Twins: more than meets the eye

There is a picture of my dad holding me when I am just three weeks old. My skin is practically translucent, and I have IV’s coming out of my nose. My grandpa says I was “no bigger than a can of soup,” and my dad recalls being able to fit his wedding ring around my wrist. In another picture, he’s holding my twin sister Rachel, and, similar to me, there are IV’s sticking to her body like straws. She’s even smaller than I, but both of us are small compared to almost any other baby: Born two months early, we weighed only 3.5 lbs each.

Looking at that picture now, as a 5’6’’ 17 year old, it’s hard to imagine I was really that little. What’s even scarier to me is seeing how fragile my sister is. It’s my concern for her and her concern for me even as babies that keeps our bond strong today. My mom tells a story of how as infants she would place us in opposite ends of the crib. Gradually we would scoot together until our heads or hands were touching and we would sleep that way–holding hands to comfort one another through bad dreams or loud thunder.

Several studies show the close bond between twins. Dr. Barbara Klein, researcher of twins and the bond they share, wrote Not All Twins Are Alike: Psychological Profiles of Twinship. She considers the twin bond to be constant and strong. “The twin bond, once established, endures throughout the lives of twins. It is a fixed or permanent bond that is exceedingly difficult or impossible to change,” she writes.

That is true even of Rachel and me: Though she may be louder and I may be quieter, or she may be smarter and I may work harder, we are still close and have a tight bond. The closeness between twins, however, can often fuel competition. Psychologist who have studied the relationship between twins say that they “tend to develop separate interests to avoid competition, since competitive situations create such undesirable boundaries between them.” The competitiveness we used to have over academics has gradually faded during the past few years–we both recognize that we have our own strengths and weaknesses. So instead of being super competitive and having that destroy our friendship, we are instead super close. There is something about growing up with a person, about playing and laughing and crying and sleeping and eating with that person that creates an unbreakable bond.

The relationship between twins is different from the relationship between friends and the relationship between siblings–it’s both of those combined. As friends, Rachel and I watch movies together and gossip and talk about boys. As sisters, we rely on each other with tougher issues: the death of our grandpa or a fight with mom. Being friends makes us there for each other, and being sisters forces us to love each other unconditionally. Instead of ruining our friendship with a petty fight, we have a bigger perspective and can easily get over any sort of dumb arguments.

Even twins who aren’t raised together like Rachel and me still have a close bond. Studies show that twins raised apart have scaringly similar traits. There is the famous case of the “Jim twins”—identical twins Jim Lewis and Jim Springer were separated at birth but both have almost the exact same history. According to a National Geographic article, their first wives were both named Linda and their second wives are both named Betty. One named his son James Alan, the other named his son James Allan. Both “served as part-time sheriffs, enjoyed home carpentry projects, suffered severe headaches, smoked Salem cigarettes, and drank Miller Lite”.  Even though they grew up in separate households with different parents, Jim Springer and Jim Lewis’ history nearly mirror each other’s.

But just because twins may have the same history doesn’t mean they are the same person or want to be seen as the same person. When Rachel and I were younger, one of our little cousins thought Rachel and I had the same name: Rachelen, since the two of us were always referred to as “Rachel and Helen” or “the girls” or “the twins”. It gets repetitive having people mix up our names and call me Rachel, but I’ll take that any day over not having a twin.

I love having a twin–I love having Rachel as a sister and a friend. I love having someone to constantly rely on, someone who can tell I’m upset even though I’m smiling. I love knowing that Rachel knows everything I’ve been through, that she’s patient when I’m in a bad mood and that while we are two different people, our friendship is rock solid. What else do I love about my twin sister? The fact that she has never called me Rachel.

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