Double trouble: The twin experience at university
A reflection on the university experience as a twin
Being a twin has profoundly affected who I am. I am a non-identical twin, so my twin is not my mirror image. She is, however, my built-in best friend, my fun fact during icebreakers, and part of who I am. I can’t imagine life without a twin.
It threw me when I came to university and it wasn’t until Lent or even Easter that people realised I was a twin. It sounds silly, but everyone in my life has always known I was a twin, and it feels like such a big part of my identity, that I was shocked people didn’t just guess.
For most, twins are fascinating – even supernatural. There are no shortages of twins in popular culture: from Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, and Dylan and Cole Sprouse to Fred and George Weasley, celebrity twins are not unusual. This fascination exists in the real world too: both children and adults have asked me countless times whether I have twin telepathy*. But for me, my twin experience has been defined by joint birthday parties, bunk beds, receiving the same presents in different colours and Happy Birthday falling apart mid-song as people disagreed on which name to sing first.
*We don’t, but at one point during primary school we were asked the question so frequently that we lied and said we could read each other’s minds. We pre-planned answers to the typical questions and blew some nine-year-old minds.
So, as you can imagine, the transition to university can be more difficult to navigate as a twin. I have been asking other twins about their experiences from splitting apart to staying together.
One twin I interviewed expressed how strange it is to settle into everyday life without your twin. I relate to this deeply. I miss walking into her room to ask for fashion advice, or silently watching Grey’s Anatomy together – not the practical jokes involving switched identities that people imagine is the ‘twin experience’.
To cope with the transition, a lot of twins I interviewed told me how important phoning and face-timing are to their relationship, even just to sit in comfortable silence with their twin.
Comfortable silence is something I really missed when starting university, as it suddenly felt like there was just… silence.
Years of sharing a room with bunk beds (I was bottom bunk) meant that for me, silence did not mean silence. My twin could always hear me snoring (so she says), breathing heavily, or even sleep-talking. Even when I was evicted (due to creative differences over what ‘tidy’ means) and we were in separate rooms, my house was still busy. Between my twin and my younger sister, there was always someone watching TV, facetiming their friends, or doing something that resulted in background noise.
In an environment like Cambridge, questions surrounding twin rivalry become more amplified. At school, we were constantly compared: when you are trying to figure out who you are, sharing friends, hobbies and interests can be difficult. However, a lot of the twins I have interviewed explained how twin rivalry is often externally imposed, and people can sometimes struggle to understand that twins might not be in constant competition.
Being a twin is both extraordinary and also extra-ordinary. It is a completely unique relationship that is the product of pretty normal experiences. Although the university transition can be difficult for twins, it can also be a really exciting time. A lot of twins I interviewed described how their twin relationship has grown since going to university. The independence can be positive; a chance to stop arguing over who stole whose clothes and become even closer friends.
I may miss my best friend, and feel homesick sometimes, but there is comfort in knowing that, because she’s my twin, she’ll be there forever.