Pat Brothwell answers the question people ask him the most.
I have a twin brother named Shawn. We were born on March 19th approximately 2 minutes apart and it’s because of him that the most answered question in my life is, “what’s it like being a twin?”
Sometimes I find it hard to answer.
“What’s it like not having a twin?”, is my normal response. At this point it doesn’t annoy me, and I don’t want to come across as bitchy, but I think it’s the most reasonable answer. I don’t have anything to compare it with. I literally don’t know what it’s like to not have someone who looks and sounds and acts and thinks (to a degree) like I do.
I can’t answer that question because having a twin is the only life I know.
Let’s knock a few more of the usual questions out of the way before I continue.
We’re not identical. You could tell us apart. This means we’re fraternal twins.
We’ve never switched places or pulled any Parent Trap type shenanigans (because we’re not identical).
We don’t have twin ESP aka I can’t read his mind.
If he’s depressed it doesn’t mean that I will be.
Our mother did make us dress alike when we were small children. I do consider this a cruel and unusual punishment.
If you punch him I won’t feel, so swing away.
One time someone asked me if I’d die when he did. I told them to scour the obituaries in about 85 years.
Being fraternal twins means we were fertilized by two different sperm. We were actually supposed to be triplets at one point, and Shawn always alleges it was me who killed the other one. I’ve never really argued that. If you want to be technical I’m the oldest by three minutes. I think it fits me. I’m bigger and I’m bossier and if I had my way I’d probably be the first one out but truth be told it was a C-section and basically luck of the grab.
I think it’s easy to tell us apart but it seems to be a case by case basis. I’ve never been confused for Shawn by my parents, sister or any close relative or friend with the exception of my grandmother who also will frequently refer to me as Mike or Peter (or as Peg on the phone once in a while), but I know she knows the difference. I do think it’s unmistakable that we’re brothers but not entirely off base to not know we’re twins right away.
It’s mainly a height thing.
I stand two inches taller than Shawn. It’s a source of confusion for a lot of people and I’ve actually had people tell us that we aren’t twins because we aren’t the same height. Shawn tends to look a little bit younger and one of the people who told us we weren’t twins was a bar bouncer who thought his ID was fake. I tried to intervene and show we had the same birthday and was shot down. I’m built bigger than he is and like to think it’s mostly muscle but unfortunately you don’t really build muscle along the waistline. His face is slightly more oblong while mine is rounder if and if you’re viewing us from behind it’s easy to us apart because I have a ginormous head. I also inherited my dad’s dimples which he did not but that’s about where the differences stop.
We both have dirty blonde hair that becomes legally blonde in the summer months and curls wildly when it reaches a certain length and both have prominent eyebrows and small sensitive eyes which more often than not lead to a lot of extremely un-photogenic moments.
People still mistake us for each other all the time and for the most part I’m ok with that. I’m even trained to answer for him—a few weeks ago I was standing in line for ice cream when a guy behind me said “Hey Shawn.” Without even pausing to think that I was in Lancaster, not where we grew up and where he’d only been a handful of times, I turned around and replied,” no, I’m his brother Pat.” Then the guy in front of me turned around and said that he was Shawn. The rest of the wait was somewhat uncomfortable.
What does piss me off is that there’s a certain sect of people who never bother learning who you are. They view you as a unit, as interchangeable and say things like, “I’m just going to call you Brothwell because I’m never going to get you guys right.” I don’t mind being grouped with my brother and I don’t mind that people mix us up, but hate when no effort is made.
I used to think that the older we get the more different we look but I’m starting to reconsider that. The other day my parents uploaded a picture of them visiting him in Pittsburgh to Facebook and three friends texted me to say “why is Shawn disguised as you?” It was eerie looking at the picture. Even I would have thought it was me with only a quick glance.
I never realized until I got older what a nice safety net a twin was growing up. I always had someone to play with, someone to talk to, and someone to confide in and never realized that other people didn’t. I don’t think it stunted our social skills really in any way but I do know that we weren’t as in a hurry to make friends as some other kids. I also know that I never had the fear of not having someone want to be my partner or not having someone to play with after school or walking into a party or new class or school dance all by myself and having to approach people. There was always two of us and in a way it made people approach us, rather than the other way around.
We were always in the same class all throughout elementary school. I was the one who asked if we could be in separate classes when entering seventh grade which definitely caused a little bit of a rift. At that point we were still kids and hadn’t forged our own identities and I was getting increasingly frustrated being part of a two-for-one deal. There was some hurt caused and would I do it again? I actually can’t be sure. Part of me thinks that being separated, even for just a few periods a day (we still had the same friends and sat together at lunch always) helped us to grow on our own. On the other hand, a lot of elementary school kids are interchangeable. Time might have just helped us to grow on our own as well.
We ended up both going to the University of Scranton. We had separate roomates freshmen year, lived together sophomore year and then split an off campus house with two of our friends junior and senior year. In college we still ate together a lot, we still had the same circle of friends and generally were around each other quite a bit but I never got the inkling that we still weren’t having individual college experiences. It wasn’t unlike going to college with a close friend.
Most people, I learn as you grow up, while certainly identifying you strongly with the twin label are able to realize that there’s different personality traits at play. I’m a little more headstrong and impulsive and out of the two of us was the one more likely to go get drunk the night before a big exam. Shawn’s a tad more reserved and observational and an extremely hard worker. He’s also admittedly the smarter of the two (although not by much) and somewhat more open to new things and ideas. That’s not saying that I didn’t take my classes seriously or that he can’t be a wild man when the time calls for it, just that in time, the stuff that I was so insecure about when I asked to be separated, doesn’t really matter. Again, most people are able to realize that with every person, there’s small personality idiosyncrasies that distinguish one another and furthermore that these differences are often very miniscule and complex. There doesn’t have to be “the smart one” or the “fun one” or the “sporty one”, we could both be all of those things. This is a common misconception of twins. It’s also the reason we both have an irrational hatred for the Olsen twins.
Here comes another question people normally ask once they find out I have a twin. I saved it for now because the explanation is lengthy. Are you guys best friends?
It’s a pretty loaded question. First things first, I’m not a huge fan of the term “best friend” to begin with. It just breeds an exclusivity that I don’t care for. I have a few people I consider to be some of my best friends but not one that stands high and mighty above all others, and maybe having Shawn is my reason I never felt the need to identify one. The second thing is that I don’t think the term best friend can justify the relationship between siblings, twins especially. This is not someone you can excommunicate or cut off if something really heinous happens. This is someone you’re stuck with, for better or worse, possible even more strongly than a spouse.
My brother is certainly included in the group of best friends but in reality is on his own platform altogether. The things with twins or at least our case specifically, is that we know each other so well without having to necessarily confide in each other, as friends are apt to do. It goes so much further, as The Boss would paraphrase as liking the same music, liking the same bands and liking the same clothes (although we do have similar tastes in a ton of stuff). I know how Shawn will react to a certain situation or what he’ll think about a comment and there’s things that go through my head that he, and only he, will find funny. We might have different opinions and reactions but I think the thought process is eerily similar.
This power can also be used for evil. It goes beyond just knowing what he likes or doesn’t like or what he’ll say in certain situations. I know exactly what to say to make him feel like a complete pile of shit and vice versa and we’ve both inflicted plenty of hurt this way. We actually used to have legendary fights where the objective always went from absolving conflict A to who could win. The funny thing is, and I’m speaking for myself and not him here, although I want to say he’d agree, is that more often than not we’re both hyper-aware that we’re only saying nasty things to hurt each other so that we’re able to easily resolve the issue and move on. I told you this was a loaded question.
We’ve spent a crazy amount of time with each other. We were inseparable as children, lived in the same house, had all the same friends, hell, we even shared the same womb. We know each other, sometimes unadmittingly, so well. I hate to get this deep, but at times it really is like looking in a mirror. I know there’s been things Shawn’s did or said or ways he’s acted that I resented so badly mainly because it was like having my own negative actions or insecurities thrown in my face via him. At the same time this is a powerful tool for self-reflection that I’ve been able to grow from. Not many people have the opportunity to actually see a version of themselves in action.
So, no, I always tell people. We aren’t best friends. We’re twins and it really is something much deeper.
We’re in a really good place right now. I’m in Lancaster and he’s four hours away in Pittsburgh and we don’t necessarily talk every single day but I always think that we’re so connected anymore via technology that distance really is only a number. We text a lot and facebook chat and really neither of us are big phone people and we’re both uber busy, so it works out and we do make an effort to see each other as often as our schedules allow. It is nice to have someone though who’ll always get me, someone who’ll understand the strange references I make and someone who I know I could reach out to about something happening in my life, be it innocuous enough as somebody’s facebook post, and know that while he won’t always agree with me, he’ll get me.
So, I don’t know what it’s like to have a twin because I don’t know what it’s like to not have one.
I’m glad I don’t.