My sister and I as flower girls in a wedding, back in the day when we were "twins."

I am a Twin, But I’m Also Not. And I Don’t Know How to Deal With it.

The other evening, I received an email from my twin sister – sent to me and a few, other, select family members about a huge promotion she just received at work.My twin – who I can write about here because she has never visited the site nor likely ever will – does wonderful, extremely meaningful work that improves the lives of disadvantaged, pre-K children in the county we both live in. I am proud of the work she does. I have endless envy that she makes a true difference in the lives of others, while I continue to live my dysfunctional, pathetic life.

But my twin is not proud of me. Even when I was a functional person and journalist writing about important issues, trying in my small way to bring a tiny bit of social justice to this world. She never told me I was a good writer or complimented me on a story or acknowledged I have anything to offer, when it comes to writing. I know I should be able to find that kind of belief inside myself, and from the numerous remarks to that effect from others – but, while all that helps — unfortunately, if my very own twin sister can’t say it, I don’t know if I’ll ever believe it.

My sister was promoted to oversee early learning initiatives for our county office of education, and forwarded  an email from one of their head honchos lauding her more than 15 years’ of work improving the lives of impoverished families and children in our county. I have never, ever, ceased being proud of the work my sister does to help kids in true need, and I’ve told her that, and bragged about her to others.

She’s certainly never bragged about me. She’s embarrassed of me.

I couldn’t be happier or have more respect for the fact that my sister chose a career that helps those in need. YET I AM IN NEED TOO.

But my twin sister has no time for my needs. She hasn’t taken the time to read or comment on any of the writing I’ve published over the past several months, including the op-ed I recently got published in the SF Bay Guardian. This was a huge thing for me even if it seems like a minor feat to most – a small yet coveted accomplishment for a former journalist whose career is now dead. And, as noted, my twin has not once visited this site since it was launched or commented about how I managed to craft the look and structure of it by rapidly learning how to master – after many arduous hours – Web technology I have been heretofore completely incompetent at.

Apparently, she cares nothing whatsoever about how much pain this has caused me: her failure to even once visit or acknowledge this site.

When I read my sister’s email a couple hours ago I experienced a lot of conflicting emotions: pride and happiness over her promotion and her hard work to help others — work done while simultaneously being a wonderful, completely devoted mother to her two young, high-energy children. I was also happy that she let at least a few people know about her accomplishment, because she rarely shares her laudable achievements with others.

But I also experienced pain that she wants me to acknowledge her hard work while she fails to take 30 seconds out of her day to ever acknowledge mine. I know my sister is busy and overwhelmed with life and simply doesn’t have time for me, but I don’t know how to accept where that leaves me.

I also felt, after reading the note singing my sister’s praise, why do I even try anymore, or pretend to think, that I make a difference? Why do I keep living, or “publishing” these stupid “articles” that nobody except close family and friends, read and which make no difference in the lives of others, as my sister’s work does.

My best guess is that my twin sees my new Web site as a joke, another pathetic effort to make meaning out of a meaningless life.

To my twin, I am not a twin, much less a sister. I am merely a burden she needs to attend to from time to time because I’m “family.” We have no relationship to speak of. She lives less than a mile from me but has not once visited me in the five years since I moved back to California, nor once has she been able to find time to simply share coffee or a similar activity for a half hour out of her day. She does have time, however, to visit the gym every week to get in her spinning classes.

I’ve visited her house countless times, to see my niece, nephew and brother-in-law, as well as her – even though I know attempting to get into any conversation of depth with her while I’m there is pointless.

I have somewhat of a relationship with my niece and nephew, and my “twin’s” husband, who is wonderful and loving and tries to respond to me, when he can,  amid a similarly busy life. But my sister never replies, never reads anything I write, never acknowledges my fruitless efforts to try and make purpose out of my increasingly purposelessness life. And now, she expects ME to acknowledge her hard work, when she fails to acknowledge mine? I want to and I don’t want to.

I don’t know what to do.

Yes, I know my “online magazine” is a joke, probably not taken seriously by anybody, and that those who do make nice comments about it are probably just humoring me. I know this because they don’t tell their friends about my site, or post the link on Facebook, or Tweet it, or whatever… Why do I keep trying to “count” in this world when I obviously don’t? My stupid efforts to try and find meaning in my life, to stave off the constant impulse to take my life — all my efforts are a pathetic joke. They are not taken seriously by anybody. My sister spends her days making a difference and raising beautiful children. I spend my days often wasting hours on stupid, OCD-ish activities, as well as constantly trying to figure out how to survive on a subsistence-level budget that wreaks constant stress.

I will die alone, with no children, never having been loved by anybody not related to me by blood. I’ll leave nothing behind. My life is a blip. All I ever wanted was to make a difference in this world, have family, children, and my “twin” sister. But I have none of those things.

I wish my sister understood the pain I experience daily that I no longer have a twin. when I read her email tonight a relatively stable month, mental health-wise, dissolved, and all the suicidal impulses returned. I know they’ll pass, but they’re painful and awful and unwelcome.

My sister and I shared a fu–ing womb for Christ’s sake. How do you ever get over that primordial bond? There must be some kind of psychological umbilical cord which links us together as long as we’re alive, right? I guess she can mend that severing  because she has her husband and her children now to stitch to the other half. But I don’t.

I’m having a hard night. Hopefully I’ll wake up tomorrow and start again, and delude myself into thinking, as I constantly try to, that “things will get better, eventually.” Even though they never do…

Most people don’t understand what it’s like to lose a twin and I wish they did. The same people who tell me to “just write for myself” tell me to “let the twin thing go,” accept things as they are. And I try to, I really do, but I just can’t. There’s some bond embedded deep in my subconscious that has been permanently broken and that I will never stop grieving. I know it has to do with “attachment theory” and related psychological dynamics, but that knowledge has never helped me feel any better.

None of the many therapists or treatment centers I’ve been to over the years have ever done their homework on the complexities of twin psychology. I was recently lucky enough to discover the work of Dr. Barabara Klein, a twin herself who works with twins and has written two books to guide therapists in the unique issues one must consider when working with such a client. In the forward to her book, “Alone in the Mirror,” Dr. Jacqueline Martinez writes, “An understanding of the realities of twinship is essential for success any time one is working with a twin… In the worst-case scenario, the therapist’s lack of awareness of how poignant these attachment and developmental issues are for twins leads to perpetuation of the very dynamic the twin-patient is attempting to heal from and move beyond.

I find it utterly perplexing that no professional or treatment center I’ve ever been to has attempted to do background reading on the types of issues I struggle with as a twin. I know I can’t blame anybody – including my sister – for my problems or for what I’ve done to my life, but maybe if those professionals had taken just a little bit of time to do their homework, I’d be feeling a little less pain tonight.

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  1. LaDonna Bionica says:

    J -Your voice on this blog has already touched many people, that i know personally, including Me. you have an insight , depth, and cogency in your ability to write about these matters. The World desperately needs your voice. I offer you this quote:

    “The Bond that links your true family is not one of
    blood, but of respect and joy in each others lives.
    Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof.”

    Richard Bach – Illusions

    thanks for being a member of my family.

    • Jeanene Harlick says:

      W– thank you SO much for this response. The quote is so right on. I need to write it down and tape it to my fridge, I think :-). It’s incredibly helpful and I am so grateful to have you as part of my family as well.

  2. Sarah says:

    Hey Jeannie. I’m so sorry. I didn’t know things were so bad with your sister still. I don’t have a twin so I can’t really understand that bond. I do have a sister though, and thus is weird because I’m kind of on the opposite side of what you describe. Not that I do important work saving children or anything, but I’ve always pushed my sister away and never appreciated or complimented her nearly as much as she deserves. There are a lot of issues there… I felt so obligated to care for her when she was ill, and I ended up resenting her. Being around her was like being around an open wound- so painful. It may be that Diana is feeling some similar things. I pushed my sister away because it was painful to be around her because seeing her in pain made me hurt, and I felt helpless. I was also tired of being afraid. I worried for so long about her committing suicide that I let go in a way so in case it happened I wouldn’t feel as much pain. That may be happening with your sister too…like she can’t stand the fear or worry anymore and so she’s let go. Its probably not a conscious thing. It’s just easier nit to be around someone who’s in pain. And she may not know how to make it better. And she may not be willing to try. But please know that while I can’t really speak for Diana, from my experience it was never about not loving my sister. It was about loving her too much and being too personally weak to watch her suffer.

  3. S says:

    When in doubt don’t do anything. my motto
    one-sided relationships are simply that – one sided. some are just not capable. very sad

  4. Char says:

    All I can say is your candor is like pure oxygen to me. I know it make not make you feel better, bu I’m gonna keep reading what you write while I’m breathing in and out. I get it. It sucks to know no one really cares who’s close to you. But, I can also say that we really don’t know what tomorrow will bring and life has surprised me in so many unexpected ways, I couldn’t have believed, both good and beyond horrible, that I just have to keep trying. I never thought I’d find true love and lo and behold at age 55 it finally happened and I couldn’t have created someone in my mind more perfect for myself than he is. Don’t give up on your dreams. All the poet-prophets with guitars say the same thing. Don’t ever give up on your dreams. Keep them in a small quiet space in your heart and protect them from every naysayer. But keep them safe.

  5. Anon says:

    Being a twin myself I totally relate. She moved to another country a long time ago and yes, I feel she’s totally detached and I don’t feel like a twin anymore!
    On a recent visit, she hardly saw me and my own family ……. Like she has to be in charge. She’s been invited to go out on day trips with my family but she just ignores messages and phone calls, completely oblivious to how it upsets me so much. So yes, I feel like I’m just a person whom she has no disregard for…… Yes we shared the womb, but she’s always told me how she should get the special treatment as she was born first!
    This visit she’s shown her true self, and I’ve just sat back now……. Perhaps waiting for her to visit us on her own terms……. It’s heartbreaking as she lives the other side of the world!

  6. Logan says:

    Thank you for sharing this, I am an identical twin girl and my sister and I have the same kind of relationship. I’m into comedy writing and improv and moved from CA to Chicago for it. It’s fuffilling but many of my family members compare me to her at 23. She has always been a mean girl and acts selfishly. Since I was 8 I have told myself that things will change and they don’t. I came home to visit and just yesterday we got in an argument and she told me to kill myself and that were not sister, more like distant cousins. I’m broken and want to completely unattach myself from having anything to do with her. I’m not sure if anyone on here has a twin who they don’t talk to anymore because I would love some perspective.

  7. Hi there, I am a twin too. Since we were adults, my sister and I have always been very close. However, our relationship feels one sided to me as well. Our lives are extremely different. She is disabled and stays home with her 3 children. My mother goes over there daily and they spend time together smoking cigarettes and playing on their phones.
    I have a demanding career and only have one child. I don’t smoke and I don’t play video games on my phone. I try extremely hard to keep in touch with my sister. I message her funny memes and try to do things with her regularly. Some time ago she started messaging less and less. She started sending my calls to voice mail. She started getting closer to my older sister who lives a few states away. It seems she only has contact with me if she needs something. Things we would regularly do together, she no longer includes me in. My response to this is typically acceptance because I understand she has a busy life with her family. Occasionally, like once every 6 months or less I get upset about it and say something.
    Many of my friends have said that our relationship is toxic and that my sister doesn’t appreciate me. They don’t understand why I continue to tolerate it. When they say that, it makes me feel guilty because I don’t want them to feel ill will toward her.
    Anyway, I had seen her like 4 times since Christmas and again I got angry and frustrated that she isn’t returning messages or phone calls. But this time, I don’t feel like I can go back to being the same. It’s been too long. Years of this. I have to admit that many things come ahead of me. She has a limited amount of energy due to her disability and she has chosen where she wants to spend it and it and it’s not with me. I am sad, I know this doesn’t mean our relationship is over, it’s just very different now. I have to stop putting it first and spend time with my friends and rely on other people. This is okay and will most likely actually be good for me. I am still sad. But I accept it.

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