So, the twin thing really is a thing. It starts in the womb. When I first found out I was having twins, I felt them ganging up almost immediately. They kicked and slept and hiccupped in tandem. When they made their debut, I am fairly sure they negotiated a crying cycle that shouldered out even a minute of silence. I gave thanks that they were not identical, that I had a boy and a girl to create some separation, some individuality in the twin world. We did not name them cutesy twin names, no Aiden and Adelaide, no Mason and Madison. Anything to prevent them from turning into Disney characters. And they do have their own proclivities. We’ve got a lefty and a righty.
A builder of blocks and an artist. A perfectionist and a tornado. Perhaps because of these differences and the fact that they have had to live together for each of the 24 hours of every day since conception, they can both initiate and negotiate conflict better than most. After all, they have no choice. Patricia Malmstrom, in her book, “The Art of Parenting Twins”, writes, “They fight, but they love each other. They know that they have to live together.” It’s the greatest truth my twins have had to learn – that they can’t escape the relationship. You would think this would be a good thing, this early prescience about the nature of successful relationships, and it would be…if everyone else in the world was a twin. But how many of us have dated someone with the emotional intelligence of an amoeba and wondered how we were ever going to reach a level of equanimity?
To be more aware than your partner of the long-term consequences of your actions and of your own psyche is not an advantage. It takes two to keep that relationship rolling. Twins have to fight for autonomy from the very beginning. They are forever proving that they are separate, capable entities. Most of us do not have to figure out how to assert our own independence until later in life, when we are knee-deep in a relationship that encroaches on our previously free-wheeling self. It is a tricky thing that takes practice – something twins have had a great deal of.
Imagine, if you will, your most unbalanced relationship, when you felt like you were unknown and unknowable to your partner, always pushing at the edges of understanding and ultimately feeling alone. Now imagine having someone in your life who has always been intimately in tune with your wants and needs and emotional fluctuations. They might be your polar opposite, they might make you crazy, but they have always been able to read the seismographic printout of you – because they are your twin. That knowledge hovers between you and every relationship…that out in the world, there is someone who knows without even having to try. It seems like a cosmic set up for relationship trauma. But there is also potential for greatness.
One study on the twin relationship found that “individuation and connectedness may complement rather than compete with one another.” Twins have the potential to find even more success in romantic relationships because of all the hours clocked practicing empathy and the emotional give-and-take necessary for effective communication. All that time spent in conflict and negotiation might finally pay off. So, despite the lifelong connection, the genetic chain that links them to one another, twins can use that emotional intelligence to their advantage later in life. There need not be a line in the sand that separates them from the rest of the world. Or at least that’s what I hope as I overhear my twins talking in their own secret twin code, plotting to overthrow the family and then the world.