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Twins Spend Their Whole Lives Trying to be Different From One Another

Many twins struggle to cultivate their own identities while being so similar to one another. And that struggle lasts a lifetime

Ready for a lifetime struggle for independence. (Sander Spolspoel)
smithsonian.com

Being a twin has its benefits—tricking people, having a lifelong companion, sharing clothes—but it also has downsides. Many twins struggle to cultivate their own identities, while being so similar to one another. And that struggle lasts a lifetime, according to a recent study.

The researchers interviewed 20 older twins between 78 and 90 years old about their lives as twins. While these siblings talked about classic twin love—the devastation at the loss of a twin, the lifelong friendship—the subjects also spent a lot of time talking about how different they were. Many of them expressed the desire to have a separate identity from their twin—to show that they were individuals. 

Christian Jarrett at Research Digest points out some of the common ways they distinguished themselves:

The participants drew attention to the differences in their birth order (one twin is always slightly older than the other by a few minutes), with the elder usually seen as more dominant. They emphasised their deliberate pursuit of different hobbies and careers. Indeed, none of the participants had worked in the same company as their twin. The interviewees also tended to describe a closer affiliation with a different parent than their twin. They also described resenting being referred to as "the twins" - as a single social unit rather than as two different people. As soon as they were old enough, the participants said they'd chosen to wear different clothes from their twin.

After eighty years, you might think that twins would be used to being so similar or would grow out of the desire to expressly separate themselves. But they don’t.  What the researchers call "the lifelong lack of confirmed individuality" was still a live issues for these twins, even in old age. Even octogenarian twins don't want to get the same presents or be considered a collective unit. “To claim oneself as an individual was an ongoing identity work along the life course," the researchers write.

About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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