesting, but sharing activities and talking regularly -- while typically part of any close relationship -- are not a necessity. It is perfectly fine if you two understand that you love, respect, and care about each other and at the same time do not enjoy spending much time together.

Maybe you can just talk once in a while, catch up on what's important (family happenings, her kids' milestones, your career/relationship), and understand that if something serious happens, you two will always be there for each other to provide love and support. I think that's a beautiful relationship.
posted by cman at 11:42 AM on November 7, 2012

What about a Sister Book/Movie club.

You alternate choosing a book/movie (maybe also a meal that goes with the theme) and discuss it afterwards.

Do a bit of research about the topic/author and there's a lot to talk about. Foreign film is the best type for starting conversations. You'll both have things you don't and do relate to, and they'll probably have some similarities.

Best of luck. This will take time.
posted by taff at 11:44 AM on November 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Movie night is a great idea, especially where you take turns picking a movie and agree to watch each other's picks even if you don't especially like it. That will create discussion.
posted by zzazazz at 11:51 AM on November 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'd develop a little ritual that you could do with her, either weekly, twice a month, etc.

It could be lunch and an hour or so at Target.

Dinner and a movie.

A monthly trip to Costco.

Some activity combined with a meal. This way you're not so dependent upon finding a topic of common interest.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:51 AM on November 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think I understand her... I do not think she understands me.

Given that she is ten years older, it may be very unlikely that both these statements are true. Any "man you just don't get me?" you are feeling... she is also likely feeling.

The kids thing is big, (especially if she is a stay at home mom. That is a hugely life defining job to have) Not having kids is a difference. Not being interested in kids is a monumental difference.

Statistically, personality wise we have less in common with our siblings than we do with random strangers. It's odd but true, they are more like us genetically than anyone else ever. But they are less like us than those we would otherwise choose to be around.

I think movies are a good idea a really neutral activity.

But you also just might not be that close, close is hard, and can't be forced. Having respect, love, admiration and trust is pretty fucking awesome.

Consider you might jeopardize those things trying to be closer. She already seems to be lightly grating on you.
posted by French Fry at 12:23 PM on November 7, 2012

I think I understand her, but maybe I don't. I do not think she understands me. She asks the wrong questions, like she's missing the point of what I'm saying. It's been like this forever-- I'm in my early 30's, how can I change it?

Are you honest (gently, but still honest) when these misunderstandings come up? You say you're good at keeping up the small-talk, so I wonder if you gloss over these things so effectively that your sister doesn't have a chance to realize you're not seeing things the same way.

Another thing I've noticed about myself as an introvert who is decent at small-talk is that I'm really good at asking questions to keep the conversation going, but terrible about volunteering information about myself. I've checked with trusted friends and discovered that, even when I think I've dominated a conversation unfairly, they think I've not said very much. The problem is even worse when I feel like I'm very different from the person I'm talking to. I'm happy to learn about their strange-to-me life, but don't feel like they'd be interested in my stuff because it's so different from theirs. It's a weird double standard that I've only recently noticed. If you're similarly reluctant to talk about yourself, it could be hindering your connection-building attempts.
posted by vytae at 12:26 PM on November 7, 2012

Here's a suggestion: you each pick a book (maybe yours could be about introversion, or some theme that's central to your personality), read it, and talk about it. Find some good questions to guide the discussion. Yes, like a little book club for two. It might give you some structured way to communicate what's important to you, and why it's important for her to "get it".

Don't be too ambitious, though; think about the whole of the differences between you, and try to find a theme that's just past the branching-off point of your differing backgrounds. I should probably explain that more, but maybe it makes sense to you as is.
posted by amtho at 12:38 PM on November 7, 2012

Others have made good suggestions. I just wanted to point out that:

She asks the wrong questions, like she's missing the point of what I'm saying.

You say she's a mother - I have found that people who are extremely busy with kids are often kind of exhausted and their ability to present in a conversation can be really difficult. So that might be a factor?
posted by heyjude at 1:09 PM on November 7, 2012

I think the things you have tried sound really great. Knitting, group activities, etc. Did you enjoy those things?
posted by bunderful at 3:39 PM on November 7, 2012

I love the idea of doing regular, but low key activities. I had to sort of rebuild my relationship with my sister who is 9 years younger than me, and it came through little moments like this. Sharing a car ride to the aunt's house, conspiring on gifts for Mom's birthday, etc. I think if we had just said "OK, we are going to start a hobby together!" it would have been awkward.
posted by gjc at 3:48 PM on November 7, 2012

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