What It’s Like to Have an Identical Twin

Last week, Gracie commented on a Man Repeller story about being best friends with her identical twin. Leandra asked her if she’d be open to talking to me about that, and about being a twin in general. To my delight, she graciously agreed! Below is what she told me. 

We grew up in Brooklyn. We were in the same classes, shared the same friends and did the same things. When people asked me or her to hang out, they usually expected both of us. If they didn’t, they’d have to specify that.

There were times when I wished we were treated more like individuals. Seen as different people. But I don’t think that I ever wished I wasn’t a twin, not really. My mom was always very good about not lumping us together. Sometimes our teachers would try to do one parent-teacher conference for the two of us, but she would insist they gave us our own slots.

After high school, we went our separate ways. Her to Chicago, me to Portland, Oregon. It was a really big decision to go to different colleges, but it wasn’t necessarily intentional. When we were visiting schools, we just ended up liking different places. I remember thinking, Maybe we’re more different than I thought. Throughout college, some of my friends didn’t know I had a twin. Occasionally it was fun, but more often than not I’d think they were missing out on a huge part of my personality.

After graduating in 2015, she moved back to New York. In a couple of months, I am moving back to live with her in Brooklyn. I’m excited to live with her again. We lived in the same bedroom for 18 years; we’re 23 now. I’m an actress and a director and am moving back to go to an acting conservatory. She’s in graduate school at Pratt, but she’s also doing a lot of improv and comedy. For a while it seemed like we were going down different paths, but now we’re both performing again, so maybe not. When we were younger, we used to do improv comedy together. We can play off each other very well. She’s very funny.

I’m a little scared to move back to New York, even though I grew up there. She has a leg up, having already lived there for two years. Even though we’re the same age, the traditional older/younger sibling roles still apply. I make a bigger deal about our one-minute age difference than she does, but I still feel like the baby for some reason. We can be competitive, but lately, when I’ve been feeling that, I’ve started to take a step back and remind myself that I really want her to be happy. That just because she looks like me doesn’t mean she’s going to take opportunities away from me.

As far as twin stereotypes go, we fulfill a few. We have screenshots of times we’ve texted each other the very same thing at the same time. When I started college — my orientation was a week or two before hers — I was so nervous that I was sick to my stomach for like a week. She was also sick to her stomach for a week, because she was nervous about me starting college without her. But all twins are different, and when people ask us if we have telepathy and stuff, I tell them no.

Sometimes people are like, “When you look at her, is it like looking in a mirror?” And I guess so, but I don’t always think about what my face looks like, you know? Sometimes when I look at pictures of us, I think, Oh yeah! We look really similar! We have the same face! Julia has curlier hair, or rather, she’s embraced her curls, while I spent many years straightening mine because I liked it better and it differentiated us. Our faces have a slightly different shape. Mine is kind of heart-shaped, while she has a squarer jaw. Otherwise, we look very much the same.

I think having a twin has helped my style. There was a time where she was wearing a lot of flowy black dresses, for instance, and I remember being surprised by how good they looked. I thought you were always supposed to flatter your waist or something! She just ordered a pair of jeans online the other day and I was like, “You have to tell me if those are good because I might order them, too.” Sometimes I’m in a phase of working out more, sometimes she is. It can be hard if one of us feels less “in shape” than the other. That can be a weird dynamic and it can be challenging to communicate in those circumstances.

One time I asked my boyfriend if he was attracted to her and he was like, “Well, I’m not like attracted to her, but I don’t find her unattractive because she looks like you!” He didn’t really know how to answer. It was funny. Julia’s beautiful. There’s no need for her to ever feel bad about herself. Obviously it makes sense that we should not ever hate our own appearances if we think each other is beautiful, but that would also mean that body hatred and poor self-image is rational. But it’s not. In my moments of clarity, having a twin has helped me realize that if I feel bad about myself, it’s not based on reality. It’s in my head.

I really wished we’d switched places more as kids, but we were too nerdy. Even now, I’m too scared to do it. She did recently use my headshot for an audition for her improv group because she didn’t have one. All my friends were like, “You can’t do that! You guys look different!” And I was like, “I don’t think you know how quickly people glance at headshots!” It was fine.

I love when she comes to see things that I’m acting in or that I’ve directed because she’s my number one fan. I’m always performing for her. People in shows with me get confused when she’s in the audience. I love confusing people. One time she was visiting me in Portland and one of my housemates came downstairs and starting talking to her like she was me and I just popped up behind her. He literally yelled. It was really funny.

Being one person seems kind of boring. I feel lucky. It’s an icebreaker. Especially when I’m out meeting people. People will say, “So there’s another you wandering around!?,” or mention how jealous they are and how cool they think it sounds to have a twin. People have occasionally stopped Julia on the street in New York and been like, “Gracie! What are you doing here!”

It’s funny when people ask me what it’s like to have an identical twin because I don’t know the alternative. Especially because I was born second; I didn’t even have a moment in the world where I wasn’t an identical twin. I came as part of a set, whether or not I wanted to. This is terrible — I can’t believe I’m admitting this — but if someone tells me a secret, I assume that I’m allowed to tell Julia. She’s always been my best friend.

Photos by Edith Young.

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  • Aydan

    I ALWAYS wished I was twin when I was little. Still sometimes feel like it would be such a cool experience! this was an excellent read!

  • Gracie

    Omg Haley, I love this article! Thank you so much!!!

    • Haley Nahman

      Thank YOU for telling me your story!!!

  • Kirby

    This is funny cause I was actually going to write about my twin for this month’s writing prompt! There is so much I relate to in this article, and I am so jealous that you are going to live with your sister, Gracie!! I’ve been wanting to live with Casey (my twin) now that we’re both graduated, but she will not come to New York, UGH. It would just be so easy since we’re the exact same about, well, everything.

    Also, we have an unspoken rule that if someone we don’t know waves at us, we just wave back assuming that they think we’re the other haha (mostly for when we were visiting each other’s colleges).

    • Gracie

      Gracie the twin here! I love that idea about the waving. And I hope I can read about you and your twin someday too!

    • Charlotte

      My sister and I have the same rule! haha

  • Meg S

    I was in elementary school classes with one of two twins when I was younger. They looked identical until maybe 4th or 5th grade when one cut her hair. I remember when they switched places because they were in different classes, and the teachers never found out. I remember they had this “separate but together” thing going on. They were in different classes and were allowed to do their own things, but liked a lot of the same things so often did them together. I don’t know about high school (we went to different ones), but I remember hearing they went to the same college together. I’m not really surprised, but their parents seem to have kept the balance pretty well. I don’t know if either of their parents were twins or not, but it could have helped them keep the balance and let their daughters express their individuality even if they chose to do the same or similar things.

  • Kaylyn

    Hey Man Repeller! First time comment-er here. I love reading up on all the articles during slow hours at work. (( I’m also obsessed with Mono-cycle so thank you for always entertaining me! seriously. Thank you.))

    Anyways, I adore this article for many reasons! MAINLY because I am a twin! but…my other half is a BOY!
    Firstly, my parents tried having kids for several years. My parents were married by the time my mother was 23 and at this point in the story she was 33 and fed up. My mother went through several miscarriages until magically in December, 1990 the doctor said she was finally pregnant and they believed this. is. it. On Christmas Eve. my parents were at our neighbors house for the annual Holiday party which consisted of heavy drinking and loads of food. My mom was not drinking and friends began to chatter that she must be pregnant if she doesn’t have a beer in hand! (we have Scottish roots.) She hid in the bathroom and noticed she was showing blood and thought everything was over- I am never going to have a child or become a mother. Christmas day my dad had to wait on my mother hand and foot as the doctor requested. She could not see him until December 26th and it was very hard to tell her it was all going to be okay. Once they arrived to the doctor’s office they ran several tests. My mom indeed had a miscarriage but the doctor grabbed my father before he explained what happened. He said she was actually pregnant with triplets but alas there are two healthy heart beats. I guess you could say we are miracle babies? My father would tell us when we were babes he loved to hold us both in his arms- he never knew which one of us to look at. He would stare at me for a couple seconds then he would switch to Ian then back again. Isn’t that just adorable?

    My mother told me this story when I was senior in College and it made me understand my parents so much more. I even switched up my thesis and solely created art about my family. I recorded myself talking about my childhood memories and then asked my brother to just talk and describe what he remembers and what he sees when he closes his eyes. I layered our voices which turned out to be fascinating because we would say things at almost the same time and used the same words to describe our childhood house. Finding out that there was a 3rd changed my perspective on our relationship and I just wanted to create and get all of those emotions out through my art.
    Moving on.
    Ian (my Twin) and I shared a room until we were 7. My parents ALWAYS treated us equally. Matching outfits, matching gameboys, matching braces…everything. We even drove matching Smart Cars for 5 years until his engine exploded. Once my parents were able to put an addition on our house- there was a thin wall between us for many years. I could even hear his headphones from my room and he could hear me blasting Britney while staring at my Spice Girls sticker collection. We both love music and have an insane passion for the Arts. Throughout elementary school and high school we were well known as a set of artistic twins (we were totally odd-balls but my dad insisted that we were cool). When we were seniors in high school Ian became the Drum Major and I was President of Chorus & Drama Club (totally not bragging or anything.) I knew at a young age I wanted to be in Philadelphia and the University of the Arts seemed like the perfect fit for me. Philly was less scary to me then New York and UARTS was right in the heart of the city. I felt like my career could go anywhere. I had more of a passion for Fine Arts but performing will always be a favorite past time of mine. My brother auditioned for several schools and was wait listed for most. He tagged along with my parents and I for an open house at the college where I would be spending the next 4 years. They had a crazy awesome drum circle and my twin decided to see if he could get an audition. He got one of the last auditions for the upcoming school year and he officially was studying Jazz Performance as a Trombone player while I was set to get my BFA…my parents were thrilled of course.

    SO, my little brother and I were to attend the same University together. (He is 3 minutes younger) -actually funny story his first band at age 13 was called 3 Minutes Younger))

    We lived in the same building our freshman year then we moved on to living a block away from each other for the next 3 years. No one believed we were twins until we blew their mind with all the details. We had a lot of the same friends and we attended a lot of the same parties. As we became young adults we realized we HATE being alone. Until we graduated we never had to worry about that.

    People always ask us if we can read each others minds. I mean maybe we had some sort of a secret language when we were babies but the answer is basically no. BUT. I did take on a position in China right after college. I was there for almost 4 months. I have never felt so alone or homesick in my entire life. I was in a country where I could not communicate therefor my only friend was my 37 year old boss (who was super cool) . Not having a social life was extremely unlikely for Ian and I. One night he face timed me and just said: “I am so so sad and I am not sure why so I decided to call you.” It was a powerful phone call and I am even a little emotional writing this. He knew something was up with me and even across the world he could sense I was struggling. That summer was the first birthday we had ever been a part. To this day I will make sure that never happens again. Of course we both have had boyfriends & girlfriends that get in the way but he will always be the closest and most important person to me. (Even if I do not show it)

    We are both 25 now going on 26 in August. I live in Baltimore with my boyfriend and he lives in Philadelphia with his girlfriend. We make it a point to try and see each other once a month and we are already planning out a birthday camping trip. He has been very successful with his career and he still keeps growing as a professional musician which amazes me. He is constantly on tour- his band was even in the finale of the last season of OITNB. Being the attention sucker I am it was hard to see my brother excel and I was just becoming more of a crazy dog lady. I paint dog portraits as a side business and I also work at the Baltimore Museum of Art. I live in Baltimore County on farmland with my boyfriend and our 3 dogs. My life is very quiet compared to Ian but I am focusing on self-care and I am happier then I have ever been. Now that our lives are opposite my parents do treat us a little differently. I am the more responsible one and the phone calls about my brother normally consist of “what are we gonna do about him.” I do not worry about him too much but if something is up- I’ll follow my gut feeling and give him a call.

    I have been contemplating leaving comments to join this awesome community y’all created. This article seriously urged me to write this novel but I am glad I did. It makes me realize how unique we are and how truly lucky we are to have each other.

    Thanks for letting me share xx


    p.s. Leandra, listening to your podcast reminds me of the struggles my mother went through-you are so strong and such an inspiration. I admire you for sharing your story to your listeners and I am wishing you the absolute best! https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/31bb4ffdab69037a4cfa78e3db69bbaab120ea2539296df91578df9b271712b9.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/eeee450ff1bb3f9fc22b7b822a3f1c322fb704ca4589734093ea10dcc7497eb6.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/4e88243f8f9ae902bc48be70c3bf12a49cf76556b82e0c17128e8eaea0989b82.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/f50f4739033be94589095ef1ba27de821c37fce674d1bdf8c01f6eb8b3c33bb9.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/791b1aacea3a47e251902810663df68ef57f2f5a32f05bd8a239562868851216.jpg

  • I’m a twin too!!!!!!! Hell yeah, this article rules <3 <3

  • I’ve always wanted to be a twin, or give birth to twins. This article really hit me in the feelz Gracie. <3

    P.S: Haley, why are you no longer 60% cat?!

  • Julia Knebl

    I’m a Julia, and my parents’ runner-up name for me was Grace 🙂

  • Such an interesting article! Thanks for sharing your story @disqus_i1sk3rLGLF:disqus and thanks for bringing it to us @haley_nahman:disqus !!
    Can wait to see what comes next you guys, seriously.

    Meg @ its.meg-ramsay.com

  • Liz Crumpacker

    Every line of this article resonated with me! I also have an identical twin who is my best friend, but have often found it hard to relate to other twins because we don’t fit many of the stereotypes either. We’ve lived separately since we were 18 and now at 26 I’ve just moved to Brooklyn where she’s lived for several years. It’s been so much fun to be able to see each other whenever we want and I hope you find the same now that you’ll be living together. Thank you so much for sharing, Gracie and Hayley!

  • Daisy Tinker

    I absolutely love this, and as an identical twin, totally identify with all of it! Even down to wishing we’d swapped places more as kids! Me and my sister never did that and I totally regret it!
    Weirdly, I also have twin sisters, too… so I really can’t comprehend the thought of being a completely individual person… like opening presents on your own on your birthday!? How strange?!! I’ll NEVER take for granted how lucky I am to be a twin x

  • SpiritAndCourage

    Really great article! I find twin stuff so interesting.
    My dad is an identical twin, I don’t meet many people who are children of identical twins and I definitely think it comes along with some interesting and weird experiences. I remember as a child walking up to my dad and hugging his leg only to realize a second later that it was not my dad. I remember it feeling kinda embarrassing and also really strange.

    Also, because they technically have the exact same DNA, my uncles’ kids are essentially my half siblings. Sometimes when my cousin posts pictures on social media, for a split second I will think it is me and wonder when/where the picture was taken, and then realize it is her. It’s like looking at some alternate version of how you could’ve turned out. She’s told me she does the same thing too.