The secret life of twins—according to a twin

Yeah, kind of like that. (Author not pictured.)
Yeah, kind of like that. (Author not pictured.)
Image: Reuters/Cathal McNaughton
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I’m a twin. I’ve been one for 37 years. And while twinning is not as rare as it used to be—the twin birth rate rose 76% from 1980 through 2009—people are still endlessly fascinated with us.

I know because we still get asked questions constantly. We can answer the Twin FAQs on auto-pilot. Are you identical? (Fraternal, so no, we can’t switch places.) Who’s older? (Me technically, by a minute, because C-Section). Who’s the bad one? (Oh god.) If I hit you, will she feel it? (No, but you’re going to.)

That’s just scratching the surface, folks. The truth is a lot less binary. Here’s what it’s really like to be a twin:

We have Womb Politics. Ok, it’s not like I asked to be born bigger, but I was. In fact the doctors didn’t know there were two of us until the middle of mom’s C-section. This was 1980, on the eve of Nintendo and personal computers, and yet oops, there’s an extra baby in there! My sister weighed less than two pounds to my nearly five, and the baby pictures are damning: I look like a drooling brute next to a preemie doll. I swear though, I did not intentionally eat all the food, despite the long-standing family joke.

We are excellent at “micro-sharing.” This can be observed in most typical eating and drinking situations and may be a direct result of Womb Politics. If I have anything tasty (or just edible, really) and she does not, I will share tiny bite for tiny bite, with alarming casualness. In public. And she’ll do the same when she’s coming up food lucky. No words needed. We will micro-share ice cream cones, single slices of late night pizza, and chai lattes in equal increments.

Our closeness can be confusing. Out of context, the intense familiarity we have with each other looks…weird. We took a night class in college and would arrive separately from opposite ends of campus. Always starving, one or the other twin would bring a snack to share. I can see now how odd it looked: a girl walks in and sits down, then another eerily similar girl walks in, sits down next to the first girl, pulls a bag of Cheez-Its out of her messenger bag and silently micro-shares, one by one. And we never understood why people thought we were dating.

We can resent each other. One misconception is that twin closeness equates to a serene, unshakeable love. Not true. We’re sisters, remember? We fight. We have loads of emotional baggage and evidence we can hold over the other’s head at any given moment. The knowledge of which leads to more fighting…otherwise known as the twin circle of life.

We never feel alone. I apologize for the many, many parties that I made us show up insanely early to. In those FOMO-gone-wrong situations the answer was always work together, pretending to be absorbed in oh, the BEST of conversations. So what if we were mostly debating whether we should leave through big grins pasted on our faces. The only thing less terrible than feeling shy and awkward is to share it with your best friend.

And then there is outsourcing. Dividing up the unpleasant or mundane duties is either a perk or pathetic, depending on how you look at it. There was the locker combo she never bothered to learn. The school projects that one would start and the other would finish. The last-minute cards and gifts sent from “both of us.”

Therapy is pretty pointless. Imagine if you had someone who has borne witness to almost all the major milestones of your life: childhood, college, the new amazing job, the wedding, the divorce and all the mundane moments in between. We’ve dissected it all and never get bored. I can’t imagine another friend who could shoulder all that and come back for more.

We’ve sacrificed things to stay close. We’re unusual in that we’ve lived close all these years. We went to the same college. Stayed in the same town after. Moved to Chicago at the same time. There were lots of moments when life could’ve—and maybe should’ve—separated us for a bit. But nothing ever really seemed worth not having her just a few blocks away, or equally happy and successful. She gave up a trip back to the states during her study abroad so the money could be spent on flying me to London—a bold move to make sure I experienced some of Europe despite how homesick she was.  I passed up a path to promotion once so she could get hired at the same company. The choice was twin.

Oh, and proofreading is built in: Of course, she’s read this.

Being a twin means you’ll never know anyone quite so well or be known so completely by anyone else. It’s both reassuring and exhausting, a weird yet wonderful thing.