I always tell people that the thing that has shaped me the most has been my role as a big sister to two little brothers. I think it is imperative that a) I am the oldest sibling b) I have two siblings, not just one, and c) I am the only girl and my two siblings are brothers.
I believe all the theories on family placement. All of them. Both because they clearly have affected me—if you’ve ever wondered why I’m so bossy now you must be satisfied because here I am, very openly admitting it, but also providing a substantial excuse for it—and because I’ve seen their effects on my brothers. For example, I’m just going to say “Middle Child Syndrome” and leave that right there.
So think about it: think about being one of three kids, think about being the only girl and having two non-effeminate brothers, and think about being the oldest. And now you know, basically, why I am who I am and we could end this whole thing right here.
We won’t, though, because I’m feeling extra mushy and smushy today after spending a nice long weekend at home. And I’m thinking a lot about why siblings are so great. After all that thinking, here’s what I came up with:
1. First and foremost, they are the people you can be your most natural self around. This is as corny as it’ll get, I swear, but if you saw me running around my house singing songs about my brothers, neither of whom I call by his real name but by strange nicknames that have come about for various reasons with long backstories, you would find this a lot less corny and a lot more… disturbing? Embarrassing? The latter. Definitely.
2. That being said, siblings are great at taking care of you when you stumble home too intoxicated too late at night and you need someone familial to hold your hand but shhh don’t wanna wake up Mom and Dad! One Thursday night in the spring of my senior year of high school, when I used my body as a melting pot for many bad things, my friends decided it would be a good idea to drive me home in a packed Jeep Wrangler. In the Wrangler, I proceeded to convince myself that I was stuck in what I called a “vortex” and then had a panic attack in my brother’s room at 2am. He let me squeeze his hand while I hyperventilated.
3. If you have sisters, they are good for photoshoots. Instagram has, in a way, provided a new backdrop for domestic intrafamilial child labor. If you have brothers, you can try and make them photograph you but they will never understand how to properly focus by tapping the screen, how to take photos fast enough, and how to highlight your skinny arm.
4. Siblings are great people to eat with. You know each other’s favorite foods (read: you’re used to going from ice cream out of the carton to a full block of Manchego in front of each other, no biggie) and there are no regrets and no judgments.
5. Little brothers are also great for being honest about how you look. The littlest brother of mine used to tell me that I’m “generally skinny but have big thighs that you could work on.” Now that he’s older he’s still honest about my ever-fluctuating weight but is mature enough to roll his eyes before disclosing his honest answer after he’s asked, “Eli, how do I look these days?”
6. CUDDLING! And WATCHING TV IN BED! These are the best sibling things to do, even if you are all aged 13+, and especially if you are single. In not-gross ways, your brothers and sisters are the closest things you’ll always have to significant others. Last night I went to a play with my brother and his girlfriend and I kept having the inclination to rest my head on his shoulder when I was tired but then realized she was doing that on his other shoulder and I kept having to be like oh, wait, no Hannah, bye.
7. Upping your likes on Instagram and Facebook. Everyone loves and envies a cool, fun, photogenic liter of siblings. It works the other way, too: the more siblings you have, the more guaranteed likers you have at your beck and call.
8. Siblings are great to think about. When you think about them, you smile, and you get really happy. And the best part of that happiness is that you can share it with them. You can text them and be like, “Remember when I sneezed a piece of seaweed out of my nose from my miso soup and you almost threw up because it grossed you out so much but I was laughing really hard?” And if you’re with them, you can just run over to them and squeeze them really tight, I mean you’ve always been rowdy with each other anyway, and you can feel like a kid again because in a way that’s how you’ll always remember each other. Or maybe that’s just me and the way I try to cradle my 13-year-old brother in my arms, though he now has armpit hair and makes me tweeze his unibrow for him.
As we get older, our siblings serve different purposes in our lives. Your brother can’t take as good care of you if, when you come home, he’s also intoxicated and is laughing at you instead of holding your hand. Unfortunately, your little little brother’s six-pack does not mean he is still skinny enough for you to carry him like a baby. They are old enough to FaceTime and text me, and when I’m with them, take pretty pictures of me, so I guess under the circumstances I got no complaints. They’re good enough for me.
I am not just one of those people who, at eight, could tell you what I wanted to name my children. I am one of those people who has, at different stages of her life, had such clear ideas of what I wanted to name my children that my best friends can give you a catalog of baby names that have been or still are in my repertoire.
In a strange way, this herd of imaginary children that I dreamed up is, or was, an extension of me. My best friend Nicole still taunts me about “Milo”—that one was from, like, fifth or sixth grade—and I kind of deny that I would still use it but a) I still have a strong connection to/association with the name, it’s like the Milo I envisioned myself birthing some twenty years down the road was an imaginary friend of sorts, and b) any validity of my denial completely falls through when you talk to my mom about how, just last year, I refused to let my family name our new puppy Milo in fear that one day, I would want to use it for a child but would not be able to because “Milo” would be forever ruined with images of a small labradoodle.
I’ve spoken before of my thoughts on baby names and how the name game, like any other sport, changes over time and adapts to the strange ways in which our social interactions present themselves. For example, when you think about Gwyneth Paltrow’s daughter “Apple,” (is it offensive that I put someone’s name in quotations? Does that make it sound like imitation meat on a kosher Chinese food menu?) and then you think about her obsession with green juice, everything makes a lot more sense.
So what about this whole giving your girl a boys’ name-thing?
When I was born, my parents named me Hannah Dylan. I thought Hannah was a relatively unique name—I’ve always considered any name that isn’t Britney, Ashley, or Melissa (sorry Britneys, Ashleys, and Melissas) to be a unique name—and Dylan, for obvious reasons, even uniquer.
In my preschool class there was another “Hannah.” According to my mom, she taught me what sex was but I don’t remember learning about sex until third grade when this girl who shall remain unnamed showed me a picture of it on Google, and my epiphany at that moment was so great that I don’t find it possible for me to have had ANY prior knowledge of sex beforehand. Anyway, so there was this other Hannah and for that reason, people called me Hannah Dylan. I have vague memories of my teachers writing it on my finger paintings. I have vague memories of introducing myself as Hannah Dylan. I have less vague memories of practicing my signature to ensure the “D” was included between the “H” and the “P.”
I loved my middle name. I always have, and I always will. As I get older and the babynaming gets weirder, there’s an infinitely larger amount of not only girls with “boys’” names, but also of “gender-neutral” names. In my eyes, “Blake” is just as well-suited for a girl as it is for a boy. This may be because I know a very cool female Blake who is not Blake Lively, in all seriousness, and a very weird male Blake. Of course, this also has larger implications when we consider how perhaps there should no longer be “girl names” or “boy names” at all. I won’t let that go unmentioned, yet it deserves many an essay on its own to be elaborated upon. There are certain names, though, that we have undeniably been programmed to think of as “boy” or “girl” names.
Last night, I was speaking with some friends about names and I mentioned how I used to pretend my name was hyphenated Hannah-Dylan, and though I neglected to mention it to them, I did used to go around telling people that my first name was Hannah Dylan, not just Hannah, because my birth certificate said “Hannah Dylan” in the “first name” spot. In reality, I don’t even know if there is a first name spot on birth certificates, I don’t really remember the last time I even saw a birth certificate, and I do know that my birth certificate says “Hannah Dylan” but just because it says that does not mean my parents had any intention of “Hannah Dylan” being the “Mary Ellen” of our generation.
I don’t think I love having “Dylan” be a part of my identity precisely because it’s a “boys’ name” as much as I love it because it’s a unique name that avoids sounding absurdly ridiculous or reflective of green juice culture. Girls with “boys’ names” are always proud of them. Last night at the table, when a friend with an objectively good taste for cool told me that she wished I went by Dylan (as, you know, some people do go by their middle names as their first names, I don’t always understand how this works or comes to be but it does) and that she thought I would “pull it off” really well, I felt like I had gotten a nice pat on the back. Really? I thought. Thank you, I told her.
Why am I thankful that I could “pull off” a boys’ name? Why do some of my peers insist that they don’t know what they want to name their children, but know they want to use a boys’ names for a daughter? And, we can’t not wonder: why did Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds name their daughter “James?” Do they just love the “idea” or the “concept behind” crossing traditional gender boundaries?
Also, what is it about me that makes “Dylan” such an integral part of my identity? Why does almost every individual in the male species instinctively call me “HDP” and not “HP?” And, really, how do I make sure I continue to be able to “pull off” my fancy middle name for all of eternity?
Tell me, I’m ahb-so-lutely dying to know: what is it about a girl that makes her well-suited for a name usually granted to the other half?
Last week, I watched Danny Kahneman’s TED talk on “the riddle of experience vs. memory.” Though Kahneman is a sixty-something man with a cute accent and not a 20-year-old girl who’s been regrammed by @Infatuation, he spoke on a topic to which we can all, almost undoubtedly, relate.
Experience vs. memory is a way of measuring our happiness: are you happy in your life, or are you happy about your life? If you read that sentence again and think about it really hard, I promise you’ll notice a difference between the two clauses. It’s there. I promise.
Kahneman argues that we make decisions about what we want to do and what we want to do again based on how we think we’ll remember something. I’ll put it in 21st century terms: we decide what we want to do “for the Instagram” and not because we actually want to do it.
I did some research and it turns out that Kahneman is an 81-year-old Israeli psychologist who got his bachelor’s degree in 1954 from Hebrew University. That is just a few years before the creation of Instagram and Facebook, FYI. Sooo, it seems that not much has changed over time. This could be really amazing for us but really sad for all humans and huwomans: it looks like our vice isn’t our addiction to social media nor is it our narcissistic self-expression, but it is our skewed perception of happiness.
I’ve always had this theory that memory is the best quality to have. This is because I’ve had too many encounters where I don’t remember someone’s name, or even worse, I just don’t remember anything at all and have to ask stupid questions that make me sound unintelligent (including but not limited to: state capitals; telling the difference between continents, countries, and regions; stuff about wine). As I age, there seems to be nothing more impressive or useful than remembering people’s names and remembering stuff about wine. It just makes you more likable.
Hence, the experience vs. memory extravaganza was no surprise to me. Obviously, memory is important to us. It probably should be. But maybe we’re doing it just a little bit wrong. We’re obsessed with memory in a way that we think might make us happier but, in the long run, may not.
Actually, I take half of that back. I might have been lying depending on who you are. If you believe that you will be genuinely happier through commemoration, by posting a photo of it to social media, then you might be. That also means that you just value your happiness in memory more than you value your happiness while actually doing something. Sure, the Instagram was great, but your ego may have been better boosted (and your happiness might have increased) if you didn’t eat that delicious brownie ice cream sundae after your meal of pasta and pizza and red wine at a fancy shmancy Italian restaurant. Now you’re nauseas, you can’t stop asking your mom if you look fat, and all you’ve got is 116 likes on Instagram. You’re lucky it was a brownie sundae; my research tells me that ice cream sundaes minus the brownie have an average of 20 to 26 less likes.
What if you absolutely hate skiing but you went with your friends anyway because you were afraid of FOMO and not posting in Instagram in over two weeks? Would you be happy?
Memory is weird. You might really be enjoying an experience, like eating pasta and pizza for days, until something bad happens at the end of it, like lets say you get really bad diarrhea because uh-oh you forgot to take your Lactaid pills. You are programmed to essentially forget all about the amazing meal and how happy every bite made you and instead promise to never consume dairy again. Gluten, though, we can still work with.
There is a difference between experience and memory and our generation is one that favors memory over all. We do things for the sake of remembering them later. And it extends farther than just our inability to be in the present. At the end of the day, or at the end of your Snapstory, it’s about the fact that memory can be shared, and experience, typically, cannot. You can’t make someone jealous about something they weren’t present for unless you drag them into the past with you.
So I guess what makes us happy is social affirmation. You know what they say: an experience isn’t worth it unless someone else expressed some form of offensive or complimentary jealousy! Right?? …Right?