The Indelible Twin Identity

When have I done enough for my twin? When do I take my turn?

I hear these questions in one way or another every time I talk to a twin. And quite frankly I have always wondered and worried if I could have helped my twin more. Or, “Why didn’t she support me or rescue me when I needed her?” When do I get to be the center of attention?

Issues of how much one twin deserves from the other is a basic dilemma between the pair that begins at birth or maybe in the womb. Memories of closeness from hours-on-end of childhood playing; double trouble fun on parents, siblings and friends; playing sports; and doing homework together leave an indelible mark on identity for twins. Recalling twin closeness can bring back blissful memories well into adulthood.

From working together, common goals lead to child-focused shared decisions. Unspoken but understood through feelings and actions, young twins take on roles related to who is responsible for doing what. For example, Mike is more outgoing and talks for the pair. Matt is the organizer who does the planning for the pair. Or Sally is the caregiver and Susan is in charge of fun and adventure. Of course there are other divisions of responsibility that revolve around the family structure and the inherent personality differences in each child. What happens when twins want to find their own path without their sister or brother? I can tell you it is very hard to fill in the gaps that your twin took responsibility for. The journey of the caretaker twin involves learning how to take care of him- or herself first. The impulsive twin’s path to self-reliance involves learning self-control.

In childhood, twins learn that they are more secure when they take care of or rely on one other no matter what. Surprisingly, but in the realm of my own experiences, young twins will fight like cats and dogs and still need to sleep in the same room. Sometimes sleeping together is the only thing that young twins can agree on. (I forgot until now that my twin and I always shared a bedroom.)

Growing up and developing a unique sense of self makes unilateral decision making unrealistic. Conflicts develop if you don’t put your twin first. New friends and new interests divide twin loyalties. In my experience, siblings do not have intense struggles over loyalty and disappointments or the responsibility to take care of one another.

As differences between twins develop in adulthood feelings of betrayal become more exaggerated. One twin marries and leaves the other behind. Deep sadnesses are experienced by each twin, who suffer in different ways while actually enjoying being apart and experiencing life from a different angle. Children, careers, success and disappointments continue to make abject loyalty impossible. Fighting begins and may never end. “Who is right?” and “Who is not right?” consume adult twins and may be the cause of estrangement. Detailed communication between the pair is common but in most instances unsuccessful when decisions that affect both are involved.

“Who is the center of attention?” creates guilt and unhappiness for both when the primitive and primary attachment of sharing is not possible. The impulsive twin can never get enough from others. The caretaker twin does not know how to ask for his or her share, always assuming he or she will get the leftovers. Life teaches twins how to be the individual center of attention when an emergency arises. For example, the center of attention is determined by the event, such as the child who is ill, or a parent who needs one twin and not the other. Both twins out of necessity build their own separate identity that is totally individual. What lags behind or stays behind is the shared twin identity that won’t or can’t grow up.

Giving up twin identity patterns with others—thinking, perhaps unconsciously, that your new partner needs to be treated as your twin—can monopolize your psychological real estate. It is easy for twins to remain living in the past, hanging on to twin closeness. Seeing others as capable of a close connection is important and very difficult. Success as an individual requires determination and support from family, friends and therapists. Getting over the idea that you can’t be okay if your twin is not okay takes twins a lot of time and energy that singletons can never imagine unless they are very invested in healing their companion. Feeling that you “must” do something to make close others happy is a serious problem in adulthood.

In my experiences with my sister and listening to the stories of many, many other twins, I know how hard it is to accept that you can’t make things better. Your relationship with your twin is what it is and wishing that it was better or that you could explain your point of view clearly is understandable. Unfortunately it is impossible to change your twin. And why would you want to anyway? You have to tame your childhood need or identity to see the world through the same perceptual field and emotional sensitivity as your twin. Put your childhood twin identity in the past. Agree to disagree.

I have found that as twins grow older the pain of being different diminishes. The childhood twin identity fades into the background but is always indelible.

Shop 16 Modest Midi Dresses, Fall’s Must-Have Piece

Not quite ready for pants season, as we move into fall? Try the midi dress, a reliable transitional piece. It hits mid-calf—hence the word midi—and works easily for day and night. For cocktail hour, there’s a slick puff-sleeved number by Ganni or a cheetah-print frock by Altuzarra. A semi-sheer zebra-striped version by Isabel Marant is bound to turn heads, as would anything prairie-tinged from Batsheva.

If you’re searching for something more pared-back, try a khaki shirtdress by Rejina Pyo or a sleeveless checked look by Ciao Lucia. A simple body-clinging ribbed knit by Simon Miller will channel a minimal, but still striking mood.

Here, shop the season’s best midi dresses.

Stine Goya Clarabelle floral long-sleeved dress, $310,

Rejina Pyo button-front shirtdress, $575,

Brock Collection Odilia floral midi dress, $1,325,

Sea Ethno Pop ruched midi dress, $525,

Altuzarra Kieran printed silk dress, $1,395,

Helmut Lang midi draped dress, $710,

Ganni Lagarde dress, $755,

Tibi Georgette side-toggle tie dress, $795,

Ulla Johnson Fantine cotton and silk dress, $540,

Isabel Marant Etoile animal-print midi dress, $615,

Simon Miller ribbed knit dress, $262,

Rhode Resort polka-dot shirtdress, $385,

LHD chateau dress in St.Tropez, $725,

Pixie Market white ruffle-trim midi dress, $124,

Ciao Lucia Federica dress in polka-dot, $425,

Strawberry-Bacon Pizza

Because who are we to deny you bacon? Pair it with fresh strawberries for a sweet-and-savory combo you’ll fall for fast.

Makes: 4 servings 
Prep: 20 mins 
Cook: 30 mins 

Strawberry-Bacon Pizza


  • slices bacon
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • tablespoon honey
  • 4.4 – ounces whole-grain naan (such as Stonefire) or one 12-inch whole wheat pizza crust
  • ounces goat cheese, crumbled (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1 1/2 cups sliced fresh strawberries
  • 1 1/2 cups baby arugula or baby spinach
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil (optional)


  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees if using naan or 450 degrees if using pizza crust. Lay bacon in a small skillet and cook over medium-high heat until crisp, 5 to 7 minutes, turning once. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Let cool slightly, then crumble.
  2. Meanwhile, bring vinegar to a boil over medium-high heat in a small nonstick saucepan. Reduce heat to low and simmer until reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in honey. Return to heat and simmer 3 minutes more; set aside.
  3. Top naan or pizza crust with goat cheese, strawberries and bacon. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until cheese is melted. Top pizza with arugula or spinach and, if desired, basil; drizzle with 2 tablespoons balsamic sauce.

Read These Books to Make the Best Decisions for Your Mind, Body and Soul

make_time1. Make Time

How to Focus on What Matters Every Day

By Jake Knapp & John Zeratsky

In a world obsessed with getting more done, there’s no lack of books available on time management. But few explain it as effectively and simply as Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky, who co-wrote a previous New York Times best-seller, Sprint, and created the Time Dorksnewsletter.

The new book offers ways to make the most out of each day using lists, fun graphics, and little blurbs. In total, it offers 87 tactics to improve your time management, ranging from managing your email better, avoiding devices when you can, and fitting in a quick workout. But the advice also dives deeper. Knapp and Zeratsky ask readers to question things like how much daily news they really need to consume. By shifting your focus away from things that don’t really matter, you can spend time on the things that do. (September; Currency; $27)

crazy_at_work2. It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work

How Collaborative Problem Solving Changes Lives at Home, at School, and at Work

By Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson

The 40-hour work week doesn’t always end at 40 hours. Many employees are expected to answers emails at late hours or on vacation, or put in extra time to get projects done. But it doesn’t have to be that way, argue authors Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, the co-founders of the workplace software company Basecamp.

The authors offer strategies to create a workplace with less stress and anxiety. They call it a “calm company,” one that “isn’t fueled by stress, or ASAP, or rushing, or late nights, or all-nighter crunches, or impossible promises, or high turnover, or consistently missed deadlines, or projects that never seem to end.” To create a calm company, the duo writes, a business needs to be reasonable in the expectations it set of its employees, and also look for ways to maximize usage of time—nobody likes attending an hour-long meeting that could have been one simple email (October; HarperBusines; $28)

THE_LAWS_HUMAN_NATURE3. The Laws of Human Nature

By Robert Greene

The author of five international bestsellers, most notably The 48 Laws of Power, Robert Greene looks into ways we can examine our own behavior, and also that of others, to adapt and strategize. His newest book argues that because most of our interactions now happen online instead of face-to-face, our ability to read others has weakened.

To combat that, he offers tools and tips to read the emotions of others, their nonverbal cues, and to understand how we can use these skills to make smart decision like: Should I trust this person? Should I vote for this politician?

Greene uses examples from history—like how Queen Elizabeth I used empathy to lead her country or the ways Martin Luther King, Jr. managed his emotions during the civil rights movement—and follows up the historic stories with insights to interpret and understand their lessons. (October; Viking; $30)

radical_generosity4. Radical Generosity

Unlock the Transformative Power of Giving

By M.J. Ryan

In Radical Generosity, M.J. Ryan describes a common “ledger sheet mentality” that views giving, whether of yourself or a gift, as obligatory—too many of us give because of what we got, or expect to get next time.

She pushes readers to look deeper into generosity and to practice more of it in everyday life. At times the heartfelt advice may seem a little vague or hard to put into practice: “Generosity is also about letting go of grudges, hurts, and concepts of ourselves and the world that stand in the way of our connection to others.” But readers can find ways to make personal connections through her essays. By putting her advice in play, the next time a friend’s birthday comes around, you may give because you want to, not because you feel you must.

Consider Ryan’s influence. Organizations like Microsoft, Time, the U.S. military and AON Hewitt have come to her for help as an executive coach. (October; Conari Press; $17)

be_lucky5. Can You Learn to Be Lucky?

Why Some People Seem to Win More Often Than Others

By Karla Starr

A serious car accident left Karla Starr with broken bones and internal bleeding. She accumulated more than $200,000 in medical bills and had to declare bankruptcy to get rid of the debt. Starr wondered why it happened to her. Eventually she realized it “just happened.” Was it bad luck she had the wreck, or good that she survived?

For the past seven years, Starr has been searching for an answer on whether luck is real. She has interviewed admissions officers, casting directors and people in neuroscience. Her conclusion? “[It’s] unrealistic to accept that uncontrollable events or external luck exists…
[U]nderstanding what is and isn’t out of our hands can increase our chances of finding success by allowing us to focus on what we can change.”

In her first book, Starr teaches readers that luck might be something you can make yourself, offering techniques that have worked for others. (August; Portfolio; $27)

Thirst6. Thirst

A Story of Redemption, Compassion, and a Mission to Bring Clean Water to the World

By Scott Harrison

Scott Harrison was making $200,000 a year and had a loft in New York City with a baby grand piano in the living room. But he was also living hard—smoking, drinking and abusing drugs. Every night Harrison would think to himself, “This is not who I am. This is not who I want to be.” So he decided to turn his life around. He spent 16 months on a hospital ship in West Africa on a photojournalist assignment, and discovered himself.

In 2006, he became the founder and CEO of charity : water, which helps bring clean drinking water to more than 8 million people around the world. In Thirst, Harrison tells his story of reinvention. This is not a guide to turning your life around, just the inspiring story of someone who did. But it might spur you to make changes of your own, for the good of those around you. (October; Currency; $27)