So one of the submerged feelings about this wedding must have been dread: though she didn't do it, I was sure this same woman would come up to me and say, "Oh, you're the one nobody wants to marry."
* * *
I had the strangest reaction when my sister told me she was engaged. It wasn't surprising news — she'd been living with the guy for a long time; the relationship had been moving in that direction from the start. But hearing it as a reality threw me, called my own identity into question somehow. I thought, so she's going to be "the married one" and I wonder: what does that make me?
Twins, after all, compare themselves to each other relentlessly too: they set subconscious rules, decide who's who, divvy up the pies of weakness and strength. She was the confident one, I was the shy one; she was the athletic one, I was the reader; she got math and science, I got English and history. And so on.
There are important reasons for this. Shrinks have elaborate theories about twin psychology. They say things like, "Twins develop polarized identity characteristics in order to attain the kind of distinctiveness they need to develop a sense of identity." They talk about "intensified issues around separation and individuation." It's simpler than that: twins grow up enormously . We were born together, nursed together, weaned together. We learned to walk together and talk together. We spent our first day at kindergarten together, then graduated high school together, then left home together to go to the same college. If you're that close for that long, you both have to go to great lengths to define yourselves as separate people. So you divide the emotional turf: if you're going to be like that, I'll be like this.
But this can be problematic, too. For one thing, it gives you the feeling that you're really only half a person, equipped with half the resources and skills that "regular" people get. If she's going to be the confident/outgoing/athletic on, the logic goes, then I can't have those qualities too. It's warped thinking, but it's there. It took me years to realize I didn't have to see myself as a shy clod.
For another thing, kids growing up aren't always presented with a whole lot of viable options on how to "be" role models and such. As a rule, either you define yourself like the people around you — your family — or you don't. And that decision may be even more loaded when you're a twin. I'm not sure why it worked out this way, but my sister adopted the family style and I resisted it. She used to go bird-watching and shell collecting with my mother — her activities and ones that I disdained; I spent free time at friends' houses instead. My folks have an isolated summer house on the beach where we spent vacations growing up — my sister loved it there; I felt caged, found the summers interminable. She adopted my mothers natural looks, her passion for knitting. I took to make-up at age 12, gave up knitting after the second try and established my passions in things like food and wine. She became a doctor like my father, I went into journalism.