Joan Friedman understands why being a twin can often be a blessing and a curse at the same time.
The psychotherapist, who specializes in twin issues, is a twin herself and the mother of fraternal twins.
While it’s wonderful to have such a close friend in life, she says, most adult twins struggle to learn how to face life as singletons.
When Friedman and her identical twin sister, Jane, were growing up half a century ago, there were few twins around.
“We were such stars and got a lot of attention," Friedman said. "People always knew we were the Friedman twins. But then we got older and you wanted to have your own identity. People really didn’t know who we were. It was, in a sense, like being noticed but not being known.”
Like many twins back then and even today, Joan and Jane dressed alike and were always together.
“The first time Jane and I were separated was when we went to college," Friedman said. "It was an incredibly difficult adjustment. All of a sudden you find yourself sort of as a very unprepared singleton.”
Due to advancements in infertility treatments, Friedman says, the number of twins has grown.
“Today, I think the latest statistics show that one out of every 33 births is a twin birth," she said. "I think in like the 1980s, it was one out of 90 births.”
And, she says, twins are often still treated as two halves of a whole, rather than as separate individuals.
“People just project a lot of their own concerns. [They think that if you] separate twins, you’re breaking that twin connection, you’re going to interfere with their loving one another," she said. "I find this often happens across cultures. If you give them experiences where they learn to be on their own, where they learn to rely on themselves, they develop a resilience so they can feel they can be their own persons. If not, then they develop this overdependence, or really a co-dependence, because they've never been without each another.”
Twenty-two-year old Nazy Farkhondeh and her twin sister, Ranah, have always been inseparable best friends.
They went to the same school, had the same friends. Though they applied to different colleges, they ended up rooming together at the University of Michigan and graduated with the same major. Now, they both live in Los Angeles, California.
“The most fun part is probably just having a companion you can count on," Nazy said. "The most challenging part is the feeling that everything is a shared experience, when you want to have your own experience.”
Farkhondeh also says people perceive twins as the same person, while in fact they are very different.
“Our styles are completely different. She’s more of a girly-girl. She likes to do her make-up. She likes to do her hair, when she goes out," Nazy said. "I’m more casual. I don’t wear any makeup and I never do my hair. I’m more into literature and she’s more into music. Even growing up, I’ve been always a little bit more outgoing, she was the shyer one.”
Like most siblings, twins often disagree with one another.
“It's really funny as I actually see a huge irony in disagreeing with your twin," Nazy said. "Because on one hand, you appreciate it because it’s a way you differentiate yourself from them. But on the other hand, it’s kind of irritating because it’s like someone who is really, really, really close to you disagreeing with you. So in that sense, it kind of burns more.”
Twin boys process their differences differently than twin girls, says psychotherapist Friedman.
“Identical twin girls have the closest relationships just because girls tend to need and find more intimacy with one another," she said. "Identical twin girls really do try to keep the competition under wraps, whereas boys will be able to express their feelings or their hostility in a more open way.”
Raising independent twins
In her new book, The Same But Different: How Twins Can Live, Love and Learn to Be Individuals, Friedman offers this advice for raising independent twins.
“I have certain things that I always tell parents, which is, of course, not to dress them alike, not to give them alliterative names like Tom and Tony, Natalie and Nancy," she said. "Give them different names. Make sure you take separate pictures of each twin. If they grow up and never see a picture of themselves by themselves, it’s very difficult for them to think of themselves as separate. And alone time is really what I feel is the most [important]; if you take one to the grocery store, take the other one to the park, which gives you a sense of connection with both babies.”
Reinforcing different personalities and nurturing different temperaments, Friedman says, is key to raising happy, close twins who have their own, individual goals and paths in life.