How to interact with twins?
February 14, 2012 1:12 PM   Subscribe

There is a pair of twins I interact with socially. I cannot tell them apart. It's awkward and I think probably very rude of me. Help?

These are two extremely identical women. I have spent the past 5-10 years going "hey you" at parties and around town. I probably see one of them (possibly both of them, who knows) at least once a month. The only way I can address them by name is if they are with their husbands and families. Unless both husbands are also around, then I'm lost again. My wife says she can tell them apart, but she says things like "X's face is a little rounder" or "Y's eyes are lighter" and I have no idea what she's talking about.

I would love to hear from identical twins on this, or people who know identical twins. Is there an OK way to say "who are you" every time I see one of them? I really like them (both of them equally, natch) but I'm better friends with their husbands.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders to Human Relations (29 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Are either on Facebook (or Myspace?). Looking at pix where they are tagged might help.
posted by radioamy at 1:19 PM on February 14, 2012

Hard to imagine they're not used to this. I would think the only serious faux pas would be to make a big deal of it (the fact that they're identical is old news to them). Just make your best guess and you'll be right 50% of the time. And when you guess wrong, just move past it: "Oh, hi! Is it Siobhan?" "No, it's Bridget" "Oh, I'm sorry; I'm not very good at faces at the best of times. So how have you been?"
posted by yoink at 1:19 PM on February 14, 2012 [14 favorites]

I have an identical twin and I'm very used to hearing, "are you patheral or the other one?" It doesn't bother me. But very little bothers me, so I'm probably not the best to ask...

If you *really* cannot tell them apart, let them know. They're probably used to it. If they're anything like me and my twin, it could secretly amuse them being called by the wrong name.

I recently graduated from a university where I had two identical collegues. I called both of them "JJ" because I couldn't tell them apart (both of their names started with "J"). See? being a twin doesn't give us an advantage.
posted by patheral at 1:21 PM on February 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

It's awkward, but I don't think it's rude of you. Often there are slight differences between identical twins, but some people aren't good at picking up on those subtleties. I have identical twin cousins and I sometimes can tell them apart, sometimes not. One does have a rounder face, but I often forget which one that is. I usually tell them apart by their behavior, one is more talkative than the other.

I think it's fine for you to say hello and admit that you aren't sure if she is twin A or twin B. It likely happens all the time, and it's better to admit it than pretend and try to guess.
posted by Sal and Richard at 1:21 PM on February 14, 2012

These are grown women with their own families and they have identical hairstyles? (I guess your wife would have tried to clue you if they had consistent and different hairstyles.)

Do they at least each wear wedding ring? Are those different?

In any case, I'm pretty sure they're used to being confused. (Not entirely sure - I am the daughter of a vain twin. )
posted by Lesser Shrew at 1:24 PM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Can you identify the differences between their wedding or engagement rings if they wear them (or even better, if only one does)?
posted by argonauta at 1:25 PM on February 14, 2012

Someone once told me that the way to distinguish twins was the head shape, because the older twin tends to have a slightly longer face and the younger a slightly rounder face, owing to the birth canal being stretched out by the first twin. No idea if this is an old wives' tale (and it obviously doesn't work if the twins were born by C-section), but this may be what your wife is picking up on.
posted by Paragon at 1:27 PM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ask them if there's a visual cue you can use to tell them apart.

In high school, there were three sets of twins in my class. Two sets maintained different haircuts specifically to assist others. The third set, after any number of times getting it wrong, I asked them. Turns out they had a few moles that were dead giveaways, and even had a mnemonic that went with their names to help people.
posted by notsnot at 1:27 PM on February 14, 2012

I have only known identical twins when I was in elementary school, and one of my best friends is a fraternal twin.

Re: telling them apart -- I imagine that these women are adults who don't live together? If so, that makes things easier and I would try to pick up on clothes / accessories that they each own.

If you don't want to be direct, I would also try to pick up on one main giveaway difference about them that you can insert into conversation. Does one always eat cheese-flavored Doritos, but the other always get ranch? One wears nail polish, but not the other? Slight difference in hair length?

I'm an asker. If it were me, I would say, "You know, I feel embarrassed for saying this, but I've known you two for 10 years and I still can't tell you apart. Can you help me make a better distinction?"
posted by mild deer at 1:27 PM on February 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you tell them, politely, that despite your best efforts you still haven't found a way to tell them apart reliably, they might be able to offer you a hint. (The sister of a pair of twins I knew told me that one had a tiny extra piece of skin on his ear, for example. It seemed like this was something she was used to sharing with lots of people who had difficulty.)
posted by needs more cowbell at 1:28 PM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

As yoink says, don't be afraid to guess, but do tell them you're guessing, don't just have a 20-minute conversation assuming she's A and then A's husband later says something that makes you realize it must've been B you were talking to.

Also - ask the husbands. They've figured it out, maybe they can give you a clue.
posted by aimedwander at 1:30 PM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have two sisters who are twins, and a lot of people can't tell them apart even though to me, they look very dissimilar. They are privately annoyed that people who've known them for a long time can't distinguish between them (we're talking, like, uncles) but they totally understand when less-close acquaintances have trouble with it. They have a mnemonic device for it--the one whose name starts with J has a small mole on her jaw, and that's what they tell people to look for. I'm betting your twin friends have a similar trick.
posted by editrixx at 1:42 PM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

When my brother and I were younger this sort of thing was inevitable, and people who had figured it out used to say I had a rounder face. I would indeed offer such hints to people who were stuck. I couldn't really see it (cause I rarely saw our two faces side by side) but that's what people told me. These days our personal styles and personalities have grown to be so different that people are shocked to hear we're identical twins, and I would theorize that the kinds of twins that dislike being mixed up or treated as "the twins" rather than as individuals tend to play up their innate differences, whether deliberately or not. If your twins are still outwardly identical as adults, to me that says they are cool with being twins rather than sisters who happen to be twins, and will thus not be ruffled by mix-ups; it comes with the territory.
posted by PercussivePaul at 1:49 PM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

The third set, after any number of times getting it wrong, I asked them. Turns out they had a few moles that were dead giveaways, and even had a mnemonic that went with their names to help people.

Yeah, just ask- they might have something that is pretty obvious once you're clued in ("Bridget never pulls her hair back"; "Siobhan doesn't wear colors, just neutrals.") Plus, if you tell them you have trouble with this and feel terrible about it, they might have mercy on you and give you a verbal clue when you see them, like referring to their twin by name (so you know you're talking to the other) or saying their husband's name.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 1:54 PM on February 14, 2012

There have got to be some other differences that your wife picks up and you don't. If you're a stereotypical hetero guy, there are probably subtleties that you are missing - hairstyle, purse, rings, etc.
posted by radioamy at 2:08 PM on February 14, 2012

Yeah, it may be mildly embarrassing, but just admit to one or both of them that you sometimes have trouble telling them apart and ask if there's a hint that might help. A set of identical twins I knew in college had a few tricks they had developed over the years to help people tell them apart, but if you didn't know what the tricks were, well, that didn't help much. For example, in photographs of the two of them, L was always on the left and K on the right. Once you figured it out, it made things a lot easier. In person, it was easier at first for me to tell them apart by their speaking mannerisms than any visual cues. Over time, I began to pick up on the more subtle visual differences. I think exposure has a lot to do with it. Seeing them both around campus multiple times per week made it easier to start picking up on those differences. If I had only seen them once a month (as in your case) it probably would have been a lot harder.
posted by Nothlit at 2:16 PM on February 14, 2012

Can you identify the differences between their wedding or engagement rings if they wear them (or even better, if only one does)?

The OP said they're both married.

OP: This is not about you. It's about the fact that identical twins look identical. They must be so used to being mixed up, including by people who know them -- they can't be surprised or offended to hear it from one more person. It isn't rude to have a hard time telling twins apart; if anything is rude, it's carrying on a long conversation with someone without revealing that you don't know who they are. Just ask them about it; either they'll let you in on the secret to telling them apart, or they can let you know on specific occasions.
posted by John Cohen at 2:22 PM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'll add to the chorus of twins saying, "it ain't no big thing." We've been living with it all our lives. Just ask them for a clue.
posted by blob at 2:22 PM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

"Hey you! How is your sister!"
She responds with enough clues about her sister to allow you to deduce which one you are talking to. Genius.

I suppose it would work if you asked about her husband or kids as well.
(Courtesy of a friend who doesn't have an account)
posted by PercussivePaul at 2:23 PM on February 14, 2012 [5 favorites]

I'm a twin. Growing up, people often got confused between me and my sister. It was easier to tell us apart if we were standing close to each other because I'm taller than her. But if we weren't together, it was a lot harder. Almost daily, I'd hear, "Which one are you?! I can't tell!" So no, it's not offensive at all, especially from an acquaintance. Now if you were my brother, then I'd beat you up.

How about: "Gosh, I know either getting older or need glasses, but I can't tell you girls apart. What's the best way to tell you from your sister?"
posted by HeyAllie at 2:41 PM on February 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Another identical twin here. Personally, when I am speaking with someone who knows both me and my sister, and I can tell the person is trying to figure out "which one" I am, I'll pre-emptively say "It's chowflap, by the way" in a friendly way. I also agree that just asking them would not be out of line -- especially if you are truly caring and maybe a tiny bit apologetic about it (and not angry, like it's my fault you can't tell us apart...). I would take it as a sign that you want to be a good friend, and are interested in knowing me as a person, and not one of an interchangeable unit of two.
posted by chowflap at 2:50 PM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

When you politely ask one of them for a way to tell them apart, claim face blindness. It's likely a real factor for you, especially if most other people are more successful at telling these twins apart.

I've always known I had a hard time recognizing people, especially if I see them out of their usual context (e.g., someone from the office at the grocery store). I took an online test of face recognition recently and discovered that I should be thankful I recognize my wife when I come home at the end of the day.
posted by tippiedog at 3:18 PM on February 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

I have identical twin nieces, and while they're still very young (kindergarten this year, they are very cute and very very identical) they are beginning to pick up on a tiny bit of their twin power to confuse.

But it's cute. One of them told my sister (their mom) a few months ago, "Sometimes people call me H____ and they called H____ (other name). But that's ok! Because we look alike, and not everyone can tell!"

So. Indeed. This is a lifelong thing your twin friends have been dealing with, and they have likely figured out a graceful way to handle graceful inquiries about identity and recognition. So. Um. Ask them how to tell.
posted by bilabial at 4:05 PM on February 14, 2012

Other ways to tell: one might wear different kinds of jewelry or clothing. Most twins I know usually have slightly different posture from each other.

And do refrain from making those "I can never tell you two apart!" kinds of comments, like it is their fault for being identical.
posted by gjc at 4:57 PM on February 14, 2012

Tell them you have prosopagnosia.
posted by mecran01 at 6:07 PM on February 14, 2012

Twin here...the one thing I would say is not to ask, "Are you [x] or the other one?" That question bugs me so much. Other one what? There is one me, and one of my sister.

I generally get that people confuse us, though. I'm gracious about it, and more so to folks who own up to their confusion and are otherwise nice/fun/thoughtful, etc.
posted by too bad you're not me at 6:34 PM on February 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

A friend of mine has identical twin daughters. It took me a couple of years but slowly I started to be able to tell them apart, until they looked quite different to me. You can do it, with help.
posted by unSane at 6:55 PM on February 14, 2012

Next time you see them, or one of them, say, "Look, I know I've known you and your sister forever, but I have to confess that I still have trouble telling you apart without my wife's help. I've been too embarrassed to say anything about it, but this is getting ridiculous. Can you please help me?"

Smile and make a self-deprecating laugh. It'll be fine. They'll probably appreciate both the honesty and the fact that you're trying to make an effort to get to know them as individuals. Odds are, if they have any friendly feeling toward you, they'll probably be like, "Oh you poor thing. Of course. I always wear this necklace and Bridget has a little scar on her chin. Does that help?" They might have a friendly laugh at your expense, but don't sweat it. As a social investment, it's a small price to pay.
posted by elizeh at 7:44 PM on February 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

I used to have a roommate who was an identical twin, and they were both really impressed I could consistently tell them apart. They had really similar hairstyles and ways of dressing (one was a bit more hippie-ish), but I could tell them apart because they were mirror images of each other. The little asymmetries in anyone's face were reversed on them, like if Siobhan's left eye was bigger, then Bridget's right eye would be. I think there was also some kind of ineffable vibe I was picking up... of course I lived with Siobhan, so even though we weren't especially close, I knew her mannerisms pretty well.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 10:56 AM on February 15, 2012

« Older Some stories just take 10,000 words to tell   |   Lots of hugging, lots of dancing, etc etc Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.