The Curse Of Being The Responsible Sibling


I’ve always been more responsible than my brother. Even though he’s two-and-a-half years older, people always ask me if I’m the older sibling. I’ve known what I want to be when I “grow up” since almost the beginning of college while my brother, at 25, still has no clue. He graduated college without much direction, joined the police academy, moved home, randomly went to Japan for a while, worked on a cruise, quit, got a job way beneath his intelligence level, quit that and is now leaving tomorrow to work on another cruise. My brother is the kind of guy who slips on a wet floor next to a “Wet Floor” sign, and the next day slips again in the same spot. That aside, he is one of my best friends and I loved him endlessly. He is one of the funniest people I know and always speaks his mind, which both isolates him and gives him the kind of unstoppable electricity that keeps him surrounded by a circle of friends. He jumps into things head first and would run into oncoming traffic if there was something he wanted on the other side. He loves hard (ladies), and gets hurt too often, probably because he’s drawn to strong women, no fault of anyone other than being a product of his environment.

So how is it – I have spent the last 22 years wondering – that I am often punished for being the more responsible child?

I remember this clearly, even though I’m sure no one in my family does: When I was in high school and my brother was in college, we were both traveling to various places (we both suffer from unquenchable wanderlust). I, of course, bought my plane ticket using the money I saved up from working at a not-at-all glamorous clothing store. My parents paid for my brother’s plane ticket without him even having to ask. They just assumed he had no money. I have spent all of college and my first year in the real world refusing support from my parents in all ways but emotional, under the auspice that one day, when I really need it, they will be glad to help. My brother, on the other hand, lives in an apartment fully furnished by the generosity of my parents, and despite his full-time job, still gets three-quarters of his rent paid for by them. They pay for his gas, his phone, his car insurance. And now, as he embarks on his second misguided cruise adventure, he will leave his apartment sitting unpacked, unmoved and alone like a city of ghosts, forcing my parents to drive up and move his things out. 

Which begs the question, why do I often draw the short straw even though I work twice as hard? If I had known earlier that I would be rewarded for being financially dependent, would I have chosen a different path? In the great life conundrum of choosing between what is right for me and what is right for everyone, he always chooses what is right for him and I am always stuck with the what is right for everyone alternative. As the more responsible child, I suppose I should just fall deep into my roll and not care about petty things like this, but it’s tough to feel like I do my best to make the right decisions all the time and somehow he still ends up being the one working (but mostly drinking, let’s be real) on a cruise ship and traveling South America while I am typing this at my desk where I work as a temporary receptionist so I can support myself until I get a job in my field. And while I know my parents appreciate the effort I put in, it often goes unnoticed, overshadowed by my brother’s messes. So many times I have accomplished something I am proud of on the same day my brother has quit a job or had his heart broken or randomly rescued a dog. Whatever I do, he is doing something bigger, louder, more important. 

If I sound bitter, I don’t mean to. My quiet accomplishments often go unnoticed because of his bull-in-a-china-shop way of life. I take solace in the fact that he turns to me in his times of need to listen and support and give him the advice my parents can’t, because I know him for exactly who he is and won’t clean up his messes the way my parents will, and he appreciates that about me. I am brutally honest with him, letting him know when he is making the irresponsible but fun choice when, at 25, he should be making the wiser, responsible choice. And the attention/money/time discrepancy is way more my parents’ fault than his, but it is hard to direct all the blame at them when he is at the very core. But, of course, that’s exactly how he wants it; he is the center of the universe and I am just a moon, providing bits of light where I can.