Have you ever noticed that identical twins attract strange reactions from people? They’re often asked goofy questions, like: “How do you really know you’re you?” And some people think it’s fun to bring pairs of twins together, sometimes to stare at them like zoo specimens.
Where do people get such ideas? They exist far back in literature. And television’s good twin/evil twin dramas don’t help. Neither do its portrayals of twins as pranksters who love creating confusion.
In real life, twins rarely impersonate each other. In fact, identical twins are the exception; most twins don’t even look alike. They generally think about their twinship only when reminded of it.
Twins are simply siblings who happened to be womb-mates. It’s no more mysterious than that.
Growing up as twins has its perks. A twin has a handy playmate and confidant. Twins can help each other. Same-sex, same-size twins, if so inclined, can share clothes.
Because twins may require additional care from birth, parents occasionally spoil them. Bob and Bill’s mother fussed over their wardrobes. Sometimes she even drove out of state to buy their clothing.
Twins often get more attention than they’d like. Many feel their parents worry about them too much.
Whenever Dan or Dave as teens returned home late, Dad was waiting. When they were little, he fretted constantly about their whereabouts and activities.
Multiple births can make any parent a worrier. Dave barely survived his birth in 1942. When Alice and Nathaniel were born in the ’70s, Alice nearly died. Carol and Christine’s birth left Carol partially paralyzed.
Twins often arrive prematurely and underweight. But today’s medical advances help more of them make it.
What causes twins? Identical twins occur if their mother’s egg divides after fertilization. If it divides more than once, triplets and higher multiples occur.
Coming from a single egg, identicals share the same genes. They have similar builds and (almost) identical faces.
Sometimes Mom has more than one egg ready for fertilization. If two eggs are fertilized at one time by two different sperm, fraternal twins result. Fraternals share only half the same genes, so they rarely resemble each other closely.
Two-thirds of twins born in the United States are fraternals. While identicals must be the same sex, fraternals can be the same or the opposite sex.
Because he nearly died at birth, Dave feels his parents always worried about his health. He thinks they gently steered him away from sports. Dave became quite a student. While Dan played sports and enjoyed lots of physical activities, Dave studied hard.
Betty and Laura, on the other hand, both enjoyed perfect health. They climbed trees, raced bikes on dirt roads, and explored clay pits and the woods with neighboring cousins. Yet their parents didn’t worry about such goings-on.
Still adventurous at 19, Betty and Laura like foreign travel.
Heredity vs. Environment
Dan and Dave’s parents expected different things from their sons, so they treated them somewhat differently. Does that account for their differences?
Not for the most part. Recent research has led scientists to believe that genes beat out environment in the finished product.
Dave and Dan are fraternals. Scientists would say that their different genes largely account for the brothers’ differences. Similarly, identical genes account for identicals’ many similarities.
Studies of identicals separated at birth prompted these conclusions. When reunited after entirely different upbringings, identicals find they share marked similarities. Their weights, aptitudes, and tastes match closely.
Genes don’t seem to affect personalities, however. Identical twins’ personalities can differ as much as fraternals’.
Betty and Laura are identicals. Yet Betty’s more outgoing, independent, and outspoken than her sister. She also got in trouble more often.
Today Betty has long hair and likes dressing up, even for class. Laura’s much more casual, and has short hair. It annoys her when people assume she cut her hair short to look different from Betty. Laura just prefers short hair.
The teen years are especially hard on twins. With identicals, being mistaken for one’s twin can heighten a teen’s insecurities. As twins grow more independent, they may reject each other’s company. Each may develop separate friends and activities.
Alice and Nathaniel’s separation began in junior high. In order to escape teasing, they pretended to hate one another. They now celebrate their birthday separately. They’re still close at 15, but avoid each other in school.
With twins competing for the same things, one usually becomes more assertive. Dan tried different things earlier than Dave because he wanted them more. He learned to drive first and got the car more often than Dave did.
Twins sometimes compete over parents and friends. Christine envied the extra attention her parents gave Carol because of her disability. Carol, in turn, envied Christine’s friends and outside activities.
College gives many same-sex twins their first chance to room apart. Dave and Dan even attended rival universities. But like many twins, each found the adjustment to suddenly being alone very difficult.
For instance, Betty admits she likes dorm living because she wouldn’t be happy sleeping in a room by herself. (Most dorm rooms are doubles.) She and Laura attend the same college, as do Carol and Christine. All plan to go separate ways after graduation.
Reuniting is what Dan and Dave did. After years of living in different states, they’re neighbors again. Now living in the same city, they see each other whenever they can. Closer at age 50 then ever before, they don’t even argue anymore.
That’s the pattern with many twins: closeness, separation, then renewed closeness. Sometimes it takes them a lifetime to really appreciate each other.
Unlike most siblings, Dave and Dan are completely comfortable with each other. Observing them can leave a nontwin feeling envious, and thinking that the twin bond is the one thing that really sets twins apart from the rest of us.