STERN: Seeing double

A Stern Perspective

You may have seen me walking down the street and thought I was someone else. You may have come up to me, said hi and then walked away feeling embarrassed or confused. I may have reacted with a laugh or with a curt reply. What’s my problem, anyway?

I’m a twin.

My twin brother Eric and I both go to Yale. That was never supposed to happen. We attended school together from kindergarten through 12th grade, and we always wanted to go to separate colleges. Back home, we were (and are) “the twins.” We were treated as a unit; we were always referred to together. If people asked, we would grudgingly concede we were “best friends.” But that sort of relationship, biological or not, is always more complicated than meets the eye. We were spending so much time together that everyone assumed that we could always be found together. It got old.

Attending the same high school with similar interests, Eric and I had to do practically everything together from classes to extracurriculars to social activities. We had basically the same friends. This wasn’t always the easiest. Our relationship was sometimes a wonderful resource, sometimes punishingly strained.

We tried very hard to apply to no colleges in common. But we both fell in love with Yale, applied early action and the rest, as they say, is history. We requested to be in separate residential colleges; we intentionally take different classes, have different majors, do different activities and, thankfully, have nearly separate friend groups. Still, we bump into each other a lot. People mix us up. A lot.

Muggles constantly make assumptions about us twins. No, I don’t feel his pain; no, we aren’t telepathic; yes, we are genetically identical, but I’m not sure if that means I could kill someone and frame him. Thanks for asking. What is unique about our situation is just how much we look alike. We have always been treated as a pair to some extent. And, as all twins must, we endured being dressed identically and being constantly, unceasingly compared to each other.

“Your voices so sound similar! You look so alike!” Constantly being grouped with someone else can make you feel like your individuality is undervalued. It’s convenient for teachers, coaches, even parents to refer to twins as a set, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t grate. It causes tension. And that there is some validity to this assumption — Eric and I did do many of the same things — often exacerbates that.

Spending too much time with any one person is problematic. The “twin” experience illustrates two of the problems. First, the two principal players will be treated as a unit, which is degrading and lazy and really annoying. Second, constant proximity wears on both players, as we’ve all experienced with roommates, relatives and friends.

These problems can cause someone to resent his or her other half. Romulus killed Remus because Rome wasn’t big enough for both of them. That story does not apply only to twins, but to friends as well. Being seen as too close, being too close, is rough.

But let’s not forget how lost George looked without Fred. Being part of a unit is occasionally nice. When a set of twins is in a new environment, each always knows at least one person.

Above all, though, the twin experience exemplifies how friendships change. Eric and I are more mature than we were two years ago. It certainly helps that we aren’t treated as much like a unit as we were in high school, but feeling like adults, leading separate lives, has surely helped our relationship.

When we get meals or bump into each other, it’s always cordial. More than that, it’s fun. There’s still a distance, the old competitiveness still boils just below the surface, but college has definitely improved our relationship.

Friends fight and fall apart. But far too many people permanently sever a relationship, perhaps unnecessarily. My experience has convinced me that a little space and a little time sometimes do the trick.

Eric and I have different colleges, friends, classes and activities — albeit at the same university. We are more than no longer a unit; we are different people than we were two years ago.

Except, of course, we still look the same.

Scott Stern is a sophomore in Branford College. Contact him at scott.stern@yale.edu .

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