What’s it like to be a twin?

I think I'm the one on the right.

I have an identical twin brother, and we’ve been asked thousands of times, “What’s it like to be a twin?” I’ve given the twin speech so many times I’m bored of it, but I’ll give it one more time.

The difference between identical and fraternal twins is that identical twins are created when a fertilized egg in a mother’s womb splits in two, and both halves grow into babies with the same DNA, whereas fraternal twins are created when two separate eggs are fertilized by two separate sperms simultaneously and grow into two different babies with different DNA.

It’s illogical to ask identical twins which twin is older. It’s like taking an apple, cutting it in half and saying that the first half you picked up is older than the other half. For legal purposes you can say that the first baby to come out is older, but that’s just an arbitrary bureaucratic formality. In reality both individuals have existed in the universe for the same amount of time.

Most twins are born premature because there isn’t enough room in the womb to carry two babies full term. This often results in health problems and even death for one or both of the babies. In my case, my brother and I were born two months early. I came out a blue baby because my heart wasn’t done developing, but my brother was fine. Due to my health problems in infancy, I’m half an inch shorter than him, and I wear one size smaller shoes than him. I’ve been asked many times, but I can’t comment on our penis sizes.

Identical twins are of great interest to psychologists because they have the same DNA. This means you can study the behavior of twins to determine what behaviors are the result of nature and nurture. Many twins (myself included) get to experience being tested like lab rats at some point in their life. Psychologist have done countless studies to determine if the order in which siblings are born has any impact on their personality, and they’ve only found one positive correlation: one identical twin tends to be an introvert, and the other will be an extrovert. For the record, I’m the introvert in my twin unit.

Doctors and the general public treat twins like they’re rare, mythical creatures. If you tell a child that they’re different enough times, eventually they’ll start to believe it. This has different ramifications on different people’s psychological development.

Schools in some countries, including the United States of America, have a strict policy of not letting twins be in the same classes during elementary school, because they don’t want twins to base their identity too strongly as a member of a pair, like Thing One and Thing Two. This can be traumatic for twins at first, but this and other twin experiences can serve as motivation to define their identity.

Everyone in the world has to ask themselves, “Who am I?” You have to spend the rest of your life answering that. That question is complicated when you grow up with a clone of yourself. What does that mean? Do you have half a soul? Are you half a person? Are you twice the person that non-twins are? Will you and your twin’s soul reunite when you both die? Will one of you haunt the other after one of you dies? Did fate play a role in you being born a twin? Is killing your twin ethically equivalent to killing yourself? Life is already an existential riddle, but being a twin takes it to another level.

Being a twin is surreal, but it’s not magical. Twins don’t feel pain when the other is hurt, and they don’t have telepathic powers. They may seem to know what the other is thinking, but that’s because they shared the same experiences growing up.  If you spend enough time with anyone you’re going to develop inside references and jokes that only you two understand. Twins just have a head start. Since they learn how to speak together, they tend to develop their own inside language.

This is the most majestic aspect of being a twin. Single children enter this world alone and have to face it by themselves. Twins are born with a best friend to take on the world with… and not just any best friend, a copy of yourself. They’re born into a stable and meaningful relationship comparable to marriage. That’s phenomenally useful and personally rewarding… as long as it lasts.

For these reasons and more, having a twin is fun. It’s like having a super power. Random strangers will freak out gleefully when they see me and my twin together. It’s like being a celebrity. Sometimes people will want to sleep with you just because you’re a twin, especially if you hint that there’s a possibility of having a threesome, which is gross and I would never actually do.

If you’re inclined to use your power for evil, you can trick people. My brother and I never did that much. We didn’t switch classes in school, because that would just mean we’d fall behind in our actual classes that we missed. We never swapped girlfriends, though I know twins who have. The most we ever did was use each other’s ID cards interchangeably.

The only time one of us used our power for evil was in middle school. One day at school I tried to leave my lunch tray on my table instead of taking it back to the kitchen, and my football coach caught me and yelled at me. Once he left I just put my tray on my chair and pushed it under the table and headed to my locker. My coach found out what I had done and ran down the hall screaming. I turned my back and let him pass. He found my brother and pinned him against his locker and screamed at him thinking he was me. Then he gave my brother lunch detention for six months. My brother had no idea why that happened until we were telling twin stories at a party seven years later.

Having a twin isn’t all fun and games though. For the first 10 years of your life, adults will make you stand next to each other and ooooh and awwww at you nauseatingly. Your parents will dress you up in embarrassing matching outfits. You can’t tell who’s who in childhood photographs. On your birthday and Christmas you get redundant identical presents. People will constantly confuse you with your sibling. We got so used to being called by the wrong name in school that we often wouldn’t even bother correcting the person talking to us. We’d just pretend to be the other twin and pass the message along if it was important. Half the time the other person wouldn’t even care who they were talking to. They’d just call us by our last name. In elementary school we had one teacher who could only tell us apart by the mole in my right ear. So when she would see us she would grab our ears and fold them inside-out. The kids on the playground just memorized which shoes we wore.

Then of course, you’re cursed with the lifelong knowledge that one day one of you will die first. Then one of you will have to spend the rest of your life without your other half. But hey, at least if one of us needs an organ transplant we know where to find a perfect donor match!

Here are some more posts I’ve written about my life experiences:


3 responses to “What’s it like to be a twin?

  • Linda Gerstmann

    Travis; That was a very enlightening story. When I was a kid, I used to fantasize about having an identical twin, or even just a sister or brother close to my own age so I wouldn’t be all alone whenever my folks fought, which was all too often. I had siblings, but they were much older than me, so by the time I came along, they were grown up and had families of their own. As you pointed out, there’s a good and a bad side to everything.

    Like

  • lifehackerz101

    Yeah that was a truly good post.

    Like

  • aaroncauser

    Awesome post. Really fantastic read!

    Like

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