Wednesday, January 14, 2015

{one is not the loneliest number}

I wrote the core of this piece a long time ago, for a magazine that never made it off the ground. It resurfaced on my computer in September, five days before the deadline of Real Simple's annual "Life Lessons" contest. The question they posed this year was: "Have you ever had a eureka moment?"  On a whim, I submitted this.

My blog is a lot of short sentences and fragments; I don't write many long proses or lengthy emotional posts. This essay is far from perfect and a departure from my norm, but it is my probably my most scared piece of writing. 

Spoiler alert: I didn't win the contest. And that's okay. But I still wanted it to be published and read. So I'm doing it myself.

^^look at the love

It’s an exhilarating feeling to live on your own, far from the people who matter most to you. It’s scary and hard, but it’s really thrilling. If faced with the opportunity, I encourage you to take it. I sometimes get offended when people say they could “never!” live far from their family. (We’re too close! I’d miss them! They’d miss me! I can’t imagine!) 

I’m close to my family, I miss them, they miss me, and imagine this: I’m thriving.  


You know when you wear your favorite piece of jewelry every day, you get used to the feeling of it always being there? You get used to the weight of it—the silver ring on your finger, the heavy watch on your wrist. But then one day, you’re running ten minutes late and you forget to put it on. All day, your finger feels lighter, your wrist feels empty. You feel like it’s supposed to be there...but it’s not.

That’s my (bad) attempt at describing how I feel without my identical twin sister. No, she’s not dead; she’s happily living and working in New York at the moment. We haven’t lived in the same city in five years. We went to separate colleges in separate states and now work on opposite sides of the country from one another. We’re used to living apart.

So why do I still get this feeling of loss?

Years ago, out of all of my friends, I think my sister and I dealt with the biggest changes when we went to college. Sure, everyone dealt with the new-ness and unfamiliarity that college brought. Some were in a new city, some were in a new time zone, most were living away from home for the first time. Dylan and I were going through all of these things...but on top of that, we had the biggest adjustment of all: living without each other.

From pre-school through twelfth grade, this is what our day looked like:

Wake up together. Eat breakfast together. Brush our teeth together. Drive to school together. Go to class together. Sing in choir together. Drive home together. Do our homework...not together (we were too guilt-ridden to do that!). Eat dinner together. Say I love you and goodnight.

Even though we were as close as twins could be—literally the best of friends—we never once said that we would attend the same college. We shocked friends and family with this decision, and in the end, I went to Boston and Dylan went to Chicago. Until that point, we had only spent three weeks apart from each other. College was a whole new ball game.

For the first time in my life, I was a true independent. I was Olivia—not Olivia and Dylan. I was just a Mullen—not one of the Mullen Twins or Mullen Sisters.

I was me—not us.

I had never known people who didn’t know Dylan. It baffled my new college friends that there was someone out there who looked and acted very similar to me. And it was just as baffling to me that they had never met the person who makes me me.

During the first month of college, I became aware of just how much I had relied myself on our duo, because college made me realize I was only hindering myself. I, of course, had the social skills to do it, but I hadn’t tried as hard before to put myself out there and really branch out of our pair. I still struggle with this even today. It’s tough having other close friendships because, (someday-marriage aside), there will never be a relationship even in the same realm as the one that I have with my twin.

Going to separate colleges was the best decision we could have ever made.  I don’t regret it for a second. Dylan’s school was so her, and mine was so me. We grew. We became different people. We experienced different things. The distance, ironically, made us closer. 


A year ago, I packed my bags and moved to San Francisco.

Dylan nabbed a job in NYC before we even graduated college—the first of us—so I was gifted the perfect opportunity to swear off all other cities in my job search. On my applications I still checked the box for all states, but most of my interviews took place right in her new city. This was my chance!

Oh, how I tried and tried. But... I didn’t like New York. It was too cramped, too busy, too big, too humid, too intense, too everything. I couldn’t see myself there. The only reason I would accept a job in Manhattan was because she was there.

And that was the hardest thing: I was adult enough to know that that one reason wasn’t good enough for me to take a job there. I was smart enough to realize that that wasn’t fair to me and where I saw myself take my first step in my post-grad life.

I loathed that realization. But nonetheless, I flew out to San Francisco, interviewed at two advertising agencies, and accepted a job just hours after I landed back on the east coast.

We get these questions all the time: How do you deal with it? How can you live apart? Why do you do this to yourselves?

Here’s my answer: It’s hard. It’s really hard. It’s gotten harder. It’s harder today than it was when I first moved to San Francisco.  

One time, something really funny happened at work. I knew Dylan was having a busy week, but I really wanted to share this funny thing with her. After feeling annoyed that I couldn’t meet up and tell her right then and there, I wrote it down in the notes app on my phone so I wouldn’t forget. I kept adding to it over the weeks and a few months later, when I was with Dylan in the flesh, I saw the notes I made and told her the funny things. That, in a nutshell, is how I’ve adapted to this bi-coastal relationship.

I know I’m supposed to believe that I am not defined by Dylan. That I am not defined by the distance between us. But the truth is, I am. I wouldn’t be who I am without her. I am a different person when I’m with her. I am more comfortable with who I am when I’m with her, than when I’m not. It’s exhausting to not be that person for most of the year. 

So why did we do it? Why do we continue doing this to ourselves?
Because there's another part to this. A lot of ifs.

If I had transferred to Dylan’s college for my sophomore year, we probably would have continued singing together, but I may not have started my blog. One of my proudest, most valued accomplishments.

If I had lived near Dylan, I wouldn’t have made the friends I made in Boston. The ones who were the first to know just Olivia. (And she wouldn't have the friends who know just Dylan.)

If I didn’t have those lonely first weeks of being a transfer student at my new school, instead of being an immediate member of Dylan's group at her college, I wouldn’t have picked up my camera as much. My sophomore year was when I really fell in love with photography, and in the four years since I’ve taken 12,000 photographs. 

If I had gone to Dylan's school, I wouldn't have taken the exact design course in Boston that introduced me to Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator. I wouldn't have spent hours after that class learning the ins and outs of the programs enough for me to be able to do freelance graphic design in my spare time. 

If I didn’t stay at my college, I wouldn’t have spent my last semester in Los Angeles working for Dr. Phil, or fallen in love with being on set. I wouldn’t have fulfilled my dream of living in California or proven to myself that I can, in fact, live across the country from my family and be okay.

So if all those things didn’t happen, if I had done the comfortable, safe, longing, easy thing that I wanted to do and live near my sister, I wouldn’t be here: working where I work and living where I live. I truly believe I am exactly where I need to be at this point in my life. 

Being one was lonely in the beginning, and sometimes still is; but even though I hate how many miles are between Dylan and I, I’ve come to embrace it. We are, after all, different people. I had forgotten about that for a very long time. Twins are often categorized as two halves of a whole, but in reality we are our own wholes. 

I look forward to the day that I live in the same city as my sister. I'm hoping it'll happen sooner rather than later, but until then I will soak up life on my own. Living apart has made me appreciate me for me, Dylan for Dylan, and us for us.

This year has been one of the best of my life and it’s because I’m living without my twin. That is crazy to me, and a really frightening sentence, but it’s true. Who would have thought I’d ever say that? 

Thanks for reading.