The following was a final project for a journalism capstone class. I turned in the assignment in April, so any dates that appear out of place were, at the time, future occurrences.
After cracking a joke, fraternal twins Katie and Alicia DiTommasso automatically mirrored each other’s laughter, leaning slightly forward, exposing identical straight teeth, their blue eyes twinkling and their curly blond hair falling around their faces.
“The reality is, we’re kind of like a married couple,” Katie said.
While many students use college as an avenue to find their individuality, twins often strengthen their bond.
William Pfohl, a psychology professor at Western Kentucky University, said there are developmental reasons for this that begin long before college.
“[Identical twins] share most of the same DNA,” Pfohl said. “So they complete each other’s words, they do the same career, they follow the same paths. It really is unique…and it’s from birth.”
Because of their similar genetic makeup, Pfohl said identical twins have ways of forging a tight relationship early on in their lives.
“As young infants, if they’re identical twins, we find that they do develop a language together, and they’re usually delayed a little bit in their normal language development,” Pfohl said. “And that may be up until the start of kindergarten.”
This closeness carries over in their lives after birth, sometimes making separation–including post-high school if they attend different colleges–difficult.
“It’s a separation physically, but it’s also a separation emotionally and socially,” Pfohl said.
Conversely, when twins remain together, their social lives are different than those of other siblings or close friends. In college, identical twins sometimes live in the same dorm or apartment, hang out with the same friends and even schedule the same classes.
Cincinnati seniors Katie and Alicia are students at WKU. Katie said the closeness with her twin when they were children has evolved over time.
“As kids we were very mischievous,” Katie said. “We did, like, the classic pranks. Kind of like ‘Dennis the Menace,’ but twin-style.”
“But even better,” Alicia said, continuing her sister’s comparison.
Katie and Alicia said that although they have the same outgoing personality and same interests, like sports, they are still different people.
“We probably do the majority of things together, except some things,” Alicia said. “Like, [Katie] was a drummer, and I was a guitarist.”
“For, like, a couple weeks,” Katie said.
“Well, after that I realized the air guitar was my specialty,” Alicia said, demonstrating her skills as she spoke.
The sisters said they think their similarities have helped them get along together over the years, but being involved in the same activities throughout their lives has also taught them how to have a good relationship.
“I think our relationship is well-balanced,” Katie said. “And there’s a lot of love in there and sacrifice and compromise that I think allows us to get along so well.”
Pfohl said in many circumstances, it’s not unusual for twins to have an exclusive relationship with each other.
“They’re best of friends,” Pfohl said. “Sometimes to the exclusion of other people.”
Such behavior can sometimes limit identical twins’ interactions with others.
An extreme example of twins excluding others comes from a case in South Lake Tahoe, Calif. In February 2012, police in forced their way into the home of 73-year-old twin sisters Patricia and Joan Miller after they wouldn’t come to the door for a routine home check. According to the Huffington Post, the identical twin sisters were dead, and autopsy reports revealed that they had died within a few hours of each other several weeks earlier.
Pfohl said a “smaller group” of twins attempt to find their own identity in life as they get older, though many twins continue to spend copious amounts of time together and develop a relationship that resembles an old married couple.
One pair of identical twins that are seeking their own identities are Chatham, Ill., juniors Ryan and Scott Vennell. Although they are both broadcasting: TV/film production majors with marketing minors, have the same class schedule and work at the WKYU campus television station, Ryan and Scott emphasized that having similar interests does not make two people the same.
“A lot of people think we do the same things because of each other, when really it’s kind of an individual decision that we both made separately,” Scott said.
Although the twins both are outwardly similar–they came to be interviewed wearing the same black North Face jacket and Sperry shoes–they said their environment growing up probably influenced their likes and dislikes more than an intuitive mechanism.
“We don’t know exactly if we’re identical or not,” Ryan said. “A lot of people would assume we are.”
Even the decision to come to the same university was not a choice the brothers made on account of each other.
“We never specifically talked about it, but I think we had the understanding that college is a huge decision, and you need to be happy where you go,” Scott said. “But fortunately, we both love WKU, so that never really came up in a conversation.”
Their similar interests have led other things in their lives to naturally correlate. For example, Ryan and Scott have the same class schedule as a result of certain classes only being offered at one time. They said people who don’t realize this often assume they can’t bear to be apart.
“It’s not like a need where we always have to be together, and I think that’s a common misconception people have,” Scott said.
Scott said he realizes that an obstacle for some twins who attend the same college is finding their own individuality. But Ryan said it’s possible to do so because, in choosing individually what they wanted, they have been able to do it.
“I think some people definitely choose colleges based upon what their sibling is doing, but I think you will be happier if you choose based on what you truly love,” Ryan said.
For some twins, like Katie and Alicia, what they love is being together.
“I’d just rather not [separate] yet,” Alicia said.
“I want to throw this at you,” Katie said. “Who says we have to separate?”
“Not me,” Alicia said.
After the sisters graduate in May, Alicia is hoping to work as a teacher in Bowling Green, Ky., while Katie goes to physical therapy school at either WKU or UK, though she said she feels that WKU is the one she will pick. After Katie graduates, the twins said they like the idea of moving somewhere together.
“In regards to the whole twin thing, you know, I look at it as a gift,” Katie said. “At the end of the day, it’s a blessing, and we embrace it, and that’s why our relationship is so strong, why we are so close. Because we know how to really appreciate and love each other.”
When twins are extremely close, Pfohl said many people assume that the siblings have an unhealthy relationship because they don’t have the same social life and support system that everyone else does.
“Twins…don’t need that because they have themselves,” Pfohl said.
College is a time of personal growth, broadened knowledge and new experiences. But for some, it’s double the fun.
“I wouldn’t trade this one for anything,” Katie said, gently smacking Alicia’s shoulder and smiling.