I’d never thought about it until I heard on the radio this morning a discussion about siblings, but the relationship you have with siblings is likely to be the longest in your life. Parents die, and “romantic partners,” as they are quaintly called, come later.
Four-fifths of us have siblings, and the great thing about siblings is that the relationship with them are free to take many different forms. In contrast, relationships with your parents have a more restricted range: your parents have a responsibility for you, and you have a dependence on them; and they are, of course, much older.
One of the main tasks of childhood is to learn how others think and how to form relationships. Siblings are a better test-bed than parents, although a professor on the radio pointed out that in the average hour young siblings spend together there are eight points of conflict. But that’s good—because learning about how to handle conflict is one of life’s important tasks.
I’m lucky to have two brothers, both younger and both of whom I love. One brother, Brian, is close to me in age, and, although we have always been close, our relationship was competitive until we got too old to care. We “competed” in different worlds, him a stand-up comedian, me a medical editor. In his autobiography Brian writes mockingly about “this boy who lived with us and turned out to be my brother.”
But what I haven’t had is a sister, and for all sorts of reasons—the main one being that I attended an all-boys school—I went from being 11 to 16 with virtually never speaking to a girl of my own age. I still think it shows.