What an 11-year age gap has taught me about sisterhood

Sisterhood magic manifests in surprising places.

What an 11-year age gap has taught me about sisterhood

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“No one expects you to hang out with each other. That’s why it’s even more special that we choose to.”

​I love my little sister Tonia. She is the best person I know. These days she’s not so little, at the grand age of 22, but that still means I am 50% older than her. There are 11 years between us (I’m 33) but we are super close. Do I wish we were closer in years so we had similar friendship groups and current experiences? No, I don’t think I do, because an 11-year age gap has taught me a lot about sisterhood. 

We share similar experiences happening at different times

If we had grown up wanting to play with the same toys or had been in the same class at school, or, heaven forbid, fancying the same boys, we might have found that we clashed or competed. But this way, with an age gap, we can share experiences and knowledge, even though it might not be happening at the same time. We’re supportive of each other in a way that might not be possible if experiencing things simultaneously. We both have our own friends and interests but are still there for each other when we need to be.

We are best friends by choice

And when we want to be. The thing about having such an age gap is that no one expects you to hang out with each other. That’s why it’s even more special that we choose to. We go for drinks, watch films, and even went to New York together last year. We enjoy spending time together in a way that feels natural and not forced. No one makes us be best friends – we choose to.

Care goes both ways and roles can be reversed

Having such an age gap, you might think there’s a very clear hierarchy of care, with me taking on a more motherly role. Perhaps that is sometimes the case, but that role is also reversed. I’ve had anorexia for 15 years since I was 18 and Tonia was 7. This means she has often taken on the carer role, encouraging me to eat an adequate breakfast, and talking me down from anxious moments. She did this from a very young age, showing wisdom and strength far greater than any child should have to. And she still does.

A big sister’s wisdom can manifest in surprising places

Of course, she comes to me too. I give her tips for work, or help her with friendship difficulties, or offer solutions to important problems like how to cure a hangover. I remember her messaging me when I was in Australia, and she was 15 and very drunk. ‘Put your foot on the floor, it stops you having the spins,’ I told her, à la Frances Ha. Even when I was over 10 000 miles away, I could still be there for her. I went with her to look around universities, and drive her to go out with her friends. I take care of her in a way big sisters do, and she appreciates it.

We are incredibly close. We talk about big societal issues and politics, as well as gin and boys. We attend exciting events and do each other’s nails. Our sisterhood is a friendship, as well as a sibling bond. It spans years, but also emotions and has a resonance that makes us feel connected. I love her dearly, and I know she feels the same.