On Being a Twin

Updated: Dec 30, 2020

Being a twin is one of my two-truths-and-one-lie tricks. If we didn't grow up together or we're not close friends now, you'd never know that I'm a twin. It's always a surprise to people when I say, "I have a twin." To parents on the street pushing twins, I always stop and admire the babies and, at some point declare, "I'm a twin," noting my belonging to this special club that fewer than four percent of humans inhabit. Being a twin is an experience only twins can understand. My twin sister Katherine and I used to laugh and call ourselves "wombmates." From our conception, we were never alone. We were always a part of one another, completing one whole. Though we occupied different physical bodies, we existed in reference to each other.

One of my regular practices is Yoga Nidra. As part of this practice, we contemplate opposites. This mental shift, from one sensation, feeling, or thought to its opposite, opens up a greater expanse of awareness. Not only are we able to move from a potentially entrenched experience to it's opposite, but we open ourselves up to all of the experiences in between and beyond those two opposites.

In all of my years of writing about my emotional musings, I have only touched on my experience of being a twin, but in reality, it is one of the foundational pieces of my identity. It occurred to me the other morning as I was meditating, that for me, growing up as a twin was like being one of the opposites. When I was young, I was very shy. My twin sister Katherine was incredibly outgoing. I was an athlete, a swimmer, one of the quietest, most independent of sports. Katherine was a thespian- a drama star at our little high school. I was awkward socially and she was gifted, popular with all of the cliques. I am grateful that she forever let me tag along to receive little sprinklings of her social magic. I would never have been comfortable going to parties, concerts, and school events without Katherine. She was my confidence and my guide in this realm that I had never had to develop on my own.

We were like two halves of a whole, two pieces of a puzzle, Yin and Yang. Katherine was the lighthearted, funny one and I was the serious, worrying one. As an adult looking back now and knowing more about child development and family systems, I understand that we were perhaps guided into those roles to complete a larger family picture. As I watch my daughter, an only child, navigate through her world, one part, one whole, I can see how different it might have been to grow up not being a twin.

In Yoga Nidra, we try to see the preferences we have and to soften our grip on those preferences. I prefer to feel happy and playful, but fully welcoming the experience of sadness and despair helps me understand that, without those emotions, there would be no happy and playful. Without one, there is no other. Ultimately, preferring one emotion over another does not serve us because we need all of the emotions to feel any of them. Seeing opposites enables us not only to release our preferences for one or the other but helps us to see all of the other stops along the way.

For many years, I felt like the unpreferred twin. I was stuck in my role of the serious twin, the rigid, uptight one. And Katherine was locked into her role as the life of the party, always being happy and light. We both felt pressure to keep our half of the circle intact. We first separated in college. I went south and she went east. It was a micro-separation and we remained very close. At first, the space away from Katherine was painful. I didn't understand how to access the pieces of myself that Katherine had occupied growing up. I felt like an imposter--being social, taking up space in that way, trying on the role of playful and fun.

After we both graduated from college we moved west together, forging a new path together, falling very much into the same roles we occupied in high school. This lasted for a few years and then we began to move apart again, this time in a bigger way than we had in college. First, we moved to different apartments and then to separate states, and eventually very far apart emotionally, almost alienated from one another. In hindsight, I think the alienation from the other was a subconscious distance Katherine and I created so that each of us could step lightly into the realm of "other."

Those were hard years. It felt unnatural to be so distant from the person I thought I needed to complete me. I wasn't yet comfortable occupying space that used to be hers. But as we stayed separate, it got easier. Our former opposite selves became neutral-- neither good nor bad, neither mine nor hers. In getting enough distance from our former identities of two parts of one whole, we could see that we no longer needed to dwell in our formerly-defined parts. In the physical and emotional distance we created, we were able to see and feel our whole selves. And we were able to finally see each other.

I still feel out of place at times. Making new friends is hard for me and I'm still socially awkward. My default is still rigid and uptight. I know for Katherine too, it has been a long, complicated journey to move away from the expectations of who she was when we made up two parts of a whole to the person she is now. It's a neverending road, this path to wholeness. Contemplating how we limit ourselves, our possibilities, our preferences for ways of being, is painful but important. For me, having the perspective of a twin is a clear way to look back and see how I limited myself because I thought I couldn't be like my twin. I could only define myself in a way that made sense to complete our puzzle.

I am still serious and I still worry (a lot). Katherine is still funny as hell and is often still the entertainer. But we're both greatly changed, expanded. We've learned to dip our toes, and sometimes our whole bodies into what once was our opposite, our twin's role. I am far more social now than Katherine. And she is much more serious than I ever was. To look back and see our journeys is to understand the importance of welcoming everything, opening up and making room for all the pieces that make each of us whole.

For me, having the clear reference point of being a twin allows me to see how easy it is to get stuck in a role, to limit myself to one way of being. In looking back over my own history, I can see how slowly moving away from the tight twin circle I used to inhabit has helped me to become a whole of my own. Like a meteor breaking apart in space, the fireballs and sparks that come from the explosion light up the universe with possibilities. In breaking apart, we become complete in a new incarnation of wholeness.

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