Auntie SparkNotes: The Secret Lives of Stepsisters
We like the sound of this Sparker's stepsister. —Sparkitors
Firstly, my story isn't the kind of sad Cinderella thing that usually comes with the word "step" -- I love my stepsister, stepdad, stepgrandparents, stepuncles, and stepdogs. My stepdad is 56, my mom is 53, I am sixteen, and my stepsister Caroline is 36. I love her dearly, bit she is well... stuffy, pleasant but stuffy. She seems content enough from day to day but I can tell she is not leading a happy and fulfilling life. She is dating someone who eerily resembles Andy from The Office, she lives alone with her cat, has a bottle blond Martha Stewart bob, and there seems to be a shroud of mystery over her adolescence and nobody will really talk about her past.
So I was shocked when I found an old photo album of hers when I was moving into her old room. She was a total badass! Dated 1991 she was rocking a sunset colored mohawk (MOhawk, the real deal.) She wore punk clothes and went to a lot of concerts. My stepdad is rather conservative so I understand the secrecy.
Now let me just say I wouldn't be butting in if I didn't know she was unhappy. A few months ago we went to her friend's wedding. She ran into someone from way back when who had an edgy black and plum hairstyle, she was so cool- a perfect balance of punk and classy. She turned out really successful and designs costumes for a really major theater. It was a taste of what could have been. Caroline was drunk (which doesn't happen often) by the time we got back to her place (I drove) and admitted that her boyfriend is terrible in bed, she is lonely, and her punk days was the last time she felt good about herself. She said her friends didn't drink or do drugs much like the rest of them but it was all about the music, art, and having fun for them. I would have offered advice if she would have remembered it in the morning. It may not be my business but I care about her, I want her to have fun but still be a grown up. How can I help her to achieve a fulfilling life? What advice can I offer?
Those are great questions, Sparkler, but you're forgetting the most important one: When this letter is optioned by Hollywood and turned into a script for a fabulous feel-good movie called "Sisterfriends," who's going to play you—Amanda Seyfried or Ellen Page?!
Auntie thinks it's pretty freakin' fantastic that you want to help your thirtysomething stepsister get back in touch with her sense of fun, and you're actually in a great position to do just that. (Although if your goal is to see her once again sporting an orange mohawk, I must urge you to let go of that fantasy right this minute; reigniting a lifelong passion for punkitude is one thing, but bringing back the ill-advised Hair of Youth is quite another. This has been a message from your formerly pink-haired advice writer.)
So, rather than storming into Caroline's house with a Pixies CD and a bottle of Manic Panic, try talking to her about her mysterious past. Get her to tell you stories about her life, her friends, the places she's been, and the things she's seen. Ask her for advice on navigating the tail end of your teenage years. See if she opens up again about feeling lonely and dissatisfied. And if she does (or really, even if she doesn't), ask her to go do stuff. She's in a perfect position to be your pseudo-big-sis chaperone to concerts, galleries, and performances, and hanging out with someone who takes an interest in that buried part of her personality is bound to help her rediscover it. Plus, asking for her guidance will give her a compelling reason to get back in touch with the things she really loves. If she's busy telling you to follow your interests, she's that much more likely to take her own advice and start having some more fun.
And in the meantime, you'll both reap the benefits of sisterly hangouts. She might even introduce you to some great music you've never heard of.
Of course, because this isn't a movie, you shouldn't expect a drastic instantaneous change. There's not going to be a makeover montage in which your step-sis cuts her hair, quits her job, dumps her boyfriend, and starts partying it up like a neopunk princess. (Although I'll admit, personally, that I'm kinda pulling for a breakup. Dating an Andy clone with nonexistent sack skills sounds like a special kind of hell.) But that's okay, because fulfillment isn't an all-or-nothing game. Even if she's spending just a few hours a week doing things that make her good about herself, it'll be an improvement.
And okay, if you happen to go get your hair done together, and you happen to suggest off-the-cuff that she add an orange streak or two... well, let's just say I won't stop you.