Sisters First, Roommates Second: What I Learned From Living With My Sibling

My sister and I moved into our two-bedroom Brooklyn apartment in the summer of 2019. It was the first day of July, with peak summer sun and an encouraging breeze calming our nerves and reminding us we could follow through with our plans. I would be starting my junior year at The New School in the fall, and she was moving to the city in search of a job in fashion design.

Living together seemed like the perfect arrangement. She needed a roommate, and after two years alone in New York, I needed family. Aside from the convenience and the near-perfect timing of our previous leases ending, we assumed we’d be great roommates because we were great sisters. 

We’d spent the last four years apart since she left for college in 2015. Since then, we spoke on the phone regularly about what was happening in our lives, texted each other memes every day, and constantly shared how much we missed each other. Nobody understood me the way she did, and vice versa on her part. We seemed closer than other siblings we knew, and thought nothing could break us apart.

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As soon as we got through the door of the new apartment, we immediately started fighting over closet space. I should have realized this argument was foreshadowing the rest of our lease. Over the next six months, we fought all the time and about everything, from chores to childhood events and anything in between. Without our parents to mediate our conversations, they seemed to escalate to places they never needed to go. 

One time, we even argued over a rice cooker my sister was convinced I broke. By the time we realized the machine was fine, we were so deep in our anger with the other, it didn’t even matter that the fight’s inciting incident didn’t actually happen at all. These screaming matches often ended with one or both of us crying, angry, and ready to move out. 

We thought living together would be great because we knew each other so well, but now, after a rough year for both of us, I’ve realized that’s exactly why it wasn’t. It was so easy to poke at each others’ biggest insecurities, re-hash arguments from when we were younger, and get really nasty knowing we’re stuck together for life.

As bad as our bickering would get, we both still loved each other, and we knew we had to make a change. After many level-headed conversations, we were able to come up with solutions that made living together better for both of us. And once we started putting in a conscious effort, our situation got better.

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We needed to have separate “roommate” and “sister” talks, and had to be very strict on where that line was drawn. When we were discussing issues in the apartment, it was almost best to imagine we didn’t know anything else about each other except the fact that we lived in the same space.

We also worked on ourselves a lot and, admittedly, leaned on our mom for growth. When we weren’t mad, it was easy to have a phone call with a neutral third party who could offer advice and remind us of ways we could work as individuals to help the other. We tried to get ahead of our fights by making chore charts and schedules and having preemptive conversations before they turned into arguments.

We also didn’t want to lose what we loved most about each other, so we made sure to make time for each other outside of our apartment. Sometimes they were bigger events like concerts or shows, other times it was just going out for a cup of coffee. Spending time with each other away from our apartment made us remember everything about the other that we had taken for granted when all of our “quality time” was more “convenient-because-we-live-together time.” We started to see each other as close friends again, instead of just annoying roommates.

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Even after making changes that did help, the hardest, and most difficult part about living together was coming to terms with the fact that living together just wasn’t working. We had the tough conversation and knew it was in our best interest to live in the same city, but in different homes.

We’re both moving out at the end of the month, and while living together wasn’t always the best experience, I’ll always cherish this year because it showed me how much we’re willing to try and how much we care about being close, even if that means living a little farther apart.

I can’t say for sure what’s next for us, but I have a good feeling it will work out — like most things do — the way it’s supposed to. I know she’ll only be a short train ride or walk away. Like we did the four years she was at college, we’ll talk about our lives, share our favorite jokes we’ve found on the internet that week, and tell each other how much we miss the other — only this time it will be in person.

Originally published on August 19, 2020.

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