Dear Prudence

My Twin Sister Says I’m Fat

Prudie offers advice on twins entangled in family rifts, rows, and rivalries.

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Dear Prudence,
My fraternal twin sister always has something to say about my weight. I was the really skinny one growing up. My sister was always a tad chunky, not fat. I never picked on her, but she was always picking on me. Now we’re adults, I have had three children, and I am chunky right along with her. She will lose weight for a little while and gain it right back. I have a larger waist, while she has a larger bottom half. I never say anything to her about her hips or her butt, but one day the topic of underwear came up. I happen to wear a couple of sizes smaller than she does. She thought I was lying about it. I don’t know what to tell her anymore when it comes to weight. She always treated it as a competition, while I couldn’t care less. What should I say to her?

—Guts and Butts

Dear Guts,
When the topic of your respective weights comes up, you need a nonconfrontational way to make clear this is a subject about which you both need to butt out of each other’s lives. Of course it’s hard to be the less intelligent, athletic, or attractive sibling. This would be all the more difficult if the person you are being compared to is your twin. But your childhood was long ago, and you’re not even skinny anymore—and fine about it!—so it’s way past time for your sister to let this go. Next time she brings up weight, tell her that there are so many more interesting things in life than the respective circumference of each of your stomachs and rear ends. Say that if she just looks around she will see that everyone’s body is different and people’s shapes often differ over time. And on that note, you’d like to permanently close the discussion of who wears the smallest underpants.


Dear Prudence: Stop Poaching My Dessert!

Dear Prudence,
My twin, Tweedledee, and I used to be very close, have the same friends, go to the same places, and share everything. Then I messed up when I was 17 and got pregnant. I didn’t tell Dee first. I told our older sister, then the rest of the family. I was the center of attention for several months. I ended up putting the baby into an open adoption, and things worked out beautifully. Except that afterward it seemed Dee had grown to hate me. Every word out of her mouth to me was terse and sarcastic, and everything I did set her off. After several years of this, Dee got some new friends and moved on with her life. I eventually found my own clique, including my future husband, and have been very happy. For the last five years, Dee and I have worked in the same office. On the surface you’d think that everything is fine, but I feel I put in all the effort to make our relationship work. I want her to realize that I didn’t get pregnant all those years ago on purpose to hurt her and that she is wrong for holding it against me. What is the best way to resolve unspoken resentment?


Dear Tweedledum,
It seems clear that Tweedledee experienced your telling your older sister first about the pregnancy as a massive betrayal. That was compounded by your life-changing event and the inevitable attention you got. It’s understandable that you would seek the counsel of an older person in this situation. It’s also understandable that your twin felt left behind by you. Sadly, she responded in a vicious, immature way. Even though things have been papered over, there is so much psychic scar tissue that your relationship has never been the same. Given the amount of time that has passed and the patterns that have been established, it may be too late to undo this. You might have to accept that while you are cordial to each other, your intimacy cannot be re-established. But it’s worthwhile to see whether you can go from a coolly correct relationship to a warmly caring one. Take your sister out to dinner and tell her you want to have what might be a painful discussion, but it’s something you wish you’d done years ago. Say that a chasm opened up between the two of you during your pregnancy. Acknowledge that you think a big part of it was your not telling her first. Tell her that if you’re right about that, at the time you were dealing with shame and fear, and felt your older sister was the worldliest person you could turn to. Explain how painful your strained relationship has been and that you’re sad to think maybe it will never be repaired. Tell your sister you’ve missed the closeness you two once shared and are hoping there’s still a chance to get some of it back.


Dear Prudence,
My boyfriend and I have been dating for a year and a half. All is good except that his twin brother hates me. He refuses to give a reason for this and won’t speak to me about it. He and his girlfriend ignore me at family events and make things very uncomfortable for me. I didn’t have a problem with his brother until he called one of my gay friends the F word. He’s refused to apologize or acknowledge that he was disrespectful. My boyfriend has spoken to him and I’ve reached out to him to no avail. I don’t want to marry into a family that treats people like this, and I certainly don’t want my family and friends to be around a bigot. My boyfriend and I have talked about engagement, but the situation with his brother has deteriorated and I’ve put all engagement plans on hold. What advice do you have?

—Twin Trouble

Dear Trouble,
Unless you’re leaving something out, the reason your boyfriend’s twin brother and his girlfriend hate you is that you called him out on his hatefulness. I hope you did it with some restraint so as not to escalate the ugliness. But however you expressed your displeasure, you were well within your rights to speak up on behalf of a friend and against crude bigotry. However, the twin’s behavior is becoming ridiculous if both you and his brother have attempted to smooth things over. Genes are funny, aren’t they? Here you are, in love with a decent guy, and his twin brother is a crude loudmouth. But your boyfriend’s twin is just one person and his lousy behavior should not determine the course of your life. Many people have had happy marriages and good relations with the bulk of the relatives while getting along coolly, or not at all, with one or two. Be cordial and polite to the twin and his girlfriend. If they get pleasure out of carrying a grudge, let them be stuck with the full load.


Dear Prudie,
I have the sweetest mother-in-law in the world. She is also bipolar but has been medication-free and without an episode for years. Recently, her fraternal twin was diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer, and no one knows how long she may have left.  My father-in-law and my mother-in-law’s siblings (including her ill twin) are refusing to tell her about the diagnosis. They fear that she may have an “episode.” Apparently when her brother died of a heart attack—which everyone kept from her until she figured out something was really wrong—she spent many days and nights crying. This just sounds like going through the mourning process to me, but my husband tells me that this is what her “episodes” are like. My husband wants to tell his mother about her twin but is worried about aggravating his father, who has a heart condition. If any of my immediate family members had a terminal illness, I feel that it would be my right to know. Wouldn’t my mother-in-law appreciate some honesty? I don’t think that I should break this type of news, but I have no idea how to advise my husband, who is torn and upset.

—Keeping My Mouth Shut

Dear Keeping,
You say your mother-in-law takes no medication and has had no signs of mental illness except for crying when close family members die. I think maybe everyone in your husband’s family needs a mental evaluation, because they all sound a little off—except for your mother-in-law. I neglected to obtain a medical degree, but I’m going to venture that someone diagnosed with bipolar disorder who has gone for years with no treatment and no manic or depressive episodes needs a new workup to find out if she’s been misdiagnosed. But anyone would be driven crazy, whether or not they had an illness, to be treated like an incompetent child while picking up whispers of terrible things they were judged too fragile to handle. How cruel to keep your mother-in-law the only one in the dark about her sister’s potentially terminal illness. This family is depriving her of the ability to spend time with her twin before it is too late. I note that the twin is in on this ruse. So maybe everyone thinks your mother-in-law gets overly emotional. (Does this family allow any emotion?) If your mother-in-law is informed and starts calling her twin too much, either her twin or a family member speaking on her behalf should tell your mother-in-law that a lot of visits and phone calls are hard for someone undergoing treatment. You’re right, it’s not your place to break this news, but it is your husband’s. Try to persuade him that, in the short term, the most loving thing to do is to tell his mother about her twin. And in the long term, it is to get her to a competent doctor to find out if there really is anything wrong.


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