I think I might be better able to answer the question, “What is it like to have a twin?” if I didn’t have one. It is a question that I receive all of the time, but the answer still completely evades me. The truth is, since being a twin has been my reality for my entire life (excepting the two first minutes of it, which unfortunately I cannot remember), I find the question to be somewhat irrelevant. I can’t possibly know what it is like to have a twin since I have no idea what it is like not to have one. There is no frame of reference, no control group of twin-less individuals just like me, and therefore no straight answer. So, in the almost twenty-two years that I have been asked this question, I have still to come up with a real answer beyond “Umm, it’s cool, I guess.”
The answer that people expect to get goes something like, “It’s great! We are absolutely best friends; complete each other’s sentences, brush each other’s hair, and tell each other everything. It’s like a perfect and wonderful slumber party every night that we’re home together!” I hate to shatter people’s dreams about this false notion. Twins can be best friends – as I would say that my sister and I are - but that closeness rarely entails a perfect, quarrel-free relationship. Twins, in cases like mine, need just as much time apart as any two people do. They are not, as a friend once insinuated, easier to raise because they keep each other entertained. Twins, in my opinion, bring complex issues into the mix that siblings of different ages do not, and dealing with two two-year-olds at the same time is probably more difficult than the more traditional one-at-a-time approach. Perhaps I find it so difficult to answer the ever-recurring twin question because I am intimidated by the expectations that the question-asker brings to the table.
So, what is it like to have a twin? Well, imagine comparing yourself to someone your entire life. Imagine being known or referred to as a pair rather than as an individual. Imagine going through all of the steps involved in growing up, from preschool through college and beyond, at the exact same time as someone to whom your identity is inextricably tied. Imagine crying yourself to sleep on the floor outside your parents’ bedroom, at age five or six, when your sister learned to read before you did and sat propped between Mommy and Daddy, reading aloud, your own whereabouts completely forgotten in the midst of their beaming pride. Imagine feeling on a deep level that you were not the “favorite child.” Imagine working hard to overcome that. Imagine being, nonetheless, the second to lose a tooth, to hit puberty, to get tall. Imagine the pain you could cause simply by smoking your first cigarette - something you swore against together when you were younger - without her. Imagine having to measure up in friendships, to worry whether you were less loved by your peers than the one they compare you to. Imagine being the perceived “prettier twin,” or the less pretty twin, and all of the insecurities that arise from that on both sides. Imagine the competition. My sister let go of it after a while. Thank god she did.
On the flip side, imagine being pushed and inspired by someone your whole life. Imagine having someone at your side through everything. Imagine never having to walk into the first day of school alone. Always having a shoulder to cry on. Always having someone’s unconditional support, love, and fundamental belief that you are a beautiful soul worth having around. Imagine having something like a conscience in the form of a real person who you can just call on the phone and get mad at for being right. Imagine having someone - who brings the exact same experience to the table - to commiserate with about how unreasonable your parents are being.
My sister and I are very different. She has brown hair. I have blonde hair. She has brown eyes. I have blue eyes. She is the most grounded person I know. I have about three mood swings every day. She gravitates toward comfort and constancy. I gravitate toward the soul wrenching and reality-shifting. She rarely questions herself or the universe’s intentions. I question everything. She offers love to me in every imaginable form. I often resist her affection. She wants us to share everything. I have trouble with that concept. However, we have the same exact voice and mannerisms. We are both gentle in our demeanor and in the way that we approach life somewhat cautiously. We are both loyal friends, even to those who continue to hurt or disappoint us. I seem to attract those people more easily; she reproaches me for letting them into my heart.
I think I became a little obsessed somewhere along the way with proving my individuality – not to other people, necessarily, but definitely to myself. For that reason, perhaps, I have never had one “best friend.” I have never felt comfortable spending all of my time with one group of people. I don’t like letting people borrow my clothes, and I don’t like dressing in overtly conventional ways. I don’t want the same plan as anyone else, be it daily, weekly, or life-long. In seeking advice, I hate when people use examples from their own lives to try to explain or relate to my personal problems. I am afraid of letting someone too completely into my life. At the same time, I am terrified of doing anything completely alone. I feel the need, more often than not, to have someone at my side. And, because of my twin sister, a woman unafraid of affection and codependence, I know that I always will.