I have never had to go through anything major in life alone. There was always someone there with me, experiencing the same nerves on their first day at school. There was always somebody to play with, when my friends lived too far away. Even days where I should be the centre of attention, like my birthday, there’s always one other person to think about.
My twin sister is one minute younger than me. I had one minute alone in this world. We are genetically identical – as we formed from the same egg, which then split in the womb – however, at 20 years old, we both look rather different.
People still get us mixed up. I get called Lauren on a daily basis. But actually, there are just as many differences between us as there are similarities. While we have very similar faces, Lauren has short, curly hair, whereas mine falls way past my shoulders in straighter locks. I was always slightly taller than Lauren growing up, until I lost a lot of weight when I was diagnosed with diabetes, and my sister overtook.
Of course, the more time you spend with us, the easier it is to tell us apart. But it’s also a choice. We make an effort to look different to each other.
If I come downstairs one morning, to see Lauren in a similar outfit to mine, I will rush back to my room to get changed again. When my sister went to the opticians last month, to discover she needed glasses like myself, we had to make sure we picked distinctly different frames.
The thing is, I’ve spent a lot of my life being treated like a dress up doll. Birthday presents would come in the form of matching outfits, which we were then expected to wear at the same time, as if we were an art exhibit for people to point at and take photos of. Aww, don’t twins look cute when they’re dressed the same. It’s not cute. It’s annoying.
I am incredibly thankful that my parents avoided dressing us the same. They were keen to ask us what we liked, and one of our interests weren’t diminished if the other paid no attention towards it. As kids, my sister was considered more of a tomboy than myself. But her interest in football boots never meant I had to stop wearing pink.
I hate the fact that our personalities are so melded together. Of course, we are very similar – I can’t argue with that. When you spend a majority of your life with somebody, you’re probably going to have a lot in common. We have the same sense of humour. I can normally tell if something’s bothering her, or when she’s lying. We often talk in disjointed sentences, as we know what the other is going to say. But I am still my own person. Just like other siblings may be similar, or two closely-knit people in a relationship, you still recognise the people involved as their own identities.
As a twin, you have to accept the fact that – conjoined or not – you will always be joined at the hip. You have to accept the fact that you come as a package.
At school, I used to get praised for things I hadn’t even done. I’d get certificates for achievements my sister had landed – even in subjects I didn’t take, on a few occasions – just so I wouldn’t feel left out.
I’m never referred to as just myself – it’s always plural. It’s always ‘the twins’. And when somebody does attempt to stamp a name on me, it’s a 50:50 chance that they get it right anyway. That’s not the thing that bothers me, though. If somebody’s simply slipped up, and called me my sister’s name, I understand that’s easily done. It’s when people then get snarky about it that it bothers me. When I politely correct them, they’ll say, “Well, you’re basically the same person anyway.” Joke or not, I’m not laughing. I may seem overdramatic, but you’re not the one putting up with it every day. By calling me ‘one of the twins’ out of ignorance and laziness, you’re dismissing the importance of treating me as an individual. You’re shrugging off my entire identity as if it’s no big deal.
Growing up is hard. Struggling through teen years, when you’re supposed to be ‘finding yourself’, comes with all the more pressure when you’re constantly compared to somebody else. You’re trying to work out who you are, when your every action is cross referenced with somebody else, stumbling through their own problems. Being a twin is odd in the way that you have to take responsibility for somebody else’s actions as well as your own. A group of people disliked me at College, after my sister got very drunk and messy at a party. They knew it wasn’t me, they knew we were sisters, but admitted they just couldn’t trust me either.
When my sister and I wanted to do the same degree at uni, my initial reaction was to run for the hills. I couldn’t possibly pursue journalism too, because then everybody would think we were the same people with the same opinions who couldn’t do anything alone. But actually, why the hell can’t I? Why should I put my aspirations – my life – on hold, for the sake of other people’s judgements? I knew what I wanted to do, and it just so happened to overlap with somebody else. And that somebody else just so happened to be my twin.
When people snort at the fact we both study the same degree, I no longer feel like I need to explain myself. We were never in the same class at school. We studied different subjects at A Level, before our degrees. There was no inevitability about this – it’s just the way it worked.
My sister is going travelling next year and many people have asked me why I’m not joining her. I just can’t win. We’re too similar, and everyone scoffs at us. We separate, and people act as if I’ll shut down, and go into sleep mode until she returns. Why can’t I just do something for me? Why does it always have to be in relation to somebody else? Even back at school, if I’d worked hard at something, it would never be enough if Lauren had still managed to do better. Or vice versa. Comparison is so counterintuitive — when all you really want to do is make yourself the person you want to be. I just want to be me. And I will.