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Intimate conversations with San Diego twins

Looking at her is like looking at me

Nancy and Janna Sipes. "As a twin, you ask not only 'Who am I?' but 'Who am I without my twin?' and 'Who am I with my twin?'"
  • Nancy and Janna Sipes. "As a twin, you ask not only 'Who am I?' but 'Who am I without my twin?' and 'Who am I with my twin?'"

"A lot of people ask, 'What is it like sharing the same physical attributes?' I always look at my brother and I think that's what people think of me. We'll be going out, and I'll be, like, 'Are you really going to wear that?' I'll ask, 'Are you really going to wear your hair like that?' I feel like people look at him, and they judge me also by the way he looks. And not even the way he looks, but by the way he acts," said Drew Hauryluck.

Denise Pillar and Danielle Fermenta. "My children look at her like another mother. And her children look at me like another mother."

Denise Pillar and Danielle Fermenta. "My children look at her like another mother. And her children look at me like another mother."

Drew's identical twin brother Dean said, "People obviously see us as the same person. If they see him as a dork, I think that's how people will be seeing me, so I want to help him not be a dork."

Monozygotic, or identical, twins occur when a fertilized egg splits, creating halves who share identical genes. The chance of having identical twins is about 0.4 percent, or 1 in 250. A quarter of identical twins are "mirror twins," who share similar attributes but on the opposite sides of the body.

Kathryn and Karolyn Henderson. "I've caught a quick glance of myself in a window when I've been shopping with Karolyn and I've thought it was her for a split second."

Kathryn and Karolyn Henderson. "I've caught a quick glance of myself in a window when I've been shopping with Karolyn and I've thought it was her for a split second."

Janna and Nancy Sipes, in their book Dancing Naked in Front of the Fridge: And Other Lessons from Twins, say, "The creation of identical twins is truly a mystery. For some unknown reason, a fertilized egg basically loses its mind during its inner division and decides to split in two. The reasons for this decision still elude the greatest scientific minds. Identical twins cannot be predicted or induced through any method of man-made fertilization. Whether they look exactly alike or not, they are identical twins forever."

Drew and Dean Hauryluck

Drew and Dean are 23 and grew up in Canon City, Colorado. They graduated from the University of Colorado before moving to North County, where they are roommates. Both plan to study either optometry or dentistry. For now, they work at Banana Republic in Del Mar. I spoke with them separately.

Drew: "My brother and I are Filipino and Italian. Our parents met in the military. We're five nine. About 165 pounds. Pretty dark complexion. Dark eyes, dark hair."

Do you look exactly alike?

Drew: "I don't think that we look exactly alike. I definitely know that there are physical differences. When people first look at us, they go, 'Oh, my God. You guys look exactly the same.' After they get to know us, like maybe a week, they go, 'You know, you guys look totally different.' We look the same, but there are small things about us, like he's got a rounder face -- I have a more defined jawline, where his is more rounded. It's small things like that that you start noticing. It's kind of funny. Our things are opposite. He has a cowlick on the back of his head, like on the back right, behind his ear. Mine is on my left side."

Dean: "I don't think we look exactly alike, but that only comes from the fact that people tell me we don't look alike. Obviously, when I look at him, I see myself, so I would say I think we look alike. There are small differences, like maybe weight. People tell me that my face is wider than his. People say that his eyes are closer together, stuff like that. I don't really see it, but other people do. We have, like, a beard. I think on the left side of his face the hair grows in a spiral on his cheek and mine does it on the opposite side of my face."

How would you rate your parents as parents of twins?

Dean: "On a scale from one to ten I would say they did about a six. Our mom didn't really individualize us when we were growing up. She treated us like the same person. She'd buy us the same stuff, even if we liked different stuff, which was very rare. Drew and I like a lot of the same things. But she would buy us, let's say, clothing, same thing, different colors. She never really let us develop into two different people, and I think that explains why Drew and I are so close now, that we live together, that kind of thing.

"I don't know if Drew told you that we were adopted. Our parents knew they were getting twins. And our natural mom knew she was having twins as well. It's actually a really long story. Drew and I were adopted by our biological grandmother. She didn't want us to go up for adoption and live with another family, so she adopted us herself. She knew what she was getting into. She is the woman we call Mother."

Drew: "I really don't think of myself as an individual even now. Dean and I are so close. I always think of things in terms of 'we' or 'our.' I think that had a lot to do with how our parents raised us, because they always treated us as the same person. If I wanted to do something, they automatically thought Dean wanted to do it. Stuff like that. At the time, we didn't really care, but now that I look back on it, they totally treated us as if we were one person.

"The dressing alike probably ended when we started buying our own clothes. Or at least choosing our own stuff. Probably at the beginning of high school. I can remember times in middle school wearing the same stuff."

Dean: "I didn't really like it. People, our friends, were always asking us, 'Why do you guys always have to wear the same thing? You're just confusing us.' That kind of thing."

Have you ever felt like a freak of nature?

Drew: "Especially out here -- not so much in Colorado, but people out here stare a lot and question it more. We both work at the same place. And we'll be working at the same time. People will ask, 'Are you guys related?' It's just absurd, because we totally look the same. Then they'll ask, 'Are you guys brothers?' 'Are you guys twins?' We get that a lot. Since we've moved here, it happens at least two or three times a day while we're working. Probably about once a day if we're just out.

"Sometimes I feel like it gets old, but at the same time, they don't know what it's like to have a twin. It gets old sometimes, yeah, but I'm glad I have a twin. I would probably ask that too if I didn't have a twin. They're probably fascinated by it, you know."

Dean: "In Colorado, Drew and I grew up with a lot of twins. Going through school, the newspaper would come and grab all the sets of twins and take our picture and stuff. I always thought that was kind of cool. In Colorado, for some reason, twins weren't rare, but once we moved out to California, then, 'Oh, my God, twins!' Like it's some new thing that's going on. That never happened to us in Colorado. I mean, it's kind of strange."

Drew: "People ask us stupid questions all the time, like, 'How do you know that you're not Dean?' Stupid questions like that. It's just ridiculous. Or, 'How do you tell each other apart?' Sometimes when we get tired of it we'll tell people we aren't even related. Or Dean will say, 'Who? Who's my twin?' and they'll point and say, 'That guy,' and Dean will say, 'I've never even seen him before.' Yeah, that's pretty much what being a twin is like, I guess."

Do you experience inner sensing or intuition about your twin?

Drew: "Absolutely. Especially when we play sports. Growing up, I can remember we worked really well together because we kind of think the same. We were probably the best on our team, so they would split us up because they didn't want us working together, because we just had a feel of where each other was going to be. They always tried to split us up in sports.

"We finish each other's sentences a lot. It's kind of funny sometimes. He'll be thinking of something totally random and he'll say it and I'll say, I was just thinking about that too. It's always something totally random that has nothing to do with what we're watching or what we're listening to."

Do the two of you have your own language?

Drew: "Definitely English is not our strong point. We've heard that twins don't usually excel in English because when they're growing up they can understand each other really well, so they don't have to communicate with each other as much. I'm not sure if we had our own language, but I could just look at him and I knew what he was thinking. I wouldn't need to ask him or to tell him what I was thinking. He already knew. That's definitely carried on. It has to do with growing up and reading each other's mind without having to communicate in English."

Dean: "Drew doesn't even have to say anything sometimes and I'll know what he's thinking. Or if I'm trying to explain something to someone and it's not coming out right, Drew will already know what I'm talking about. If we're playing soccer together, I'm always going to know where he is, because that's where I would be.

"One thing happened to us in elementary school; I think we were in third grade or fourth grade. It was recess. I was up near the building chatting with some people, and Drew was off playing soccer. He got hit in the face with the ball. I remember I started crying, but I had no clue that he had gotten hit. Nothing like that's ever happened again."

How often did you lay blame on the other twin for some misdeed?

Drew: "To tell you the truth, I can't think of one time that I did. We always did things together, so it was kind of hard to point at him and say that he did it. Plus, we weren't troublemakers growing up. We always obeyed our parents. I can't think of anything that we did."

Dean: "That's a tough question. I'm pretty good at taking responsibility for myself, so I would say less than half the time. I can't think of an incident where I've blamed it on him. Maybe I haven't. We were pretty good kids."

What is it like when a twin brother succeeds in academics, sports, or relationships in a way that the other does not?

Drew: "I'm not sure. I think I would be pretty jealous, I guess. I'd feel like, 'Why am I not up there? Why am I not that good? How come I'm not that successful?' I guess because we're so similar in every way.

"For me, right now, I always think that if I could help him out in any way, I would. Throughout college, if he was struggling with something I would try to help him. I think he would too. I think if he was to come into a bunch of money, he would help me out as much as he could. If I were to all of a sudden come into all this money, like if I won the lottery or something, I would give him half of it just so he's still equal, we're on the same ground. Just so I know that he's okay, and then I will be okay. I think about that now, but I don't know how I would feel if he were more successful or was better at sports. I'm sure I would probably be pretty jealous."

Dean: "There has been an incident like that. I'm just proud of him. It's not that I'm going to be jealous of him. He's worked hard. We both have. In one instance, in high school, we played soccer. I was a center right field and he was a forward and he did really well. I also did pretty good in my position, but he got recognized by the state, and I think the coaches called me in when they were telling him because, I guess, they didn't want to hurt me by not saying anything about it. They had to explain to me why I wasn't mentioned. But that's not a big deal to me, you know. It's not like I'm going to get mad at him or anything."

Have you ever dated another set of twins?

Dean: "People always joke around about 'You should date twins.' I would. I think it would be kind of cool. You'd have to really get to know them, because if they looked the same, then... Off the subject of dating a twin, say a girl liked us, she would like us just because...it wouldn't really matter to her which twin she dated. That aspect of being a twin kind of sucks. For dating a twin, I'd have to really get to know them, but I think it'd be cool. I'd be open to it."

Drew: "We've dated roommates. We've actually dated a set of roommates twice, but no twins."

Dean: "I first started dating someone in college, and then he started dating her roommate, so that's where the whole roommate thing came in. Then the next girls that we dated were both roommates in college, so we actually got to hang out all the time in college. People always ask us, 'Are you going to live together when you get married?' or 'Are you going to live next-door to each other?' "

What sorts of issues developed as you began dating?

Dean: "I think one reason why Drew and I don't talk about girls very much is because I think growing up there was probably some sort of competition going on. We didn't really talk about it. I think we never talked about girls growing up because we had the same likes. We were always interested in the same people."

Drew: "The threat maybe was that he's going to take the girl that I'm dating. Typically we like the same girls. But I haven't had any feelings of disloyalty or anything like that. Where we grew up, we didn't really start dating until we got to college. I didn't feel threatened at all. He started dating this girl in high school, and I didn't feel anything like that."

Do you talk about sexual experiences?

Drew: "Most people think that we do, that we're really close like that, but we actually don't talk about stuff like that to each other. We live together right now, and we have one other roommate. Dean will tell him about it, and I'll hear about it from our roommate, his name is Ryan. Or Dean will tell Ryan in front of me, but I won't ever tell Dean, and he won't ever tell me. It's kind of weird like that. It's funny, because we're close in all other aspects."

Are you more or less modest about nakedness with your twin than with others?

Dean: "Growing up, we never were nude in front of each other. Even though we shared the same room all the time it was just something that we never did. I would say I'm probably more modest, because I'm pretty shy when it comes to that kind of thing. Even now."

Drew: "I totally don't like to be undressed. Even growing up playing sports and stuff like that, I never liked to be undressed in front of other people. Even now, or even when we were in high school or in college, I still don't like to be undressed in front of Dean."

How would you feel if your twin died?

Dean: "You know, I've probably thought about this before. I don't know how I'm going to deal with it. I don't deal with that sort of thing very well. He is the closest person in my life, but it's hard to say what I'd feel. I don't think about it right now."

Drew: "I'm not sure. Definitely a part of me would die too, because we're so close. Right now, I'm not sure what I would do without him. I'm not sure how I would handle it. Down the road when we've spent more time apart, it might be a little different."

Janna and Nancy Sipes

In their book Dancing Naked in Front of the Fridge: And Other Lessons from Twins, Janna and Nancy Sipes share personal stories as well as the stories of 17 other sets of identical twins. The Sipeses are 47 years old. Nancy is a molecular and cellular biologist. Janna, an attorney, currently works in a restaurant she opened with Nancy's boyfriend. We talked in Nancy's living room.

What was it like to write the book?

Janna: "It was very cathartic to write it. One thing that happened for us was that we felt normal finally, because we interviewed all these twins. The hundreds that we've talked to since then say that this is what twins go through. 'Oh, you do that too? Okay.' We have this sense of normalcy. That was the great thing about writing the book for us, even though the original purpose was to try to help people understand what it's like to be a twin."

Nancy: "It helped us understand."

Do you look exactly alike?

Janna: "I think that all of our similarities are obvious, and we have the same gestures, the same mannerisms, and our voices are very similar."

Nancy: "We part our hair on the opposite sides. And as you see, we are naturally opposite."

Janna: "Yeah. I have my left leg crossed over, and she has her right leg. We always talk about how we're 'sided,' and we have to walk on the opposite side. Nancy has to walk on my right or else we run into each other. We figure we must have been in the womb like that.

"We don't think we look alike and we never have. You know, most identical twins will tell you that. To each of us, we're individuals, and it's not, I mean, it's never that we felt, 'Oh, my God, I don't want to be seen with her because she looks just like me and everybody will know.' People do treat us that way anyway, but still, to the two of us, we feel very much like individuals, and Nancy says this all the time, that 'I've been called Nancy a million times, and not one time have I thought that I was Nancy.' We're very secure in our individuality, so it's not caught up in the fact that we look alike, because we don't really think we do.

"You know what we always say, being twins is our greatest curse and our greatest blessing. I think now that we're in our 40s, we tend to lean a hell of a lot more to the blessing side. It's tough as a teenager. Pretty much from, what do you think, Sister, from about 15 to 30..."

Nancy: "Or early 20s..."

Janna: "Yeah, it's very difficult, because we have identity crises like all singletons do too, but as a twin, you ask not only 'Who am I?' but 'Who am I without my twin?' and 'Who am I with my twin?' There's all that sort of thing. Of course, I had no reference of not ever having been a twin, but it's, I don't know, you have a great comfort in the fact that you are absolutely never alone. All the joys of life and all the sorrows of life, you know that you're going to have someone right there with you."

Nancy: "The greatest thing I think about being a twin is that it's a laboratory for relationship, because here is somebody that is your exact age going through the same developmental stage with you. Going through everything at the exact same time. And you're so close to this person for an entire lifetime that you can learn things about how to be in relationship. It's like being around a couple who's been married for 30 years or 40 years; we have that much history with each other at the exact same time. We try different things as far as communication strategies, conflict resolution, that sort of thing. It's a safe environment to do something a little wacky and to try different things and still be able to have love for that person. You're not going to jeopardize the relationship in any way, and you can just try some things. It's a real safe environment for learning how to relate to people."

How would you rate your parents as parents of twins?

Janna: "Our parents were blissfully ignorant about having twins, which I think was an advantage for them. Today there are so many twins..."

Nancy: "One in 32 births..."

Janna: "...result in [fraternal or identical] twins. We were born in 1957, and it was quite a surprise. They were blissfully ignorant, so they just treated us like the other kids. We have two older sisters. Parents today are all weirded out with 'How do we treat the twins? We don't want to treat them like twins. We don't want to do this with the twins.' When we go to speak to parents of twins, we just say, 'Just treat them like individuals. Just treat them like two of your children that you're raising. They happen to be the same age. You're not going to ruin the twin bond.' Parents aren't going to ruin the twin bond unless they do things like create competition between the twins, compare them to each other, or try to make them be exactly the same. Our parents were wonderful, because they just treated us like the other kids in the family. We were never compared to each other, and we were never pitted against each other. I think that was the part they did really well.

"Now something that they didn't do so well was that they gave us the same gift for all occasions -- our birthdays, graduations, and things. It would be, 'Hurry. Open your gifts at the same time,' because if Nancy opened hers first, I would know what I was getting. But they didn't know any better about that. We try to encourage parents of twins to give individualized gifts to each twin."

Nancy: "The other thing our parents weren't aware of was the effect the twinship would have on our siblings. We had two older siblings, two and four years older than us, who were very jealous of the twinship, and mostly because of how other people reacted to us. That's what I think made our sisters so uncomfortable, because everywhere we went, we got all the attention. It wasn't our parents who did that, but you go out into the world and, 'Oh, there are your twin sisters.' The twins this. And the twins that. And, of course, most of the attention was on us, and they kind of disappeared in the background. We find that that happens a lot when the twins are the babies, but when the twins are the first children in the family, the other siblings don't know what it's like not to have twins. You don't have so much of that going on when the twins are the first."

Did your parents dress you alike?

Janna: "We were dressed alike until we were in the eighth grade, and Mom basically had to force us to stop dressing alike. It was very much a part of our identity, because we'd always done it. At first, we kind of weaned out of it. The first stage was the same outfits, different color. Then different outfits of the same color. Then by about this time we were teenagers -- about 15 or 16 -- we were, like, 'Two wardrobes. All right. We're stopping dressing alike.' We had more clothes, more choices. But we still dress alike often, on purpose and accidentally. We'll end up in the same thing. We tell the mothers of twins when we speak to them that it's part of the flavor of being a twin, to get to dress alike, and what a shame if they never get to do that because some expert out there said, 'You're going to mess them up by dressing them alike.' You don't. We say, 'Give them choices. Dress them alike. Dress them different. Then let them make a choice.' Twins are very opinionated and will tell you what they're doing. What's worse is making them dress alike when they're tired of it. When they're done, they're done."

Did you often feel like a freak of nature?

Janna: "I felt more the center of attention as a twin than a freak of nature. It's a life stage thing. As children twins, you have one feeling about it. As adolescent twins, you have another. I think every decade our feelings about it have changed. Certainly growing up, in school, everybody knew the Sipes twins, and it wasn't that big of a deal. When we went off to college, we tried very hard not to look alike. You had short hair, and I had long hair. We had very different ways of doing things. Nancy was very wild, and I was very conservative. Just that exaggerated view of 'I am not a twin. I'm an individual.' We shared a dorm room, and we shared off-campus housing too, but I don't know if 'embarrassed' is the right word, but I wanted to downplay the fact that I was a twin during those times.

"Then we were separated for 16 years, pursuing our educations and careers. When we came back together, it's been, like, I'm so proud of the fact that I'm a twin. You kind of get over the embarrassment/pressure of it and come to realize what a gift it is and how much you rely on this person. And I think we had to be apart. I think it happens for a lot of twins before you stop taking it for granted.

"But, yeah, freak of nature, the center of attention -- even today we can't go anywhere without somebody making a comment. You just have to change your attitude about it to acceptance and say, 'Yeah, well, we're twins. It's pretty good.' "

Nancy: "When you're a twin, you don't really know what it's like to not be a twin. You don't really have that freak-of-nature attitude. You more often think, 'You all are missing out because you're not twins.' "

Have you ever dated another set of twins?

Janna: "No, unfortunately. There have been many times when we thought that if we had been with twins, then they would understand. They would understand the relationship."

Nancy: "Because it's difficult to be in a relationship with a twin. We call it the eternal triangle, because you're in a relationship with another person, but there is someone who shares so much history with you, so many inside jokes, someone that you're so close to that this other person's always fighting -- 'Let me in. Let me in. Let me be that important to you.' And they can't. We always say, 'You can never be number one with a twin. The best you can hope for is to be tied for first place.' Unless you're a really strong man!"

Was there any sort of feeling of disloyalty as you began dating, or a feeling of threat as your twin fell in love with someone?

Janna: "There's never been a feeling of disloyalty but possibly a feeling of loss and jealousy. We've historically had a very difficult time with each other's mates for years. It just kind of makes sense. It's very difficult for a man or a woman to be in a relationship with identical or fraternal twins. It doesn't matter, identical or fraternal. Twins are twins. It's a very intense, close relationship. I think there's more jealousy than anything."

Nancy: "Uh, no, I wouldn't call it jealousy. I would call it disapproval. Tremendous judgmental feelings toward this other person, who is really fighting an uphill battle. First of all, 'You're not good enough for my sister, so you have to prove it, prove it, prove it to me.' Most men have never been able to do that. Only Robert."

Janna: "Yeah. That's true. It's a good point."

Nancy: "Robert's my significant other."

Janna: "Who I'm in the restaurant business with." (Hoo-hoo laughter.)

Nancy: "Talk about in the triangle. He's locked in."

Janna: "I've always felt when a guy came into Nancy's life that I was going to win, so I never felt threatened by that person, because if it was going to come down to me or him, he was...

Janna and Nancy: "Gone!"

Nancy: "If anybody were to give me the ultimatum, 'Pick me or your sister,' then it would be, like, 'Bye-bye. See ya.' But there were times when we were first falling in love, in that 16-, 17-, 18-year-old range, that we were estranged somewhat. Janna was off doing her thing. I was doing mine. We weren't as involved in the other person's little love relationships. It was as we got into early adulthood and the first marriage, that sort of thing, that that came up more."

Did you ever try to fool the other twin's boyfriend into making out with you?

Nancy: "When we were 16, we were dating these guys that were best friends. We double-dated everywhere we went, and that worked out pretty nicely. Then one night we decided to switch on them. We switched through the whole date, and they never caught on until the goodnight kiss. And then they kind of drew back and went, 'You're not Nancy,' or 'You're not Janna.' Then they got really mad because they were tricked. What we learned was that people don't really have a very good sense of humor about twins playing tricks on them. We really didn't do it anymore. We thought it was hilarious."

Janna: "And how stupid were they? They'd been going out with us for a year or something, and it didn't even dawn on them that we'd switched on them. Yeah, things that are funny to twins aren't always funny to everybody else. We did the same thing in fifth grade to a teacher, didn't we, and she didn't find it funny. In fact, we got in big trouble. We stopped doing that."

Do you talk about sexual experiences?

Janna: "We discuss everything you can imagine. Every detail about everything. Including sex."

Are you more or less modest about nakedness with your twin than with others?

Nancy: "We grew up in a family of four girls and our mom and dad, so it was naked women around."

Janna: "We're also very comfortable with closeness with everybody and anybody really quickly. I would go on a trip with a girlfriend and sleep in a bed with her and not feel weird about it. We could share a room, and it wouldn't be any big deal. I think that's just part of twinship that's very comfortable."

Nancy: " 'Cause we slept in the same bed until we went to college. And, no, we were not having sex." (Lots of laughter.)

Are there any hereditary illnesses in your family?

Janna: "Our father died of colon cancer at a very early age: he was 41. Colon cancer is one of the inherited types of cancer, so we have been monitoring that with our doctors."

Do you suffer from any other conditions or symptoms?

Nancy: "Menopause."

Janna: "Menopause. Menopause sucks. I think it's like premenopause. We never had children, so there's some research that maybe women who haven't had children go into menopause earlier.

"It's so interesting that neither one of us has ever wanted children. We never had that 'Oh, my biological clock is ticking.' All of our friends did, and we have a lot of friends in their 40s having children. I think our relationship is so complete."

Have you ever seen a therapist?

Janna: "We've both had therapy."

Nancy: "At various times."

Janna: "You know, everybody needs therapy."

Was the fact that you are a twin treated as problematic by the therapist?

Nancy: "I've had three or four different therapists and never really anything, maybe some anger issues, some things that came from Janna being more dominant and how I would just acquiesce and take the path of least resistance for many years. I probably still do. I'm really comfortable with that. No one else is. There are things I've worked through like, as far as, 'Are you angry at Janna? Are you suppressing anger?' The first thing I'll do is come and talk to her about it. I think some of it has definitely been because of the twinship."

Janna: "I think what happened is that it opened up a line of communication between us to help us work on our relationship. It wasn't a 'Blame everything on your twin and get her out of your life' deal. It was more 'She's a very integral part of your life, and some communication issues need to be resolved.' "

Do you fear your twin's death?

Janna: "That's the hardest question in the world."

Nancy: "We've talked about this, and we have kind of a plan. The plan is to go together at the same time. Don't ask me how we would exactly work that out."

Janna: "There ain't no reason why we can't go out like we came in."

Nancy: "Our plan is to go at the same time, because neither of us can imagine life without the other. It's just too horrific to even contemplate."

Janna: "We're very metaphysical in our beliefs, a lot of Eastern philosophy, and we just believe the other one is going to contact the one who is still alive and let them know that everything is okay and to be a guardian angel. We're in agreement. But it would just be much easier to go together."

Do you have your own language?

Janna: "We definitely had it, but more as infants than when we started developing English as a language. English as a second language. [Much laughing from both of them.] All twins, their first language is the language of giggling. I'm not kidding. We've had so many twins tell us how they used to get into so much trouble for giggling, and us too. Even to this day we can have some pretty fantastic laughs."

Nancy: "Because we think each other is so hilarious." They are doubled over laughing.

Janna: "And no one else ever gets it. Nancy's ex-husband used to say, 'That's not even funny,' and we would have gone on and on and roared. Jaws hurting. Sides hurting -- Oh, that was the funniest thing we'd ever heard. I think twins in a good relationship are each other's biggest fans. So there is this language of giggling.

"And we often say, 'Glancing speaks volumes.' It's more of a glance. Sometimes not even a glance but body language. If she's over there and something isn't right, I'll know. There's also that whole intuition thing going on too. It manifests for us in that I've always felt Nancy's pain my whole life. Mostly I'm speaking about physical pain. When Nancy got hurt it would be more horrific for our mom because we'd both of us be in hysterics. Our mother said it was obvious to her that it wasn't just that I was upset that Nancy was hurt, I was physically in pain.

"We also finish each other's sentences. We talk at the same time, and we never run out of things to talk about and be together about. We can talk every day on the phone at work, three and four times a day."

Nancy: "We worked together and then came home and called each other on the phone. My ex-husband used to say, 'Have you not seen your sister enough today?' I'd say, 'Nope.' "

How often did you lay blame on the other twin for some misdeed?

Nancy: "We were the good twins."

Janna: "We've just always been very up-front with each other, very close. And I think our mom would have totally nailed us. She never had any problem telling us apart. Our personalities were very different. I certainly wouldn't have, because I knew I couldn't have gotten away with it, and it probably never occurred to you to do it."

Nancy: "Well, I couldn't have blamed anything on you because you're goody-two-shoes, and you know you never did anything wrong."

Do you experience inner sensing or intuition about each other?

Janna: "Nancy called and said, 'Oh, I've been trying to send you this quote all day.' You kept trying to send it, and it kept coming back, or whatever. I said, 'What was it?' It's an F. Scott Fitzgerald quote paraphrased something like, 'The true test of intelligence is whether you can hold opposing thoughts in your head and retain the ability to function at the same time.' I had just, right before the phone rang, read that quote on the bottom of the National Restaurant Association News and had just clicked off of my computer and she called and said, 'I was just trying to send you this quote.' The odds are incontestable on that that we were both reading the same quote."

Nancy: "In two different sources. Mine was in an FDA newsletter."

Janna: "There's something about the nine months in the womb that creates this relationship and this bond that goes on."

Ernest and

Carl McLain

Ernest and Carl McLain were born 92 years ago in Kokomo, Indiana, where they grew up, married, and raised their families. Carl worked for General Motors for most of his career; Ernest worked at a bakery for 28 years. Today, Ernest lives in Brookdale Place retirement community in San Marcos. On a shelf just outside the front door of his apartment are two photos. In one, he and Carl are 4 or 5 years old, dressed alike. In the other, he and Carl are 76, dressed alike. Carl winters in Florida, where I spoke to him by phone. When I informed him that I had talked to his brother, the first words out of his mouth were "You mean that mean old man?"

Carl: "He's older than I am though. He's 15 minutes older. I sent him a card that says, 'From your younger and good-looking brother.' We still tease each other. My brother is better looking than I am right now. I have 11 stitches in my forehead and two black eyes. I fell over a picnic table. We don't look alike today."

Do you experience inner sensing or intuition about each other?

Ernest: "We usually knew what the other one was doing. Just like the other day -- I called him, and he'd stepped out of the house and fell and hit his head on the picnic table and busted his head open. They had to take him to the hospital, get sewn up and everything. I just had the feeling that something was wrong."

How would you rate your parents as parents of twins?

Carl: "Our parents had quite a job. They had two sets of twins in three years. And we had a sister one year older than us. Our mother had five children under five years old."

Ernest: "I think our parents did all right. Mother said she never had to worry about where we were, because we always played with each other. Where one of us was, the other was. We had a sister who was a year and a day older than us and twin sisters that were three years younger than us."

Do you look alike?

Carl: "If you didn't know us, you wouldn't know one from the other."

Ernest: "We've looked exactly alike all our lives. He might be taller, but it might be just a difference in shoes, I don't know."

Carl: "I suppose we did stand out in a crowd, but that never seemed to bother me. We never had any troubles. We just got along real well."

Did your parents dress you alike?

Ernest: "We liked dressing alike."

Carl: "Our parents dressed us alike, pretty much so. It was all right. We dressed alike probably up until we got married and our wives had something to say about it. There's a picture of us in our 20s with us wearing the same topcoat and everything."

Did you ever try to trick anyone?

Carl: "We had a lot of fun with being twins. We tried to fool a lot of people. We tried to fool a teacher at school, but it didn't work out very well. Some of the kids squealed on us."

Ernest: "When we were just little kids, there was a grocery store on about every other block. There weren't supermarkets in those days. We'd go to the grocery store, and people would come along and ask us, 'Who is the best fighter?' All that kind of stuff, you know. We got wise to their tricks. They'd pay the winner a nickel or something. We'd go from one store to another getting nickels and dimes, acting like one of us won. One would act like he was hurt. We'd do things like that."

Carl: "One teacher made up her mind she was going to split us up. Shoved me ahead a half a grade. Ernie stayed behind a half a grade. That was eighth grade. Ernie quit school then. I went one semester in ninth grade, and then I quit."

What's the funniest story you can remember that resulted from having a twin?

Carl: "I delivered ice cream and Ernie was delivering bread for a bread company. We had almost the same route on certain days. One Sunday afternoon when we both worked at the bakery, we were a little late getting there."

Ernest: "My brother parked the car. I jumped out and ran down the stairway to the dressing room and changed into my uniform. Then Carl entered the building and passed a fellow visiting from the Holsum baking franchise. I passed Carl on the stairs and arrived upstairs dressed all in white. The guy from Holsum says, 'What's going on here? Didn't he just go downstairs?' The boss says, 'Yeah, we don't allow them to dillydally. If I had more guys like him I could get rid of the rest of them.' "

Did you ever date another set of twins?

Ernest: "There was a set of girl twins at school that we liked, but we never dated them. It would have been fun."

Were you more or less modest about nakedness with your twin than with others?

Ernest: "We always played together. We were always together, but when we changed clothes, we'd do it back-to-back."

Do you share many of the same ailments?

Carl: "We don't have any allergies or family illnesses. No cancer. Ernie's got some heart problems, but I haven't had any problems."

Do you think about your twin's death?

Ernest: "Death's going to come for everybody."

Carl: "We've got no control over it. When it happens, it happens."

Ernest: "I'd like to see him more often. I miss my brother."

Denise Pillar and Danielle Fermental

Denise Pillar and her sister, Danielle Fermental, are 32 and grew up in San Diego. Denise, a married mother of two, is a social worker for the San Diego Regional Center. Danielle, also married and mother of two, works for the FBI, which is several doors away from her sister's place of employment. They live 15 minutes apart, Denise in Santee and Danielle in El Cajon. We met in Denise's office, where the sisters, nonstop talkers, launched into some unusual aspects of their twinship.

Denise: "Growing up, she did stuff, or I did stuff, but I'd think she did it. And she did stuff and thought I did it because I'd see her doing it. And she'd see me doing it. It was weird."

Danielle: "As to sharing physical attributes, it can be fun. It can be annoying."

Denise: "And it is always a novelty for people who aren't used to it, because it's been this way forever for us, so I don't think about it until they go, 'Wow. Do you guys do this alike? And do you do that alike?'

"Just like when they say, 'When's your birthday? Oh. When's your sister's birthday?' Duh. People do that all the time."

What are some other unusual things about your twinship?

Denise: "It's weird in a way, because we don't hug, because it feels like we're hugging ourselves.

"My children look at her like another mother. And her children look at me like another mother, because we sound alike, look alike, and we talk to them the same way."

How would you rate your parents as parents of twins?

Denise: "That's complicated."

Danielle: "They coped well."

Who is the oldest?

Denise: "I was ready to come out, but she wasn't. They finally got her out and my mom was relieved and they said, 'There's another one,' and our mom went, 'Oh, God!' Then, when they told our dad, he fainted.

"They had a lot of help from our older sisters. The eldest sister is 11 years older than us. She was like another mom. She kind of resented it, because she got all the attention until we came along, and then my dad had to work more because there were two more mouths to feed. One thing they did do a lot is that they would line up our report cards."

Danielle: "They compared us a lot so we had a lot of competition."

Denise: "Yeah."

Danielle: "Instead of being looked at as individual people, they'd say, 'I wonder why this twin is better at this than this twin is.' That kind of thing."

What feelings are evoked when one of you has succeeded or excelled in something when the other has not?

Denise: "She was always better at math, and I was better at English."

Danielle: "We used to get the same grades all the way around."

Denise: "As adults, we're happy for the other person, but I recall an incident when we were in the seventh grade. She was in the advanced math class, and I was in the bonehead math. I got straight A's at the end of the year. She had one B, and that was in advanced math. She got upset because she thought, and she even told our parents, 'Mom and Dad, you are more proud of Denise now than you are of me.' She went crying into her room. Then I came home and my mom showed me my report card and I said, 'Yeah!' Then she showed me Danielle's, and I went, 'Oh.' She said, 'Go see your sister.' I said, 'No. She's not going to let me in there. We're not going to talk about it.' I felt horrible for having done my best."

Did your parents dress you alike?

Denise: "My mom would go shopping, and she'd buy us the same clothes, so we basically had identical wardrobes except if we saved enough money and we went out and bought something else. One thing that we ended up doing a lot of was, Danielle would get up first in the morning and go and take a shower. I'd get up and eat my breakfast. While she's in the shower, I'm dressed, out eating my breakfast. She comes out after she's dressed -- we're wearing the same clothes."

Danielle: "We still do that a lot. For example, we're both wearing blue. And stripes."

Denise: "We do that a lot. Even on the weekend, when I was at your house for Easter. What was I wearing? I was wearing something with flowers, wasn't I?"

Danielle: "Uh-huh, and I was wearing a floral print dress."

Denise: "This was funny. I got my girls identical dresses 'cause I thought it'd be cute. It ended up..."

Danielle: "I bought the same dress for my daughter."

Denise: "And we hadn't even gone shopping together. So all three of them have the same dress now."

Danielle: "You know, now that we're apart, we find ourselves buying the same things..."

Denise: "...for our kids."

Danielle: "For our kids."

What was the downside of being a twin?

Danielle: "Being mistaken by our teachers for the other one. Like, she would have a class second period. I would have the same exact teacher in fourth period, but I would be called Denise and she kept being called Danielle."

Denise: "Another thing that was definitely annoying was that even our friends compared us. She was a lot more outspoken than I was. Real confident. I was very meek. Of course, it's kind of balanced out now. She's a lot more meek than she used to be and..."

Danielle: "I have more self-control than I used to."

Denise: "They used to say she was the mean one and I was the nice one."

Danielle: "I think it's because I wasn't afraid. She was very anxious. We both had a lot of anxiety, but she had a lot more anxiety then, obviously, than she does now."

Denise: "It's funny because we're both on medication too. [Laughing.] You have more anxiety now than I do."

Danielle: "Yeah, I have more anxiety now. It's funny; it's like it flip-flopped, but she used to... It was really hard. We were not ready to be separated. For some reason, the school system decided the best thing in the world was to separate twins, and I tell every parent of twins, 'Do not separate them until they express a desire to be in different classes.' "

Denise: "It was really hard."

Danielle: "They separated us because they didn't want us to have the dependence on each other. They didn't understand..."

Denise: "That it's not just a psychological need. It's a physiological thing. You're looking at nine months in the womb and then another six years together, and then all of a sudden that came to an end."

Danielle: "And I think that caused a lot of conflict for us, because we were trying to break apart from each other because everybody kept saying we had to. We were trying to push each other away because everybody said we had to. I always tell parents of twins, 'Do not separate them until they want to be separated.' I would be at home sick, she would be at school. She wouldn't play at recess. She'd be sitting outside the classroom crying because we had to get used to not being in the same class, but when we weren't in the same area at the same time it was very hard. Even now it is hard, isn't it? When I go on vacation or out of town..."

Denise: "I know. I don't sleep well."

Danielle: "Yeah, and I don't either. I get anxious when she's out of town."

Have you ever seen a therapist?

Denise: "She used to be very secretive about that. Not wanting anybody to know, but now she's gotten more comfortable with it. It doesn't reflect that she's a psycho or anything like that, even though I call them psycho-meds, don't I?"

Danielle: "For example, she's taking Prozac for depression and I'm taking Paxil for anxiety. I have the anxiety. She has the depression."

Did you see the therapist together?

Denise: "We didn't go jointly to counseling. I was the first one to seek help, and basically it came down to I was very codependent. They felt it was more of a family problem. It runs in the family. It was a family systems thing. An alcoholic, abusive father and a mother who was an enabler."

Danielle: "It was a family systems issue. I kind of had the middle-child syndrome, I think, because I am the older twin and they treated me like the middle child. I had to make sure everybody was okay."

Denise: "Growing up, she was very protective of me. She still kind of is."

Danielle: "Yeah." (Laughing.)

Denise: "She was always protective of me. She got physically aggressive if people were doing something to me. I got verbally aggressive if people were doing things to her. That's how we fought together too. She was very physical. I was very verbal. I could cut her with words like nobody's business, and then she'd pound me. [More hearty laughter.] She was more bold. I kind of stood by the sidelines and watched. When she got in trouble, I thought, 'Okay, I'm not going to do that.' I wasn't a secretive person. If I was going to do something naughty, I would just do it."

Danielle: "I was sneaky."

Denise: "She was sneaky and manipulative."

Did Denise ever come to Danielle's rescue when she got herself into trouble?

Denise: "Oh, no, never. I didn't want to get in the middle. It was part of the competition between us. Like, 'Oh, I'm the good one today.' It was kind of that thing. She's always been physical. She'll tear somebody limb from limb if they piss her off enough. That's why I never worried. Nobody ever picked on me in school because she was there."

Danielle: "I was the one that was in charge of 'keeping an eye on your sister.' I came out first."

Denise: "But I was the one that was ready. They had to make her come out."

Danielle: "I wasn't stupid. Why would I want to come out fast?"

Denise: "But I sometimes wonder if their making you come out has contributed to your leaping before you look."

Danielle: "Possibly."

Do you ever feel like a freak of nature?

Danielle: "Everybody always knew who we were growing up. Even teachers we'd never met knew who we were. We'd have people say, 'Hi, how are you?' and we'd be thinking, 'Who are you?' It was more of a novelty than it is now, and it did draw more attention. There are two ways to react to it. You can either withdraw or enjoy it and be more social. We decided to be more social. We always had the same group of friends."

Denise: "That was funny, huh? Always."

Danielle: "We were both reading at age three."

Denise: "Our kindergarten teacher would divide the class into groups and give me a book and her a book and say, 'Read.' We'd read to the kids."

Danielle: "We gave the teachers a break. And we were also writing in cursive when we got into kindergarten, and instead of them saying, 'Maybe we need to move these girls into a special class,' they said, 'We don't write that way yet. You're not supposed to do that.' They didn't know what to do with us. They kept throwing us into enrichment classes in fourth through sixth grade.

"We play almost everything. I play the oboe, the clarinet, the coronet, the piano, the flute, the saxophone, French horn."

Denise: "Piccolo, flute, trumpet, French horn. I can't do the reed instruments. I just started playing the native flute. And we were always good at sports too."

Danielle: "Yeah, we used to play with boys, and they wanted to keep us on separate teams because they knew if we got on a team together, we would know what the other one was going to do.

"I'm more geared toward scientific types of things. Analytical types of things."

Denise: "I'm more people- and social-oriented."

Danielle: "I find it funny, because I've worked for law enforcement, for how long?"

Denise: "Ten years."

Danielle: "I don't know. Before the FBI, I was with the sheriff's department. I work just down the street. We laugh because she's a social worker providing services to kids so they don't end up...you know, she's trying to get them before they get to me. She's the preventive and I'm the cleanup. It's the same kind of goal."

Did you ever date another set of twins?

Denise: "The only twins that we knew were female. We didn't know any male twins. She had more boyfriends than I did."

Danielle: "She was pickier."

Denise: "I was very picky."

Danielle: "I had three boyfriends at one time. They all knew each other. They all hated each other, but they didn't know I was dating each one of them."

Denise: "We used to tell her that she changed boyfriends like she changed socks."

Did you talk about sexual experiences?

Danielle: "Our mother avoided topics like that like the plague. The only times we discussed anything was when I had to wear a bra. When I was nine I started having to wear a bra. Remember that?"

Denise: "Yeah. And I thought, 'Thank God it's not me.' "

Danielle: "And then I started menstruating, what was it, two months before you did?"

Denise: "I think it was six months."

Danielle: "And then we discussed that because she wanted to know, what is it like? What does it feel like? It's real confusing, especially with parents who won't sit and discuss it and act like it's a normal part of life. It's more like, 'You know, we don't talk about female functions. We don't talk about anything like that.' "

Were you more or less modest about nakedness with your twin than with others?

Danielle: "We were less modest, but we were still extremely modest to the point of being prudes because of the way we were raised. My mother wouldn't let us walk in on her if she was taking a shower, even though she was behind the shower curtain."

Denise: "All we did was turn our backs to each other. But we took baths together till we were, like, eight. And even now it's no big deal. We're not as self-conscious around each other as we are around the other siblings."

Danielle: "Like, if she says, 'You have a big butt, Danielle.' I just say, 'Yeah, so do you. Big fat hairy deal. Let's just try to find clothes that fit.' "

Have you had many of the same illnesses?

Denise: "I'm sure we both have arthritis. We both have allergies. You're going to get the bunion on your left foot removed eventually, and I have to get rid of the one on my left foot.

"Our grandmother died at 57 of breast cancer. And our mom died at 57 of neuroendocrine carcinoma. It was a very, very rare cancer. I said, 'Now that breast cancer is treatable, you couldn't get that, could you?' "

Danielle: "And that's the one cancer that we've always looked out for."

Do you fear your twin's death?

Danielle: "We've never really talked about it, but it's not something that I want to even contemplate."

Denise: "If one of us was to die, the other one would probably die shortly thereafter."

Danielle: "That one might be even harder than Mom dying. [A pause.] That's why when one of us is uptight about something, the other one feels it. We call each other and say, 'Are you all right? Is everything okay?' "

Matthew and

Stephen Thomas

Matthew and Stephen Thomas are 31-year-old twins, both in the Navy, both doctors, both doing their residency in emergency medicine in San Diego. Stephen is married with a young son, and Matthew is single. They spend 60 to 80 hours a week working at the hospital. I spoke with them separately.

Do you know how your parents reacted to the news that they were having twins?

Stephen: "I think my dad's direct quote was, 'Oh, shit, I need a drink,' when he found out. I think my mom might have thought the same and didn't have one."

Matthew: "They were very good about it. They never tried to make us do the same things. There was absolutely no pressure for us to be exactly the same. If I wanted to play soccer and he wanted to play football, that's what we were allowed to do. Sometimes he wanted to play water polo, and I wanted to just swim. We ended up going to the same summer camps and things like that. There was no pressure, for the most part."

Did your parents dress you alike?

Stephen: "Oh, God, no. Thank God, no."

Matthew: "When I was younger, I would wear nothing but blue. Relatives would try to put us in matching outfits, and if it wasn't blue, I would go, 'Hmm, not blue. Not wearing it.' "

Do the two of you have your own language?

Matthew: "I don't know that we did. I think we've asked our mom about it and she said she didn't really notice one."

Stephen: "I have no recollection of covert utterances."

What does it feel like to share the same physical features with another?

Stephen: "People say, 'What's it like to be a twin?' and I say, 'Well, what's it like to be a singlet?' It's all I've known. Other than looking alike, and both being extroverts, gregarious and outgoing, we are very different people in most other respects.

"I think we look similar. People have asked me if my older brother and I are twins also. I think the boys in the family look similar. Now, Matthew and I look a little bit more alike. He's got a mole under his nose, I don't. I've got a mole on my ear, he doesn't. We have the same scars. Well, pretty close. Every little boy puts his tooth through his lip, and every little boy conks his head right on the back after falling over backwards and splits it open, so I'm not sure I have any scars different than the average little boy, and I think he's got the same ones."

Matthew: "We're both a quarter Irish and have freckles all over us. We look like Scottish-Irish and Englishmen.

"I'm probably about ten pounds heavier than he is. My face is a little rounder. My shoulders are broader. I am about a half inch taller than he is, and don't let him tell you otherwise. His eyes are lighter than mine. We both have hazel eyes, but his have a little more green and blue, and mine have a little more green and brown. His nose was broken and is a little bit crooked from playing water polo a little more aggressively than I did. Basically, I'm just a little bit bigger version than he is.

"In a lot of different ways, it was hard growing up, because being so hard to tell apart, it was always, 'Oh, you're Stephen's brother.' He was always 'Matthew's brother,' versus being our own identities. That was a little bit tough.

"People can tell the difference now between us at work, but they can't remember which person they had the conversation with.

"Someone will say, 'We saw this patient last week.' 'No, it wasn't me,' and sure enough we pull up the record, and it was my brother who saw the person with that member of staff.

"When we're both working the same shifts at the hospital, we end up putting a large M and a large S on our backs so that people can tell us from behind. Recently we started joking around that there's the evil Dr. Thomas and the good Dr. Thomas. I started wearing an E on my back and Stephen's wearing a G on his back. Stephen chose G, and I gladly chose E."

How close was your relationship as you were growing up?

Stephen: "For the most part we had completely different sets of friends. Even in junior high. We were hardly ever in the same class. After kindergarten, I don't think we were in the same class except for one year -- the poor teacher. We were on different sports teams. Even playing the same sport, he would be on one team and I would be on another. I think we're a lot more different than alike."

Matthew: "Our parents split when we were two years old. My mom moved to San Diego when we were three, and my dad stayed in Washington, D.C. We went to elementary school here in San Diego at Spreckels, up in University City.

"I've never not had him around, except in high school. I guess that was the launching point. I don't think you can say that either one of us is the quiet twin. Neither one of us is the less dominant one. I guess it was hard being around each other, being such strong personalities. I think that's basically why we split in high school. I sat there and said, 'I need my own space. I can't do this being around him all the time.' We went our different ways for a couple of years.

"When I say we needed our own space, I mean I fought with him constantly. I remember wishing I wasn't a twin when we were in high school and having so much trouble relating to one another. I didn't feel a great need to have him around. I said, 'I don't want to live here anymore. I want to live with my father away from my mother and my brother.' We just separated coasts, and that worked well enough.

"He went to University City High, and I moved back to the East Coast to be with my dad and went to a private school back there. I went to University of San Diego, and Stephen went to UCLA. I went to Columbia med school, Columbia University in New York City; Stephen went to New York Medical College in Valhalla, New York. We ended up in the same internship with the Navy, and then we both ended up going with the Marines for two years. He went to Okinawa for a year. I was in the Horn of Africa and Iraq for a year. We both came back for residency last summer."

Do you ever feel competitive with your twin?

Stephen: "I think I live my life pretty much as independent from being a twin as could be possible. I never used Matthew as a measuring stick, not because I didn't think the measuring stick was big enough, not because I said, 'Oh, I can do better than that,' but just because I didn't like always being compared. You can't escape that, being a twin. You are always compared to your brother, and so at some point it's the last thing you want to be compared to."

Matthew: "He's been better at sports than I have. He's always been a faster runner, a faster swimmer, better at water polo than I. There's stuff that I do better. I'm a much better snow boarder. Let me see, what else do I do? I mean, some of it's a little bit of jealousy. I mean, you know that God's given you different talents, and a lot of times part of this had to do with opportunity. There was no water polo team in the Washington, D.C., prep school, and I worked the whole time through high school and college. I just say, well, he was able to nurture those talents when he was younger, and I just kind of accept it as that, but there always is a little twinge of jealously because inevitably someone else makes the comparison. I mean, I don't begrudge him that he's better at it, but I don't necessarily like the fact that other people compare us because we're alike. Therein lies a little bit of jealousy."

Were you more or less modest about nakedness with your twin than with others?

Matthew: "Neither one of us are at all modest. I mean, we'll both strip down to our boxers without worrying about it, and it doesn't really matter who's in the room. It's just, 'Hey, this is just a human body. It's no big deal.' It freaks some people out. Our parents also raised us that sex is a beautiful thing that is shared between two people who love each other. 'The human body is nothing to be ashamed of' type of thing. We're really not that modest about anything. It's just another human body, and I'm not sure how much of it is because we're doctors and we really, really don't care about that stuff, versus how much of it is because of how we were raised and told that the inside person is so much more important than the outside."

Stephen: "Was I more inclined to hang around naked with my brother than with a person down the street? I don't think I've ever had a problem getting naked in front of anybody."

Do you talk about sexual experiences?

Stephen: "I don't think there's a taboo topic in our family."

Matthew: "We're both pretty private about that stuff. We talked about relationships that we were having here or there. He's been dating or married to the same person since he was...I think he was 21 when he met his wife. Going on 10 years, maybe not quite 10 years. I've been single for 31 years. I've had serious relationships before, and I've always introduced my brother when we lived in the same city. But I don't know, we don't really talk about sex or our sexual relations with other people."

Can you think of an instance when you blamed your twin for something you did?

Stephen: "Oh, yeah. He pissed me off. It was right after he got caught lying to my mom. I took some scissors to my sweatshirt -- I don't know if I took scissors or I just tore it -- but I ripped my sweatshirt, and then I blamed it on him. He, of course, denied it, but he had just been caught in a lie so she believed me instead of him. While she was sending him to his room, I stood behind pointing at him and laughing. He just lost it. He was so furious, and that, of course, just made him look even worse."

Matthew: "Hmm. Oh, I don't know, probably as much as any other sibling. I would usually confess stuff that I did wrong."

Did you ever try to fool anyone into believing that one of you was the other twin?

Matthew: "We don't really try to fool people. We are often mistaken, and sometimes we don't correct people. Or we get confused too. I remember one time when I was moving out from my family's home after being there for the summer and going back to live at my dorm. I went back home and heard a message that was Stephen leaving his new phone number. I was writing it down -- I wrote down Stephen's new phone number -- and then I realized that it was my voice and my new phone number. That kind of stuff happens. Once you get to know us, it's pretty easy, supposedly, to tell our voices apart. I can't tell our voices apart on tape."

Do you fear your twin's death?

Matthew: "In a lot of ways it would depend when and how it happened. I mean, if we're 85, then gosh, that's sad. If it's next week, then it would be much more tragic, much harder for me. If it was in the near future, that would be horrible. It would be really hard. He's an incredibly close person to me. I love him to pieces. I don't know. I don't really think about it much."

Stephen: "Everybody dies. I just hope he dies a good death. I wish that for almost everyone. Right now, there are closer people in my life. There is my wife and my son, and they are my all right now. I think everyone else in the world, including my brother, is a step behind that."

Have you ever undergone psychotherapy?

Matthew: "We did family counseling when we were in high school and nobody was getting along. That was all brothers and all parents [living in San Diego]. None of it came up because we were twins. We just weren't getting along. The twin aspect didn't have much to do with it. Everyone in our family, including our mother, and I don't mean this in a mean way, was an alpha male. If you think about the gorilla species, there's usually the alpha male, which is the dominant male, that, basically, what he says goes; that's his way. My father, my biological father, I mean, even though he was a Quaker, and fairly passive, he still wanted stuff his way. He was much better for me. He was much more of a laissez-faire parent than my mother was, which worked out well for me in my self-proclaimed state of independence."

Do you experience inner sensing or intuition about each other?

Stephen: "Yeah, we did that a lot when we were younger and closer. Without a word or a look, you could tell what the other guy was thinking. I could walk in from soccer without seeing him all day singing a song, and he'd be singing the same song and be on the same exact word. That happened a lot.

"There were times where I think it was nice because we were extremely close and we used to do that whole 'I know what you're thinking' without ever saying it. But I think that depends on a level of closeness, and I think it may exist between other siblings as well. I know of other close siblings that also claim to have had that."

Matthew: "A lot of times we'll think the same way, but I have close friends that I do the same thing with. I don't know how much of that can be attributed to being a twin. There is some level of connection with anyone that shares that much with you, especially when you consider we also have the same parents and so forth.

"I didn't feel a twinge in my arm when he broke his elbow. I felt a twinge of guilt because I knocked him off the jungle gym."

How would you describe your relationship with your twin now?

Matthew: "I miss him, because he spends a lot of time with his family. I'm not married. He is. We have very different focuses. Both of us are focused on our work and have very little time off, but the time off that I have is spent with my friends from undergrad and still having fun. He hangs with his family instead. That is his idea of fun. I mean, his wife is awesome and his little boy is very cute and wonderful to hang out with, but they go to bed at eight o'clock. That's usually when I'm having dinner somewhere. I guess their son goes to bed by eight o'clock, and I'm not usually done with dinner by nine. That's just a single person versus the married guy.

"I do miss him. He doesn't play water polo with me anymore, but everybody's priorities change and you have to roll with it."

Kathryn and Karolyn Henderson

Kathryn and Karolyn Henderson, 21, live at home with their family in El Cajon. Both attend Cuyamaca College. Kathryn is a math major, and Karolyn is studying music. I spoke with them separately.

Growing up, did you often feel like a freak of nature?

Karolyn: "If anything, I felt that being a twin was a blessing. I felt lucky, because I was always prepared for anything with somebody right by my side. It was always easy to do anything. I never, ever felt alone. There was always somebody going through the exact same thing I was, or if it wasn't the exact same thing, it was something similar.

"There's always a lot of unnecessary attention, I think negative attention, given to twins, especially when they are younger. Complete strangers will go up to twins and ask, 'Who's older? Who's younger? Who's bigger? Who weighs more?' I even had one woman say that I had smaller breasts than she [Kathryn] did. It wasn't that long ago, maybe two years ago. She had met Kathryn initially, and then she was talking to me, and people love to tell you things like you don't know it, 'Oh, you're shorter.' She said, 'She's got bigger boobs,' and I went, 'Okay.' Talk about uncalled for. People can kind of push the line, and you ask yourself, 'What the hell is going on?' From the inside, I don't feel like a freak of nature. If anything, it might be reflected from the outside. People may think that we're freaks of nature. That's the only sense I get of that freakiness is from other people."

Kathryn: "I've pretty much always known that I have been so lucky to have a best friend. It's hard to feel like a freak of nature when your best friend is just like you. It would be like they're a freak of nature as well. As a kid, we are both so tall -- if anything, I felt weird being tall. Never being a twin."

Do you look exactly identical?

Kathryn: "I don't think we look exactly alike. I am a little bit taller, a little heavier. I'm five eleven and a half. Very, very close to six feet. We have brown hair and blue eyes. The same faces. Pale skin. Our heritage is Norwegian, so we look like we're blushing all the time. I recently cut my hair shoulder length. Some people think we do look alike at first, and then they figure it out later. We each have a freckle on our belly button in the same place. We have a funny picture of my mom and dad each poking one. We do have that."

Karolyn: "Our bodies react the same way to everything, whether it's medication, shampoo."

What does it feel like to look at another human being with physical attributes identical or very similar to yours?

Karolyn: "We have the same kind of teeth. I think she has bigger eyes, but she'd probably disagree.

"To be honest, it's different when I sit and think about it. When I look at her and realize that that is my skin and that is my hair and those are my eyes, it's kind of weird. But it's completely normal. Looking at her is like looking at home, so I'm never really lonely in that respect."

Kathryn: "It's interesting because there have been a couple of times when I've caught a quick glance of myself in a window when I've been shopping with Karolyn and I've thought it was her for a split second. I know that our faces are very much the same. I can steal her makeup and know that it will look good on me too. The most interesting thing is with pictures of us when we were younger. I don't recognize my face first. I recognize hers. I've seen her face a thousand times more than I've seen my own, because I look at her face all the time. So when we look at pictures of when we were kids and we can't figure out who's who, I pick out the most recognizable face and I say, 'That's you.' "

How would you rate your parents as parents of twins?

Kathryn: "Our parents knew they were having twins in advance. Actually, there's a funny story. The doctor told my mom that she was having at least two. He didn't know if there were any more. My dad almost fainted, or at least got really white.

"My parents always wanted lots of children. They were going to have three anyway, so they just kind of had two-in-one type of thing. They always said they were overjoyed. They both come from big families, and they wanted a big family. It was great that we are close to my big sister in age so we were all close when we grew up. She's three years older than us. She's quite different than us."

Karolyn: "I think they did the best job that they could to make us unique and to make us similar. They encouraged us to do whatever we wanted to do and not feel like we had to do it together. Like piano lessons. We didn't both have to take piano lessons. I was the one who wanted to, so I did. A long time ago, she wanted to play basketball, so they encouraged her to do that. There wasn't a need for us to do those things together. If we had wanted to do those things together, they would have encouraged that too."

Do the two of you have your own language?

Karolyn: "We did have a secret language when we were too young to really start speaking. We had some sort of babble. Our parents tell me that we used to sit up in our cribs and babble back and forth to each other, but now it's a little more sophisticated."

Kathryn: "My parents would describe us as yakking all night at each other. It didn't make any sense, but we were holding each other's attention while we did it, taking turns and everything. Other than that, we just finish each other's sentences every day. Just looking at each other, eye contact."

Did your parents dress you alike?

Kathryn: "They dressed us alike for a while. Then I don't know if they stopped or if we just stopped. We were only four or five. I didn't like it because I'd think people would look. It seemed like a distraction. People would say something. As a kid, you don't want to draw extra attention to yourself. I was slightly uncomfortable."

Karolyn: "We were dressed alike, but just for a little while. They gave up or we gave up. By accident, we would shop at the same stores and end up buying clothes that were very similar, but really with no intention of trying to look alike. You know, we live together, and we are always together, so we always seem to find clothes that look exactly like the other person's. I swear, I went out and bought a sweater and brought it home and Kathryn's, like, 'Yeah, I bought that sweater last week.' That kind of stuff. It's never intentional."

How often did you lay blame for some misdeed on the other twin?

Kathryn: "I want to be really honest. I didn't place the blame on Karolyn often because we were so close that if she was in trouble it was no fun for me either. We also had an older sister that we pushed stuff onto, so fortunately she was the scapegoat most of the time."

Karolyn: "I can't remember blaming my sister for something I did."

How do you feel if your twin has been more successful at something than you have?

Karolyn: "I'm totally all for it. For being a math major, she's, like, brilliant. And it's hard because I'm in lower math classes and not doing very well with them sometimes. It's hard in the respect that you think, 'Why can't I be that good?' But I'm usually just very happy for her. If for some reason, she's not doing as well in something that I'm doing, I'll ask her if she needs help. I guess we don't think of ways that she's better than me or I'm better than her. I don't think I've really considered those things, other than math and music."

Kathryn: "It's hard, because she has a really great job. She makes, like, three or four times as much money as I do. And she's her own boss and rents out a music studio. I'm, like, working for my parents. It's kind of like everything else. You feel great for that person because they're excelling, and at the same time, maybe you're looking at yourself going, 'Maybe I should do more, maybe I should push myself to a different job,' or 'I could work harder.' We've talked about it too. It's great, you know, but at the same time I'm always looking at myself and thinking maybe I should do something different to try to be more equal.

"My grades are better than hers, and she always jokes that I'm the smart twin. It's a load of crap. I just have more time to give to school, and so I think I look to her job because she makes a lot of money, and she kind of looks toward me because I'm getting better grades. I'm a math major, so I'm making her take calculus classes and I'm making her get through it. We each took a year off from school. I dragged her back to school when I went. I was literally dragging her back toward my way of life."

Have you ever seen a therapist?

Kathryn: "Our dad has Lou Gehrig's disease; he has ALS. I was in therapy for a couple of months. I actually went to the same therapy office that my sister was going to, just to deal with home, family, and school -- everything going on."

Did the therapist comment on your being a twin?

Kathryn: "She actually said -- I want to get this right -- that I should be working toward becoming independent of Karolyn. It was really weird because I didn't even remember saying that much about Karolyn, and I didn't even think that was a problem at all. But I'm not a doctor; I don't really know what that meant. I never really talked about Karolyn. I just talked about my dad and school and stuff like that. Dealing with relatives who were acting differently toward the family since Dad's been sick. I think she was just saying it in general. I don't know if it's written down in some kind of psychology book that you have to tell twins to grow independently of each other. It didn't seem like it was necessary to say. It just stuck in my mind. It was funny. I just let it go. It wasn't totally even relevant to why I was getting counseling."

Karolyn: "I did see a therapist for about a year, probably a year ago. It was for problems with my family and my body image, that kind of stuff. The therapist was interested in the twin issue, but I think I surprised her more than anything. I think she was surprised that we were so close, but it never really came up as an issue. I don't think she ever really thought it was important."

Did you ever wish your twin dead?

Karolyn: "Oh my God, no. No way. That thought has only come into my mind when I'm fearful that she has gotten in a car accident. I would never, ever, ever want that under any circumstances."

Do you greatly fear your twin's death?

Karolyn: "I have thought about death a couple of times. I imagine I would become a different person because a part of me would die as well. I wouldn't be the same in a number of ways. I just imagine myself always being quiet with nobody to talk to."

Kathryn: "I've actually thought about death before because there is a twinless program where twins go when the other twin has died, and I've often thought about how devastating that must be. I just imagine everything would be hard. My dad is very ill, so I deal with thinking about loved ones dying a lot. It's horrible to think about. We'd like to die on the same day, because dying on separate days would cause a lot of pain. Honestly, we try not to think about that."

When you started dating, was there any feeling of disloyalty or a feeling of threat?

Kathryn: "I started dating before she did, so it was kind of like a juggling act for me. That was hard. It's hard to balance between a boyfriend and your best friend, the person that you are just so close to. I would say, no, no real sense of betrayal. It's just a hard balancing act. We still do it. I've had a boyfriend now for the last week, so it's hard. I'm constantly on the phone with him or telling him how to act. We're balancing that out. She wanted to play cards the other night, and I said, 'I can't.'"

Karolyn: "I started dating someone three years ago, and the idea that you were spending so much time away from the other person felt like the biggest disloyalty, almost like betrayal. You were going to somebody else with your problems. You were spending money with somebody else. It was hurtful. It was like you felt torn between two different places. Almost like being two different people. On the other side of that, my sister just recently started seeing somebody, and I guess because I'm older I don't feel it, but I'm pretty sure if we were younger I would have felt betrayed by it. A little bit maybe, a tiny bit, but I hope I would understand that she needs to have her own life.

"I remember when she had a boyfriend earlier, it felt frustrating to me. I did feel left out a little bit even though I understood she was happy with somebody. It was a little hard."

Are there any topics that are strictly off-limits? Do you talk about sexual experiences?

Kathryn: "All the time. All the time. There's one thing that is hard to talk about. Other than that everything goes, absolutely everything, and this topic is interesting because it's about faith. She's kind of struggling with hers. She's struggling with her faith with God, and I've been kind of on a steady track since high school."

Karolyn: "I've hesitated once or twice saying something about sex, but once I said it, she's completely open to wanting to hear it. And vice versa, she's done the same to me. I don't hold back at all anymore.

"We don't necessarily talk about faith, because she's more of a believer and I'm more not a believer. That's kind of off-limits because I think it's extremely painful on both sides. That, to be honest, doesn't come up very often. Other than that, I think we talk about just about everything."

Are you more or less modest about nakedness with your twin than with others?

Karolyn: "That's a tough one to answer. That's a really interesting question. I think when we were younger, before we hit puberty, it was no big deal. We would take a bath or take a shower. We shared a room, so if you wanted to get dressed you just had to do it. Once we hit puberty it was a different story entirely. I became more private."

Kathryn: "We shared a room until we were 18 or something, until my older sister moved out, so we're fine with it. We still are actually. We're not too modest at all."

Do you experience inner sensing or intuition about your twin?

Kathryn: "They talk about that. I guess maybe that's what I've felt left out on. I can't say that there's just been things that I have known that have to do with her. I think when we were kids I fell and broke my arm and her arm hurt the same day, but who knows? Nothing psychic or anything like that. I can look at her across the room and tell what mood she's in. I know if something's wrong, if she's mad or sad. We can do a lot without talking."

Karolyn: "We've had a little bit. I don't know how much is credible. When we were little, I swear, my arm hurt all day, and she came home and had broken her arm. I'm just not sure that it isn't coincidence -- intuition that just comes from living with somebody and loving somebody. I know exactly how she's feeling if I can see her or hear her tone of voice. I know what's going on. I know if it's a problem with family. I know if it's a problem with a boyfriend. I know if she's tired, if she's had too much caffeine. I can tell anything about her from her voice or the way she looks."

Is there a dark side to being a twin?

Kathryn: "I'd say that there is a dark side to being a twin. It probably differs from twins to twins, but this is a hard time in my life with my dad being sick and me going to school. I think our family is saying, 'Oh, they'll just take care of each other. They don't need any help from us. They'll just help each other through all the hard times.' I feel kind of neglected by most of my family, like they don't care. They're right to assume that I can lean on Karolyn, but I don't appreciate them thinking, 'Oh, they'll just take care of each other. They'll be fine.'

"And I want to take a year off from college. We're thinking of living separately, so that's a dark side, because you've been with somebody your entire life, and you realize you have to move on. You have to separate, and you know it's going to be hard. It's something I know that I just have to work out."

Karolyn: "It's just the way that people perceive you as being one unit and not being a separate person. That's got to be the hardest thing about it. Even when people ask how you are doing, they don't even bother to ask you separately, you know. Why would they?

"I'm so glad you didn't ask, 'Who is the evil twin?' Or 'Who is smarter?' We used to get that question all the time. We'd say we were both evil so they would leave us alone."

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