Becoming Sisters: On Friendship and Sisterhood


We would be remiss dedicating an entire month to friendship without ever discussing the bonds of siblinghood. Maya Angelou said, “I don’t believe an accident of birth makes people sisters or brothers. It makes them siblings, gives them mutuality of parentage. Sisterhood and brotherhood is a condition people have to work at.” (To which I say, AMEN.) And while weddings can often complicate this process, they also give us an opportunity to take these relationships, fraught with complication as they may be, to a deeper level. So today we have Anna and her process of becoming sisters and friends.

Maddie

Becoming Sisters: On Friendship and Sisterhood | A Practical Wedding

by Anna Leonhard

When did the shift take place?

My older sister and I could count the number of times we’ve met in person on one hand. Due to our mother’s sudden death after my birth, we found ourselves growing up in separate worlds: different families, cities, nationalities, and eventually different continents.

Before the rise of Skype and Facebook, our conversations were infrequent and plagued by that international call delay that twists and obscures all conversation. The poor connection was as predictable as the content of our communication: “How is father? How is school? How is church? How is work?…” For us, it was the minimum we could get away with while still fulfilling our sisterly obligation to show interest in each other’s lives.

Years passed. She met a man. I suspected that things might be getting serious when she announced that they were engaged! “You’ll come for the wedding?” Wendy stated, more of a declaration than a request.

“Of course!” The timing couldn’t be more perfect. I had finally completed graduate school, relocated out west and was enthusiastically investing all my energy in building my career. The wedding would be the following summer, which gave me plenty of time to prep and save for my voyage back to the motherland. Then she called back. Things had changed, and work constraints compelled them to move up the wedding date. December?! My head began pounding. “Of course, I’ll still come.”

I flung myself into the wedding planning process with determination because that’s what sisters do, right? And thus began the shift: five months; two continents; several time zones; more emails, phone calls, video chats, and frantic voicemails than I could count. Our austere sisterhood was beginning to evolve into something neither of us predicted.

The change was a process, the accumulation of events rather than one specific moment. It did not happen when we spent weeks browsing through thousands of gowns on the internet. She quickly made it clear that strapless was a must, but the ruffles were debatable. We thought we had found “the one,” only to realize after the purchase that it lacked “the right touch.” Back to square one.

I learned to become a student of Wendy’s style—delicate and sophisticated. Frustration threatened to shut down communication at times, but we managed to keep the dialogue going. Our cultural misconceptions also provided comic relief, such as the time Wendy thought that the petticoat that we ordered with her dress was actually going to be a bolero jacket. (Get it? Petti—“little” coat?)

The shift did not take place during the traditional West African engagement where both sides of the family gathered to bless the marriage and exchange customary gifts. Wendy was radiant in her Gele head wrap, soaking up the spotlight as the elders layered on their blessings. Yet she quickly evaded the dance floor at the ceremony’s conclusion. I smiled secretly to myself at the discovery that we both prefer huddling behind the scenes to dancing for an audience of extended relatives.

It wasn’t when Wendy squealed in delight at my cursive handwriting and promptly put me to work on the DIY favors. We watched home videos of birthdays and graduation parties while we worked, laughing so hard over our crazy adolescent mishaps that we were forced to stop working. I didn’t finish assembling the favors until the early morning hours of the wedding day. Feelings of triumph drove me on as I reflected on gaining enough of the bride’s trust that she completely delegated the project to me and passed out from exhaustion.

Things did not automatically change during the rehearsal when I realized that Wendy and I share the tendency to be fashionably late. The reverend firmly threatened not to perform the ceremony if the bride and groom arrived more than a minute late. As maid of honor, both the groom and best man pulled me aside and pleaded with me to get Wendy to the ceremony on time. Knowing my own track record, I promised to do my best with no small amount of trepidation.

The day of the wedding arrived, and the dressing room carpet caught on fire. Then the chauffeur deviated from the standard route to the church and lost his way amidst the side roads congested with street sellers and livestock. Despite these obstacles, Wendy managed to glide calmly through the church doors just as the music began playing… because of course she wasn’t going to keep everyone waiting. Watching her navigate these tension-filled moments opened my eyes to how Wendy’s strength under pressure has enabled her to rise above the obstacles she has faced. Yet the wedding day alone is not what altered our relationship.

Persevering through each step of the planning process became our metamorphosis. We entered the wedding planning experience as near strangers bound by sisterhood and little else. One experience built on another, and somewhere between the long distance calls, transatlantic flights, late night DIY sessions, dizzying African taxi rides, stuck zippers, and white organza rescues, we sisters emerged as friends.

Photo from Anna’s personal collection

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  • http://writemeg.com Megan

    A lovely piece, Anna. I can only imagine the excitement and anxiety that must have accompanied planning your sister’s wedding from another country . . . but it sounds like everything came together beautifully!

    It’s interesting to think about when our siblings — those to whom we’re bound because we share parents, bunk beds, breakfasts — shift from simply being “the kid stealing my Barbies” to our closest allies. This is a reminder that though every sister relationship doesn’t begin with sunshine, we can build on that and grow together . . . into something more powerful. Friends by choice.

    • Anna

      Thank you, Megan. “Friends by choice” —that’s it exactly. Though I associate marriage with choice, I often overlook this element when approaching other familial relationships.

  • Rachel

    This was a beautiful piece!

    “Persevering through each step of the planning process became our metamorphosis.” I’m finding that statement so true for so many of my relationships and just for my sense of self.

  • Kristen

    I’m so glad that friendship month covered sibling friendships – something I know nothing about. Has there been a family month and will there be? Because sibling relationships are absolutely confounding to me and I’d be so interested in reading about others experiences.

    I can’t tell you how I appreciated Anna’s take on how her relationship evolved with her sister through the course of wedding planning. It’s wonderful to see how a bond of blood and family turned into a true connection and friendship.

    • http://www.missgiggles.com/blog Giggles

      Family month would be great. I was thinking there should’ve been a post this month about becoming friends with your in-laws and how that relationship grows too.

  • ANOTHER MEG

    Great post, Anna! And thank you, APW, for including siblings in Friendship Month. It’s such a happy thing to become friends with your siblings. I have a large family, and that isn’t the case with all of us. My little sister, though, is my best friend. We are each other’s maids of honor and it’s been pretty amazing going through this at the same time. Although we’ve gotten to appreciate each other as adults, we still slip into sibling bickery from time to time, which ends up striking me as hilarious. She’s still that kid who stole my Barbies, and I’m really grateful for that.

  • Em

    My sister and I DO live in the same country, and I wish I knew how to make her feel as trusted and involved as Anna did during her sister’s wedding planning process. Our age gap is pretty significant (she’s 17). The emotional gap between us seems even further. I’m not sure she’s the least bit interested in my wedding, and I have no idea how to make her feel included and valued. She’s technically my Maid of Honor, but hates public speaking (so no toast), is shyer and younger than my other bridesmaids and uncomfortable corralling them, and she’s moving away for the first time this month so rightfully very consumed by her own life. My other maids are THRILLED to have a chance to throw me a bachelorette and shower and help me with other wedding related stuff. I’m afraid my poor sister will feel left out. My mom has a habit of accusing me of bullying my sister (I think this comes from a strained relationship with her own older siblings), so I’m also hesitant to even ask my sister to help me with wedding stuff (like invites) because I imagine my family would just take it the wrong way. Ugh. When I fist got engaged I thought this wedding would be a perfect excuse to do some sister bonding, but now I have no idea how to accomplish that. Help?

    • TeaforTwo

      Although I am sure there are exceptions, I think that 17 may just be a bit young to get a lot of someone else’s wedding. I only have brothers, but I was a bridesmaid for my sister-in-law at 19, and when I look back now I can’t believe how completely consumed I was with myself – I couldn’t relate to any of the bridesmaids or friends at the shower, and so I remember the experience as being forced to wear a terrible dress (it was truly terrible), getting bored at the shower, and spending the morning getting ready with a bunch of strangers who were 8 years older than me and at SUCH different stages of life.

      Now I love all the rituals associated with weddings, and showering the bride with love, support, gifts, and practical help, but at the time I think I was just too young and self-centred to really understand how big a deal this was for her. I didn’t resent it, I just wasn’t that interested, and felt too young to help in meaningful ways – I certainly didn’t know how to throw a shower, and I even needed a ride from her to all the pre-wedding events.

      Maybe you could use the wedding as an excuse to do some one-on-one bonding with her, like going together for mani-pedis the week of the wedding, just the two of you? The wedding may not mean that much to her, but time with you might?

    • https://twitter.com/SnippetsofSarah Sarah E

      Talk with your sister about this very thing. Granted, my big bro is very close in age to me, but my eldest cousin and I are best friends, so I can imagine this scenario well (we’re 18 years apart).

      17 is way too young for hosting parties or coordinating efforts of other adults, but plenty old enough for a heart-to-heart (and moving away from home is great heart-to-heart time). Tell her what you said here: you want her to be involved, but not put upon. She might really enjoy taking a break from her own life-change stress to help with wedding details. Or not- you don’t know until you ask. Like Tea for Two said, you can still have some sister bonding time. After all, both of you are going through life transitions, so that might provide more common ground than usual. Good luck!

    • Caitlyn

      At her age, your wedding might not be at the forefront of her mind (it’s just how it goes when you’re 17 – the world revolves around you), but that doesn’t mean you can’t involve her or use this as a bonding experience. Take her dress shopping for your dress. Give her a lot of leeway in picking out her dress (you pick the color, she picks the dress with your approval, etc). If she is good at art, ask her to help with some DIY. If she prefers music, ask for help with the playlists. If she is good at writing, ask for help selecting readings for the ceremony. In other words, look for her strengths and give her a chance to shine a bit (while still helping you). Also, since it sounds like she is moving away, get her on Pinterest (assuming you are using it yourself) and ask her to help you by offering her opinions on the things you pin. It’s a great way to share planning without being in the same room/timezone.

    • Wendy

      first of all, commit the situation into the hands of God and completely trust Him to make it work. Decide to and be determined to get her involved and concerned. You could start by seeking her opinion before taking certain important decisions and delegating some tasks to her. Focus on the positives, it helps a great deal!! All the best and have a wonderful wedding.

  • ART

    Beautiful. Makes me think a lot about how to be a better (well, hopefully an EVEN better) sister to my little brother. And those dresses in the photo made me gasp a little with amazement when I scrolled down – SO pretty!

    • Kristen

      I honestly love those dresses as well – brides, but especially the bridesmaids.

  • Rachelle

    As someone whose sister is definitely their best friend, thank you for including that kind of friendship in this month. Wonderful piece!!

  • KC

    Touching, meaningful, fantastic…

    …but I have to admit that the part that made me comment was “the dressing room carpet caught on fire.” !!! That is quite possibly one of the most technically amazing wedding-day fiascos I’ve ever heard of…

    • Anna

      KC, it was definitely one of those moments where you don’t know whether to laugh or cry! On this side of the wedding though there is only laughter.

      • SarahT

        Would love details on how exactly this happened!!

  • http://www.marbleryephotography.com melissa

    What a thoughtful post with an important point – whether or not you are raised in the same house (country, continent), sibiling-ship is a given and friendship is not. It is something that is cultivated over time, with unending amounts of joy and stress. So glad you found your way there during your sister’s wedding planning.

  • Echo

    This was so lovely. My sister and I are rather estranged, due to age gap (I’m 24, she’s 39), distance, and the fact that we’re basically opposites of each other. For as long as I can remember she’s called me ‘freak’ or ‘weirdo’ and has put me down for the oddest things (like how my breasts are bigger than hers). Granted, I’m not Ms. Perfect either; I kid her around a little too hard because it’s how I display affection. Our estrangement has gotten to the point where it has been three years since I visited her and even longer since we last spoke on the phone. We acknowledge each other on birthdays and holidays, but text conversations end up going nowhere. This post has given me new-found inspiration to try to reconnect with my sister, because life is too short to be disconnected from siblings.

  • http://www.missgiggles.com/blog Giggles

    Sibling friendships can be some of the most complicated relationships there is because of all the different layers involved. What a wonderful post!

  • ItsyBitsy

    Anna, what a lovely piece! I agree with other posters that sibling friendships can be the most complicated type. I’m struggling a bit now with how to navigate troubled waters in a sister relationship but hoping for the best. Your post made me smile, tear up and hope. Thank you for sharing.

    • Anna

      Holding out for the best alongside you!

      • Itsy Bitsy

        Thank you!

  • Wendy

    Hey An, I’m really humbled. I’ll write exactly what’s on my mind and how I feel about all this. I am really blessed to have you in my life and of course Em. Love you soooooooooo much. (singing….. Bless the Lord O my soul, and all that is within me bless His Holy name. Bless the Lord and forget not His benefits. My life shall make it’s boast in the Lord!)