My mother, a psychologist, often wondered if twins have a harder time finding life partners because, essentially, they already have one.
Why am I single? Well, no man can compare to my relationship with my brother. Wait, come back!
Here’s the thing: I’m a twin. When I tell people that, their eyes light up like it’s Christmas. “Really?” they say, and then they have a million other questions: What’s he like, are you identical (a question opposite sex fraternal twins get way more often than you’d expect), where does he live, are you close? They’ll pinch me and want to know if he can feel it; they ask if we can read each other’s minds. But what I think people are really interested in, and what they can’t quite put into words when they ask all those questions, is: What is it actually like? Having, basically, another version of yourself?
This is hard to answer, because I don’t have anything to compare it to. I don’t know life alone. I don’t know existence alone. I became alive at the same time as someone else, I became a person with someone else. When I was born, I formed an attachment to my mother, of course, and my father, yes, but the attachment to my brother was real before anything else.
It’s may be no surprise, then, that I am still single.
My mother, a psychologist, often wondered if twins have a harder time finding life partners because, essentially, they already have one. I didn’t think about this question much while I was growing up. But now that I’m nearing my mid-thirties (gasp) and am still single (gasp!), I’ve been giving it more thought. And it turns out, there is truth to this. A lot, actually. This passage from Twin and Triplet Psychology really struck me:
“Twins, who for many years have lived with someone who understood their moods and feelings and who may have intuitively known what they were thinking or what they would like to do, may feel disappointed and cheated if their new partner fails to live up to such standards.”
This got me curious. So I reached out to my cousin, who is also a twin (yes, twins do seem to run in families, at least in ours) and also single, and asked if she ever felt this way. She did.
“I’ve had a hard time,” she said. “I’ve gone from relationship to relationship, not really content. It’s hard to find that person because I have a close connection with my twin. For example, my last girlfriend, my sister did not like her, and I took that into account a lot. It really bothered me; [my sister’s opinion is] important to me. It’s hard to settle down with someone if I don’t have the blessing from [my twin].”
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But of course, you want anyone you care about to like your partner, right? Were twins really so different? More research led me to this 2012 study on twins and marriage, which says that “twins tend to marry later than non-twins and more twins than singletons remain unmarried,” and “twins have a constant companion from the very beginning and they develop close relationships with one another and, as such, it may be a challenge for twins to find a marriage partner who can compete with the co-twin relationship.”
Well, shit, I thought. I began recalling all my failed relationships and wondering, bemused, if they’d been doomed to fail from the moment I shared a womb. It became clear that all of this research pointed to one central thing: the supposed “special bond” between twins.
The attachment to my brother was real before anything else.
Based on my own experiences, this very much seems to be true. I remember during our childhood summers on Cape Cod, while I swam out too deep in the ocean, it was my twin — not my parents, who were leisurely relaxing on the beach — who stood at the water’s edge, anxiously watching for me until I was close to shore. When I learned to ride a bike, it was my twin who was waiting at the end of the driveway for me to return.
Many years ago, when my twin went to the emergency room with stomach pains, I immediately got out of bed in the middle of the night, jumped in my car, and drove, through a surprisingly breathtaking sunrise, the three hours home to make sure he was alright. He was, but I had no thoughts in my head that entire time — save for an acknowledgement of that sunrise — until I knew for sure.
These instances illustrate the intensity of connection inherent to being a twin. It’s this intense connection that recently made me move back to my home state of Massachusetts after living — very happily — in California for nearly 8 years. And it’s this same connection that, evidently, may in some way be affecting my ability to find a partner.
Incidentally, this has not been true for my twin. Quite the opposite, in fact; he began dating his now-wife in middle school, and basically never stopped. But even though twinhood didn’t keep him single, it could still throw a wrench in the works. Though research does indeed indicate that twins might have a harder time finding a partner, there’s also much research indicating that the spouses of twins have a hard time of their own.
The same study that found twins tended to remain single or marry late also indicates that twins’ unique relationship seems “to be a challenge for [the] spouse . . . most of all.” And this New York Times article states that people who marry a twin, or a person of another multiple birth, have a harder time because the marriage requires “a special sensitivity to family dynamics and, in most cases, a tolerance for the special closeness among the siblings. People marrying into this situation must recognize that they may never have their partner fully to themselves.”
This was an eye-opener for me. I thought back to one New Year’s Eve dinner (coincidentally, our birthday). A friend of mine sat between me and my brother’s girlfriend C., who’s now my sister-in-law. My friend, who’s always been the direct type, asked C. point blank: “What’s it like having to share your boyfriend with Lisa?”
I believe my mouth actually dropped slightly as I looked toward C., eager for her response. In truth — and I consider myself an empathetic, reasonable person — it had quite literally never occurred to me that my twin’s partner had to “share him” with me. Of course I knew that he and I were a package deal, but that was just a fact of my life; I’d never thought about how it felt to someone who hadn’t spent her entire life as part of our pair. When the three of us hung out together (which was often), my brother would often put his arms around both of us and say happily, “I got my two best girls.” That was normal, right?
Well . . . it was normal for him and me, anyway.
My sister-in-law’s response to the question? She laughed knowingly. I don’t remember exactly what she said, but knowing her, I can assure you it was diplomatic: the perfect right thing to say. Luckily, she and I were friends, though it wasn’t necessarily that way at first.
When they first started dating, I was skeptical about her, about their relationship. I was too young to realize that what I was really unsure about was the prospect of sharing my brother. It took a little while, but we bonded one day on a bus ride to a school field trip. If I remember correctly, it was she who made the first move; it was important to her that we had a connection, even if I hadn’t yet realized how important it was to me, or to my twin. Now, she is truly my sister, and I can’t imagine my brother without her.
According to that study, “it may be a challenge for twins to find a marriage partner who can compete with the co-twin relationship.” In other words, my brother lucked out. Will I be so lucky?
It had quite literally never occurred to me that my twin’s partner had to ‘share him’ with me.
Despite lots of fits and starts and “situations” I don’t have a label for, I’ve had only one significant long-term relationship, which lasted four years. In many ways, I did get lucky with him — he truly loved me. But personally, the relationship wasn’t enough for me. I knew he wasn’t “the one” — if that’s even a thing. But we lasted longer, perhaps, than we should have, largely because he got along so well with my twin and sister-in-law.
The study’s conclusion implies that by marrying spouses who are already friendly, twins could keep the relationship with their co-twin and have a well-functioning marriage.
My conclusion? Whoever I marry probably has their work cut out for them.