Throughout most of my childhood, much of my identity was entwined with my brother’s.
That’s because I’m a fraternal twin. Which is sort of like having a regular sibling, except that people often view you as a collective unit.
To out-of-town relatives, we were “the twins.” We hosted birthday parties together with overlapping friends— I invited the girls; he, the boys. For photo opps and special occasions, my mom dressed us in gendered versions of the same outfit.
We were much different people, even as kids. Zach was outgoing and bright, quick at science and math. I was more introverted, and loved to read and write.
It’s almost like people observed that, and described us as the sum average anyway.
So when I went away to college for the first time — albeit on the same campus as my brother — it was shocking to not automatically be associated with him. For the first time, I could have an identity all my own.
Even though I’ve grown into my own person, he’s still an anchor to my family and my childhood. That’s not a bad thing.
I talked to other adult twins to see how their relationship with their sibling has changed over time.
Michelle: While I don’t think I feel what she’s feeling from afar without knowing her situation, I do think we take each other’s successes and disappointments more so like they are our own. I think our emotions are more in tune.
Kaylee: Since we live together, we see each other pretty much every day. Even when we don’t see each other, we are constantly texting and Snapchatting each other. It’s kind of like we have this never ending, continuous conversation via text. She’s always one of the first people I tell anything to!
Michelle: I think things shifted for us after college. We both moved to separate apartments in Chicago, and that was really the first time we’d lived apart. It was a very rough transition for me.
I think people who are born without a twin grow up being alone a lot, and I always had someone to do practically everything with. I’ve always been pretty independent as a person, but it proved to be a tough transition going from “Kaylee and Michelle” to just Michelle.
You learn how to be part of a pair since birth and then later learn how to be an individual. It’s the opposite for most people!
Katie: We always had combined birthday parties so we’d have 20-plus kids to our house. One of my favorite parties was a “Survivor”-themed one. My mom created two teams and then we had a whole bunch of games to complete.
Katie: Seeing as Mike was homecoming king, Mr. Winger and the “cute guy”, I gave up on the whole competition early on. How do you compete with that?!
Katie: We are roommates and get along well (usually).
It’s nice having a twin because you are usually going through the same things during the same time. So having someone to go through each stage of life at the same time was pretty cool.
Kathleen: For me it was the moment I realized we had spent just about every day of our lives together and graduation marked the end of that. I wasn’t necessarily sad about it, but going to different colleges would be a big change from seeing each other every day at home and at school. Graduation is a big accomplishment as an individual, but I think it meant even more to graduate with my twin.
Kathleen: As we have gotten older we have drifted apart, but not in a bad way. John and I are opposites, and as we have gotten older our individual personalities have shown through more.
We both have matured a lot since going to college, which has been a blessing because I think it has helped us get along better than we did in high school.
John and I were known for arguing in the hallways over the littlest of things so it’s nice to know that we can be in the same room without snapping at each other.
John: Teachers and friends would compare our personalities, interests and grades. I didn’t like the constant comparisons and I wanted to experience school on my own.
I have always known that I am very much my own person, I just wanted to be able to socialize and interact with people that didn’t know my sister and compare me to her.
This feeling majorly changed once we went to different colleges. I was able to introduce myself as John and not “the twins.” People finding out I am a twin would be a later thing, not the first thing. I felt like I had more social freedom and I felt like I was finding more of myself once I was at college.
Yes, college allows most people to find themselves as a person. But I think being away from my sister for the first time allowed me to do more of that.
Gretchen has reported on the criminal justice system in rural Minnesota and covered everything from politics to millennial truck drivers for Wisconsin Public Radio. She is passionate about public media as a public service. She’s also into music and really good coffee. Follow her on Twitter @gretch_brown.