My twin is hanging with my ex

That toxic beast I once called my boyfriend is watching the ballgame with my sister! Argh!


Cary Tennis
August 10, 2009 2:15PM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

Why must my twin sister hang out with my ex-boyfriend even though she knows it makes me unhappy?

The relationship I had with this man was not healthy. I ended it. As a matter of fact, I haven't had a relationship since. I can't say I miss being in that toxic place. The self-esteem I have is hard-won and recent and far from complete.

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I am better off single and I know it.

Twisted Sister and I have had, to date, three falling-outs about this. (We have had many, many falling-outs over the years.)

I thought that we were starting to really care about each other rather than compete but find out again that she continues to have him over to watch baseball games or meet for breakfast or flirt online. The rationale for the relationship is that the ex has taken her adult son under his wing -- her phrase. Whether there is something more to it than this I don't know, but the question in my mind is, why go there?

I have always been the "tougher" twin and she the fragile one -- hell, my mother decided that on the night we were born. (She noted our personality differences from the get-go -- damning, don't you think?)

I'm in my mid-50s, and this feels so Bette and Joan. How to stop the grotesquerie. When I tell my sister I feel hurt by her behavior she says I'm accusing her of being awful and duplicitous -- again her words.

Cary, help.

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Twin of Twisted Sister

Dear Twin,

You know, don't you, that I am not, strictly speaking, an answer man, or a scold or a magistrate or a pontificator of the sort who says, Here is the correct course of life and let me try to sell you on it like some manager in a Cafe Gratitude?  You know, don't you, that as much as we might wish to be prosperous and free, we are also human, and dark, and vengeful, and true? You know, don't you, that I am not a New Age person, and that as much as I love and depend on practitioners whose beliefs and practices may verge on the magical -- as much as I myself believe in magic and the unseen! -- I am at heart not a healer but a man blowing a strange horn in a strange room, trying to make it sing?

So every now and then -- and this is one of those times! -- after I walk up the mysterious beach to the mysterious cafe, after saying to my wife with an irony that ought to be a second-degree misdemeanor, "Off to the salt mines," I feel that I have only been skimming the surface and must go deeper, that I have been tolerating the little lies we tell ourselves, tolerating the inconsistencies, the prejudices and delusions that we must continually abrade and interrogate and shake off if we are to make any progress toward living day-to-day as who we really are, and I must breathe deeper and write with more crazy vision and rhythm and rock.

So today I break out of the cage of the quotidian; today I soar and dive, breaking the surface like a suicidal pelican because that is what we must do: Soar and dive, suicidally, willing to be blinded by impact, willing to dive nonetheless toward the blinding surface and open our eyes once beneath the surface and gaze calmly upon what is there. We must dive suicidally toward the surface not knowing how shallow it is or how brittle -- struck with such velocity! -- the surface may feel!

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So I sit in the cafe listening to Peter Brötzmann, trying to go deep, and then the online radio segues into Monk's "In Walked Bud."

As to the notion of your twin: What could be deeper and more provocative than this? If I offer  only Polonius-type platitudes, as you leave the inn of my lazy embrace, I truly have not done my job! I have not risen to the occasion! So let's take this as far as we can, because you are in your 50s and don't have long, now, to get started on the soul's journey inward. You don't have long to begin unraveling who you are and who your twin is.

As I see it, you have a special problem, or set of problems, because your twin plays shifting roles. She is, for one thing, yourself. She is you. At the same time, she is your competition. She is you, she is your competition, and she is the other whom you cannot control though you feel you must because she is also, as we have said, yourself. She is all these things: an extension of yourself whom you cannot control because she is the other, and whom you cannot be generous to because she is the competition for a finite amount of former boyfriend. The former boyfriend is your food source, scarce, delicious, poisonous. (He is also your childhood belongings. He is your stuff scattered on the floor that she, the delicate one, has been allowed to mess with, even though it is wrong, so wrong, so very wrong!

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You are not living an unexamined life. You will continue to discover things. What I wish for you is an accelerated path of discovery; I wish for you a pelican's dive, from a great height, straight into the waters. In the course of doing this fearless headlong dive into the waters you will confront the meaning of these beliefs you have carried for so long: That your mother decided at your moment of birth that you were the tough one and she was the delicate one you say is "damning." I see what you are getting at, but do not see it as damning in the literal sense; she did not so much condemn you as name you, label you, consign you to a role -- which you may feel damning, though for her I suspect it was felt as transmission of knowledge, an insistent knowing of you. Or you might say she put a spell on you that you are afraid to break. So perhaps you are to this day afraid to be the delicate one, i.e., afraid to assert your true feelings, your woundedness, for fear of breaking that commandment. You are stuck being the tough one.

So that is one thing you might try out, in the confines of some private laboratory of the soul, be it, well, any room where you can trust the inhabitants to merely observe and comfort and occasionally comment but not to ... interfere with where you are trying to go: Try breaking that commandment that you must be the tough one. Try usurping your twin's provenance as the delicate one, the one who feels.

You thought you were "starting to really care about each other rather than compete." Consider this ineluctable truth: She is not going to stop being who she is, and the dynamic between you is not going to stop being what it is.

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So what can you do? You can delve more deeply into your own psyche, your own beliefs, your own tortured entwinement/entwinment with her, and see how you can differentiate. I suggest you meditate on three areas:

One, meditate on the ways in which you see her as yourself. For instance, meditate on every way in which you would not do what she does, and how that makes you feel. Note that of course you would not do as she does. Note that you are not she. Try to see her as utterly separate from you. Try to see her as no reflection on you, or of you. (You see immediately the narcissism problem, no? That even looking out at her, you cannot but be looking in and see yourself.)

Two, meditate on your desire to control her. Admit that since she is utterly separate from you, you have no control over her, and that your every impulse to control her is an impulse away from your essential nature, away from self-acceptance, away from a disciplined belief in the truth of your own being.

Three, having recognized that she is not you and you have no power over her, admit also that any competition between you is only in your mind, that there is no game, there is no winning or losing, there are no cash and prizes, there is nothing to be won or lost by achieving a position either of dominance, of parity or of self-abnegating defeat in relation to her. Admit and recognize that your every impulse to show her up, to show her who you are, to demonstrate to her your uniqueness, your separateness, your specialness is at root only a further gesture in the direction of your entwinement/entwinment. Admit that the more you struggle the deeper you sink.

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Cary Tennis

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