It's Not You, It's Me
October 13, 2019 7:20 AM   Subscribe

When my identical twin, Julia, came to visit recently, I took her to my favorite café for a coffee and a waffle. For as long as I can remember, I’ve known that Julia is the extrovert and I’m the introvert, though I wouldn’t have used those terms when we were kids. Back then I’d have described myself as “quiet” or “happy by myself” or “hard to get to know” and Julia as the opposite. It’s part of the family mythology that this contrast was apparent from day one, as we lay in our incubators at the hospital. I was wrapped contentedly in my swaddling cloth, calmly observing my environs like a philosophical burrito. Julia had worked her way out of her confines and was energetically smearing her shit onto the perspex walls, batting her eyelids at the nurses and crowing with delight.

[...]
People love hearing these sorts of stories because people love twins. We’re recurring subjects in myth, literature and visual art in probably every culture on the planet. We work well as aesthetic devices because we’re unusual and eye-catching and, given the tendency to get us mixed up, ripe for comic use. But our imaginative hold on the species doesn’t bottom out there: in most twin tales, even the B-grade ones, there’s something deeper going on.

As kids, Julia and I obscurely sensed this in our interactions with other children and adults. We could tell their fascination was intense and loaded with emotion. They seemed to want something from us, but we didn’t have a grip on what it was. For the past two decades we’ve lived in different countries and no longer look very alike. Though being a twin is still a central part of our lives, being viewed as a twin is largely behind us. With some distance on the experience, we’re freer to ask ourselves: What were all those people after?

At least one thing they were after, I think, is something we wanted too: aid in the ongoing task of self-definition. Whether or not the unitary and enduring self is a fiction, it’s hard to go through life without a sense of what distinguishes you as a person: the features that hold you together and track you over time. This isn’t just a matter of your appearance, habits, talents and tastes, but also, as the philosopher Charles Taylor has argued, of commitment to a set of values: a cluster of convictions about the good, the true and the beautiful, and about how to relate to and order each of those things.
posted by cynical pinnacle (34 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
...energetically smearing her shit onto the perspex walls, batting her eyelids at the nurses and crowing with delight.

...and that, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call a 'narrative hook'.
posted by dfm500 at 7:54 AM on October 13, 2019 [49 favorites]


I have theoretical objections to the ready availability of shit to a newborn baby, but no doubt this is one of the many things I don't know about babies and at this point am probably better off not knowing.
posted by Grangousier at 7:57 AM on October 13, 2019 [3 favorites]


Metafilter: energetically smearing shit onto the perspex walls, batting eyelids at the nurses and crowing with delight.
posted by NoMich at 8:00 AM on October 13, 2019 [15 favorites]


energetically smearing her shit onto the perspex walls, batting her eyelids at the nurses and crowing with delight.

As someone who is both an introvert and somewhat anti-social this is what most extroverts seem like to me.
posted by srboisvert at 8:07 AM on October 13, 2019 [111 favorites]


Babies can even shit themselves in the womb. Never doubt a baby's ability to emit.
posted by phooky at 8:42 AM on October 13, 2019 [18 favorites]


I was pretty ambivalent about this article, until this closing sentence:
"And, relatedly, we’re not incapable of pity for those who suffer the almost unimaginable misfortune of being born into this world alone."
All I, a high priest in the church of Introvertism, could think was "I like Julia".
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:46 AM on October 13, 2019 [7 favorites]


She's right, as a kid I desperately wanted to be a twin. I have a younger sister who I do love dearly, but it wasn't the same! I was convinced that having a twin would be like having a sibling+, someone you could always rely on and conspire with and be emotionally honest with. And then I grew up and realised this was an idealised version of twin-ness, twins can still have conflict and resent each other and grow apart like regular siblings, but... boy does this article bring back that desire.
posted by stillnocturnal at 9:08 AM on October 13, 2019 [8 favorites]


Flagged as double
posted by chavenet at 9:17 AM on October 13, 2019 [16 favorites]


minor derail: describing a newborn as batting her eyelids bugs me. Babies and toddlers don't flirt;when children flirt, it's because they are rewarded for it, and it's creepy. My Mom used to describe me this way and it skeeved me out, a lot. Being extroverted is okay. I can engage people without being sexualized, at any age.
posted by theora55 at 9:27 AM on October 13, 2019 [12 favorites]


Nice read. I’m the more introverted twin in my identical twin set. I have to admit that I do humble brag about my twin status. Dropping truth bombs like “I’m an identical twin” has an effect on a crowd that would be hard for my quiet self to match any other way.
posted by mundo at 9:45 AM on October 13, 2019 [9 favorites]


Actually it's hard for me to imagine a freshly-hatched newborn having the dexterity to do the described events (the smearing, not the pooping), but...
posted by praemunire at 9:55 AM on October 13, 2019 [13 favorites]


Metafilter: Energetically smearing her shit onto the perspex walls.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:03 AM on October 13, 2019


I knew a set of twins who went to different schools, they so wanted to differentiate themselves.

Also, a lot of y’all really like that line about shit. I too expect that it is a slight exaggeration about the smearing. Newborns can accomplish more than you think (mainly getting any adults present to immediately see to them as soon as they emit that terrifying new baby mew-cry) but their dexterity does take some time to develop.
posted by 41swans at 10:14 AM on October 13, 2019 [3 favorites]


Am unshocked to see a Wakefield twin reference.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:15 AM on October 13, 2019 [4 favorites]


Julia is interested in other people. And their bunnies.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:39 AM on October 13, 2019 [3 favorites]


I'm not a twin, but I play one in real life.

Mom is a twin, so when she had two daughters a year apart the twinstincts kicked in and, short of trying to engineer us into the same grade I school, we were raised as close to twins as she could manage. Rhyming names, matching clothes, identical haircuts, joint birthday celebration, the whole nine yards. And we did wind up with a lot of the twin stereotypes, possibly just from sharing so many of the same experiences. And my sister is absolutely naturally more outgoing, so this story resonated a lot with me.

(It's been super weird for all of us since Mom's twin died a few years ago. It's like losing one pane of a four-way mirror. Weird thing is, I fell ill on the same day and came close to dying myself. Being human is crazy, man.)
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:59 AM on October 13, 2019 [18 favorites]


I'm positively jealous of twins. Did you know they (typically?) have closer bonds to each other than to their mother? This knowledge is like crack to the reluctant loner. I certainly identify with the singletons at the end who use twins for their private emotional purposes, but I hope it's OK as long as I don't make it their problem.

If I had twins as children I wouldn't dress them the same. Triplets and greater are scary because they outnumber the parents.

Twin language! If anything, this is the only topic I will pry (ask) about, and I don't try to mine it. The single-soul stuff described in the essay that is imposed on them doesn't really occur to me. Of course I've heard the remote-sensing stories, but anything even resembling supernatural phenomena is soundly out of my interests.

so when she had two daughters a year apart

Irish twins, as they say. I don't know if that's offensive, so when someone tells me of maximally-sequential children I'll only ask, "Catholic?" with a wink.
posted by rhizome at 12:32 PM on October 13, 2019 [3 favorites]


I went to school with a set of twins. They had the most beautiful habit of harmonising a sort of humming song between themselves. I don't have enough musical language to properly explain it but it was just mesmerising. Like a scaled down wordless flower song from Lakme.
posted by RandomInconsistencies at 1:09 PM on October 13, 2019 [6 favorites]


Weird thing is, there were two sets of actual identical twins at our high school, and another set who graduated shortly before we entered. And it was a tiny little school in the middle of a cornfield in West Nowhere.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:31 PM on October 13, 2019 [2 favorites]


My Catholic grade school had about 40 kids in our grade (Class of 79, give it up!) and there were two sets of identical twins. The boys were part of a large and boisterous family and established their own identities pretty early (ie different clothes, friends, high schools) but the girls, oh man the girls. They were insanely identical and they played it up for year. They worked at the same local business through college and would switch desks on April Fools Day, fooling everyone. They dressed the same forever, bought identical first cars, lots of stuff past the point where I could understood. Things turned out normal: living in different states, not married to similar guys, working in different fields, so it was a phase that they grew out of.
posted by Cris E at 2:04 PM on October 13, 2019 [2 favorites]


Babies can even shit themselves in the womb. Never doubt a baby's ability to emit.

I guess my concern is that she was allowed enough time between emission and said emission being attended to that she was allowed to get to the point of wall smearing.
posted by Caduceus at 2:32 PM on October 13, 2019 [2 favorites]


I guess my concern is that she was allowed enough time between emission and said emission being attended to that she was allowed to get to the point of wall smearing.

Given babies can go from clean bottoms to smearing shit on the walls faster than it takes Nicholas Cage to steal a car, I don't know how you're expecting this to work
posted by Merus at 3:33 PM on October 13, 2019 [7 favorites]


Wasn’t the point of the OP twins? Not… Feces?
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:20 PM on October 13, 2019 [6 favorites]


This thread has all turned to shit
posted by Merus at 5:38 PM on October 13, 2019 [8 favorites]


It is a testament to the goodness of the average person that you never hear of identical twins running a murder racket. The general idea is that you would exploit people's inability to distinguish you from your sib. One of you kills someone and afterward you each rat out the other one. Voila! Instant reasonable doubt, so long as the actor isn't caught in the act... which would call for some kind of Oceans' Eleven trick switch during jail visitation and now ... instant reasonable doubt! I guess you'd have to make sure neither of your fingerprints were on file too. But I'm sure the details are a simple matter of (criminal) engineering.

A nice essay that in the end didn't feel (to me) like it said much, but still a good read.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 5:52 PM on October 13, 2019


I appreciate the author sharing her persepctive on what it was like for her to grow up with a twin. Some of the other parts of the article that stood out to me:
"It’s a lot to carry when you’re just a pair of young girls trying to play with your My Little Ponies in the lounge. Looking back, I can’t remember which felt more uncomfortable: having someone declare themself on Team Julia in front of me or being clasped like a totem to the beating chest of a stranger. Julia and I would have preferred people to do neither of those things and simply take us on our own terms, non-comparatively and non-symbolically."

"In several of these ways, being an identical twin is like being a woman. Not coincidentally, twins are at strong risk of being objectified. First, we get reduced to our appearances: what matters most about us is how our bodies hit the senses. Second, we get treated as fungible: interchangeable with our fellow objects. Third, in many cases, our subjectivity is ignored. People don’t deny, exactly, that twins have rich and distinctive inner lives, just as sexists don’t deny, exactly, that hot young women do. But those lives often aren’t what’s interesting about us, and they’re easily glossed over."
In the end, the author also very generously extends her sympathy for people who are non-twins. Many of us (twins and non-twins) have or will experience loss and grief at some point. It is very lovely to see people enjoying strong bonds while they are able to enjoy it.
posted by cynical pinnacle at 6:45 PM on October 13, 2019 [9 favorites]


If you didn’t absorb your twin in the womb are you really twinning? Get cracking people, it’s never too late to absorb your twin!
posted by um at 6:56 PM on October 13, 2019 [6 favorites]


Weird thing is, there were two sets of actual identical twins at our high school, and another set who graduated shortly before we entered. And it was a tiny little school in the middle of a cornfield in West Nowhere.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:31 PM on October 13


I have similar! From elementary to high school, I went to school with at least five sets of twins, two pairs of whom had little brothers who were also twins.
And I grew up in a similarly small place. My graduating class was a hundred people.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 7:00 PM on October 13, 2019 [1 favorite]


My (fraternal) twin brother died three weeks after we were born. I grew up a shy, quiet, and solitary child -- and was fascinated to read, in my aunt's notes from her phone conversations with my mother during the first days after our birth, that I was called "the rowdy twin". What would have happened, I wondered, and still wonder, if my brother had lived? Would I have become outspoken, daring, extroverted -- everything that couldn't be further from my nature -- through the presence of a constant companion and the weight of others' expectations?
posted by jeudi at 7:47 AM on October 14, 2019 [8 favorites]


When my twin daughters were barely old enough to stand up in their crib in their footie pajamas, they were each sucking contentedly on a pacifier...until they spied, at the same moment, a delicious-looking pacifier in that other kid's mouth. Simultaneously, each girl reached over, grabbed the pacifier out of her sister's mouth, and shoved it into her own.

They did this three times in a row.

Miraculously, both parents were there to see it, desperately trying not to distract them with laughter.
posted by straight at 9:02 AM on October 14, 2019 [19 favorites]


I was always more concerned about pigeonholing my daughters. Sure, one of them was a little more interested in drawing than the other, but they both liked to draw more than many kids. I didn't want one of them to get all the art-supply gifts from the grandparents. So I determined to never tell anyone things like "this one is more outgoing than that one," to give noncommittal answers to questions about how they differed. Get to know them and see for yourself, I didn't say.

But I think their main complaint growing up was that people treated them as if they were interchangeable. My policy didn't help with that any, but I think deciding which differences they wanted to try to be known for was more their responsibility than mine.

And I think I missed some differences that would have been helpful to notice and take into account.

But they're at different schools now and seem to have established their own identity pretty well. I think they talk to each other every day.
posted by straight at 9:22 AM on October 14, 2019 [5 favorites]


My graduating class was a hundred people.

City slicker.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:00 AM on October 14, 2019 [3 favorites]


It is a testament to the goodness of the average person that you never hear of identical twins running a murder racket.

The Kray twins, just to name the first pair of twins that come to mind, would seem to refute this argument. "Their downfall began with murder - three murders to be precise."

More criminal twins:
Double Trouble: Twins Who Have Committed Murders and Other Crimes
People have gotten away with theft, drug charges, and murder by blaming their identical twin
10 Times Identical Twins Tried Getting Away With Crime
posted by Lexica at 11:16 AM on October 14, 2019 [3 favorites]


I loved this, thank you for posting.
posted by gerstle at 6:04 AM on October 15, 2019


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