There is one question that has dominated my life: ‘What is it like being a twin?’
When people ask this question, they are genuinely interested. I see it in their eyes. These are a generation of people who have grown up with ‘Sister, Sister’, ‘Sweet Valley High’ and the Olsen twins. I get it.
So when I do give my answer, I always feel that I’m letting people down. I want to provide them with the amazing description they are hoping for – confirming that when I don’t feel like picking up the phone to Claire, I just send her a message. With my brain.
I want to be the twin that they have always dreamed of. I want to be Mary-Kate, goddamnit.
But despite being a twin from the very first moments of my existence, I will be honest and say: I don’t know what it is like being an identical twin. Not really.
It’s a little like being asked what it’s like having a pair of lungs. I don’t know – Good? Useful? Essential? Being a twin makes up my DNA: my twin-ness sits snugly inside each and every cell that makes up my body. It’s why we have the same colour eyes; the same colour hair and tiny wrists. It’s why I am me and she is, well, she.
But this sort of answer isn’t what the punters want to hear. Who wants to know that being a twin is natural, normal and ordinary? Everyone knows identical twins are special, different and weird.
So in trying to answer their question, I’ve realised that whilst I don’t know what it’s like being a twin, I do know what it’s not like. Sadly, it isn’t a telepathic dream world in which Claire and I end each day, hugging and whispering: ‘I love you sissy’ (Tia and Tamera). We’ve never played tricks on people or shared a catch-line (Mary-Kate and Ashley).
Being a twin is completely different to that. In fact, it’s quite difficult.
1) I got you, babe.
As the saying goes: ‘You came into this world on your own and that’s how you’ll leave’. Except, we didn’t. Claire and I met as a cell, much before we had met the outside world. Much before we met our own parents.
We spent nine months growing limbs, fingers and toes together. And on the fateful day that Claire got embroiled in her umbilical cord, we hastily entered the world together.
Whilst Claire and I are very much individuals, there will always be a feeling that there is another part of yourself out there: part of your team, also facing life head-on. Now, that’s great – but it’s also hard. If there was another part of yourself out there, you’re going to worry about it. How’s it getting along? Will it be OK in that situation? Should you have maybe been kinder to it? Did you upset it?
At times that’s hard. Life is difficult enough as it is looking after yourself, but when there’s someone else out there, who you care about in a similarly instinctual way, it’s a double whammy. I regularly wonder if Claire is OK and bite my nails when she takes a flight. It’s tough.
2) Spot the difference
Twins are pretty much everyone’s favourite walking, talking ‘spot the difference’ game. When we’re together – maybe paying for something, checking in our luggage or talking to someone new – we can feel their eyes on us. We know what’s coming: ‘Are you twins?’ Once we confirm that they are indeed right, we brace ourselves for what comes next. ‘You’re really similar, except….’
Except for a lot of things, apparently. I have a fatter face. Claire has the longer face. I have smaller eyes. Claire has rounder eyes. I have wonkier teeth. Claire has straighter teeth. I have shorter legs. Claire has longer arms. Claire is the assertive one. I am the soft one. Or the ultimate twin taboo – one is the more attractive twin.
Imagine standing in front of a stranger whilst they eyeball your face and body, scrutinising the shape and size of your nose, hands and chin. It’s awkward. But yet, for 28 years, we have stood and smiled patiently, whilst the world has given us a running commentary on our looks. It’s a lot like being in the Daily Mail. Uncomfortable and a bit cruel.
3) Making Memories
Being a twin means fighting for your memories.
There was never any real choice about who to hang out with growing up. Claire was a little like an imagery friend: always there. We were never lonely and shared daily experiences: from bath time to bedtime. Life was unanimous. But unfortunately, so are our memories.
I vividly remember an absolutely wild day, aged five, in which I wrapped myself up in my duvet, climbed to the top of our bunk bed and dramatically fell off (I couldn’t see and was disorientated). I remember opening the duvet and realising I was on the floor, before freaking out. But speak to Claire and the story is different. In fact, it’s hers. She was the one that took a tumble.
It could just be the case that on this particular day, we were both idiots and fell off the bed (likely), but this memory clash happens too regularly. Our childhood memories are identical. I have no idea where my memories end and Claire’s start, and that is pretty confusing when you’re trying to be an individual.
4) The third wheel
I genuinely feel sorry for friends and partners of twins. There they are, enjoying a relationship with someone and making plans, before their new friend or girlfriend drops the twin bomb. For friends, it’s probably a lot like entering a really weird cult. You’re fitting in fine, but there’s always something you’re missing or not doing right. You’ll always the one that came to the party a little late (e.g. after conception).
For partners, it must be even weirder. I imagine meeting the twin is like meeting the parents, but far worse. And that doesn’t let up. However long you’ve been with the person, however well you know them, the other twin is always hanging around, knowing them that 0.1% better.
In fact, we’re not too dissimilar from the film ‘TED’. Whoever we fall in love with, marry and enjoy a happy life with, there will always be that annoying, giant and unshakeable teddy bear popping up. The other twin.
5) The fork in the road
Being a twin when you’re 5 is awesome. Your life is hassle free and fairly identical: play, eat, sleep, play, eat, sleep. You hang out with your parents and your little friends, and life is easy. It’s heading in one direction, on the same road.
Being a twin as you’re reaching your late 20s is different. Maybe one is playing whilst the other is eating. One is seeing a friend you lost touch with. The other is hanging out with a new friend. Maybe you don’t even like what the other is interested in. Maybe she doesn’t act the same anymore. Eventually, the road you were both wandering down splinters in lots of different directions and you’re on very different paths.
This is a weird time for twins: necessary, exciting, normal but weird. I remember seeing an episode of Tia and Tamera (DON’T JUDGE ME), all grown up and having a huge argument about the very same thing, in a Frozen Yoghurt Shop. It was tense. In short, you have to learn to be an identical twin whilst also being very non-identical individuals.
Being an identical twin is not exciting at all. In fact, after reading this, you might be glad that you escaped the 1 in 285 chance of splitting as an egg and ending up with a little womb friend.
But in outlining all the weird parts of being a twin and successfully destroying the entire dream that Nickelodeon has spun us, I’ve come full circle. Whilst writing all these different points, I realised that although I could try and explain what it’s like to share memories with someone or endure the ‘lookalike’ game, to me it all feels normal, natural and largely, unremarkable. And the only other person to really understand the normalcy of it all is Claire.
I think I hit the nail on the head at the start of this post. Being a twin is simultaneously both as everyday and as essential as breathing. You hardly think about it, but when you do, you realise its importance and maybe can’t breathe a little bit. It suddenly feels weird.
So, Claire, you are to me, a lung.
Who said I never said anything nice to you?