What It's Really Like to Be an Identical Twin
Being an identical twin has its perks. However, I’m consistently stunned at what other people’s ideas of what these said amenities should be. For example, I have never switched places with my twin sister for a prank or a test. We have never had our own language. We can read each other minds. We field an unreasonable amount of questions from strangers, particularly in supermarkets. We have no idea how to answer the question, “What’s it like to be a twin?” Can one ever truly, objectively know ones own nature?
To weigh in on this topic further, I caught up with fellow identical twin and good friend, Shawn Ashmore, in hopes he could chime in on his experience. When I asked about his brother, Aaron Ashmore, he said, “Our taste in art,music, film and food is very similar but everything else is quite different. Our taste in women, the way we handle stress, and just general personalities are very individual.” My sister and I could not be more different, despite looking very much alike (technically identical.) From two sets of twins to the general pubic, here’s a few insights we have to offer.
When my sister and I are out, we get approached consistently. We’ve never stood in line at the grocery store together without hearing the low, clandestine murmurings of a stranger asking if we are, in fact, twins. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Says Ashmore, “The best part of being a twin is it’s an automatic icebreaker in social situations; people constantly come up to you and want to chat.”
Chalk it up to a lifetime of comparison, this is a learned skill. As kids, we could even tell our matching stuffed animals apart. We could be carrying the same brand of generic border collie plush and know which one had the droopy left eye. This echoes into our adult lives, resulting in crazily accurate proofreading of papers and an ever-discerning eye for the slightest of flaws in retail purchases.
My mother is adamant about this point. According to her, we even breastfed differently. Shawn confirms this notion: “My brother and I had a similar upbringing, so no doubt that’s learned, but we had distinct, strong personalities right out of the womb—so says my mom.”
Says Ashmore, “The worst part of being a twin is being constantly compared. People are looking for differences and have no problem letting you know that you are ‘the fat twin’ or ‘the cuter twin’ right in front of your sibling. Manners and common sense seem to go right out the window.” It is deeply comforting to hear this happens to other twins as well. I have never understood why anyone finds it endearing to tell you you’re better-looking than your own sister; that’s my sister you’re talking about. Across the board, from the bottom or our hearts, stop.
As a twin, when your sibling does venture into unknown waters solo, you get wildly supportive. You are her biggest behind-the-scenes cheerleader, the Goose to her Maverick. Breaking labels and stereotypes is a mutual sport, and one you take seriously. “People seem to need to label a set of twins in order to identify and relate. Why someone has to be the funny twin or the evil twin or the nice twin or the quiet twin seems weird. The comparisons and labels bother me sometimes,” says Ashmore.
When I was 6, I punched a boy in the stomach for pushing my sister’s friend. Note: Not my sister, but her friend. As this was going down, I had emphatically stated, “No one messes with my sister’s friends.” I’m not advocating slugging someone on the playground, but the instinct is very real. In the words of my best friend, “Your family holds family up mafia style: Family first. I love that.” It’s just true. Significant others who enter the picture down the line, beware.
My sister and I get songs stuck in our heads at the same time. We can tell if the other is upset or having a banner day. Sometimes if she is injured, I’ll get a phantom pain. It’s a phenomenon that is somewhat well documented across twins. Everything is energy, and ours remains in tight sync. Thankfully, for the most part, we like the same music.
As a twin, Halloween is your personal playground. It is the one day a year you can dress alike and not feel like a creep. To date, my favorite was our Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm pairing. What’s even better is when you can throw down as actual famous twins, handily besting the “non-twin” competition. Good luck beating our Grady Sisters from The Shining at a costume contest.
My sister is my best friend and closest confidant. We are wildly different. We are also very similar. When one finds oneself constantly compared, analyzed, and stereotyped by outsiders, an additional camaraderie is developed, along with a thick skin. I wouldn’t trade our bond for anything. We’re thick as thieves.
My sister and I went to the same school our whole lives. The first available opportunity I had to be a wallflower, I took it. In high school, we played on the same sports teams and were nominated for the same awards. To this day, I am positive the only reason I was on prom court was that she was so outgoing and spectacular. I, the introverted, artistic loner of our dynamic duo, did exactly nothing to accrue votes from the student body.
I once dated an artist who went “off-grid” for exaggerated swaths of time. He was apologetic about this trait, but I found it wildly alluring. As a twin, a solid portion of my life is devoted to differentiating. Carving out alone time, setting oneself apart from the maddening crowd, reveling in the joys of solitude: all things I discovered outside the womb. Solitude and independence are precious gifts and should be protected at all costs.
I often joke that my sister and I have been “married” for over 30 years. There is a uniqueness to being a twin that other sibling relationships don’t have. It’s called being a “couple.” I have been in a couple from birth. We’ve been referred to as “the royal we” our entire lives. Psychologically, I am sure there are some rampant codependency issues linked to this, but I like to think it makes us better mates. We possess great empathy for how hard it is to truly know another human being. Relationships are ultimately the product of hard work, not natural compatibility.
The ubiquity of The Parent Trap is no doubt to blame for this one. I love that movie. My sister and I regularly watched it together and were baffled at the bizarre circumstance in which this “switch” would be permissible, if not advisable, in life. The reality is that “switching” for twins just isn’t appealing. Shawn put it perfectly: “We never played pranks on anyone. When you spend most of your life trying to have the world see you as two different people, it seems strange to then try to confuse people.”
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Opening photo: Sam Robinson