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'Vanishing Twins' Follows One Woman's Search For Individuality Amid Coupledom

When Leah Dieterich accidentally stumbles upon the phenomenon of vanishing twin syndrome, she believes she might have hit on an explanation she's been looking for her entire life.

"I've always preferred being in the company of one other person to being in a group," she writes in her memoir, Vanishing Twins. "I'd thought this meant I was antisocial, but maybe it's a desire to return to the relationship I had with another person in the womb."

She calls the closeness she seeks twinning, "a perpetual state of becoming more alike." She finds it in her adolescence with her best friend, Giselle, who abruptly splits off from their coupledom when she discovers boys, causing Dieterich to lose the "comforting symmetry that had always made our friendship seem predestined."

She continues to pursue these intensely close personal attachments with her female friends in college, blurring platonic relationships with sexual ones. But Dieterich ultimately settles down with Eric, an artist and architect with whom she describes herself as having reached ultimate coupledom.

In one of her rare uses of cliché, Dieterich writes, "It's like we're the same person. We finish each other's sentences," relying on the timeworn phrase to explain the comfort and companionship she feels with the man who becomes her husband. She acknowledges that this is exactly what "we've been taught to desire and expect of love." But she doesn't entirely stop to celebrate their sameness, of achieving this homogeneity with her partner. Instead, she wonders, "once you find someone to finish your sentences, do you stop finishing them for yourself?"

It's exactly this tension between retaining your individuality and absorbing yourself into someone else that unfurls throughout Vanishing Twins. After years of marriage to Eric, Dieterich confesses that their desires diverged, troubling her "notions of twinship, of coupledom." But more troubling is that "I desired something our specific pairing could not fulfill."

She asks if Eric would consider an open relationship, and their ensuing exploration provides Vanishing Twins with the narrative thread that links the book together. She weaves other relationships, both hers and her husband's, into her ruminations, examining the ways in which both of them change. Her writing is crisp and intelligent, she relies on architecture, Greek mythology and even language to place her relationship in the context of a wider world.

The connections she draws between intimate relationships and twinships, dance and even typography are revealed lyrically. Her writing can sometimes seem disjointed; Dieterich intentionally leaves out the connective tissue that can so often weigh down memoirs, allowing her readers to make their own decisions about the ways in which our worlds are centered around relationships.

Readers might be struck by the raw honesty of Dieterich's ruminations: At times, I recoiled at her vulnerability and naiveté, wondering if she should have polished up some of these sections. Ultimately, the book was better for this technique: Dieterich maintains her searching, inquisitive voice throughout Vanishing Twins. She writes about her own reckoning with her sexuality and exploration of queer identity without becoming pat or coy, giving readers intimate access to her fears and conflicting emotions. This is crucial for readers to understand and differentiate between the central relationships in her book: Eric; her creative partner at work Ethan; and Elena, the woman who Dieterich enters into a relationship with.

Unlike most accounts of open relationships, she and Eric share the most intimate details of their experiments with other partners. "I strived for total transparency, total honesty, but it can be difficult to know if you are being totally honest," she writes, then confesses that, instead, she relied on the next best thing: the blow-by-blow account. Often, Dieterich gives us both versions: the actual email exchanges or text exchanges she had with Eric, as well as the real-time introspection she's facing internally.

As Dieterich and Eric continue to seek ways to maintain their own bond, Dieterich begins to reveal that she's learned more about herself by splitting off from her husband. Instead of simply showing us the explicit ways in which she's now different, Dieterich writes that in ballet, "you had to master all the moves on your own before you were allowed to do them with another person... you had to master yourself before someone else could master you."

She maintains that much of her own confusion about where she ends and her husband begins are borne out of monogamy, which she writes is "preventing me from feeling whole on my own." There are no conclusions about the nature of relationships or about whether to keep a marriage open or closed but, instead, the prose merges so we are able to see Dieterich's own evolving insights into desire and individuality.

Mariya Karimjee is a freelance writer. She was formerly a GlobalPost/Kaiser Family Foundation Global Health reporting fellow and a writer in residence at Hedgebrook, where she was a recipient of the 2015 Elizabeth George Award.

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Mariya Karimjee