The Other Side Of The Mirror
The first time I heard from Jordan Teicher, I said something dumb.
He had added me as a friend on Facebook (or did I add him?), and not knowing quite what to do, I decided on cheekiness.
“This town ain’t big enough for the both of us,” I wrote.
That was in 2008. At the time, we were both living in Boston and both writing for our respective school papers. I’d begun to see his name – my name – when I searched for my articles online.
In response, he said something like, “Well, I’m 6’5, so bring it on.”
Looking back on it now, that first impression, underneath the humor, contains a lot: comparison, and in the same breath, aggression.
But can you blame us? There are really only two ways, in my opinion, to view someone so similar to yourself: either as kin, or as foe. We each, impulsively, may have chosen the latter.
I’m a proud individualist. In fact, it’s one of the primary reasons I’ve always wanted to be a writer — so I don’t have to conform or fit in, so I can observe the world from an outsider’s position. And yet there I was, stuck with a double, who, in all likelihood, was vying for my space. It was evidence of my un-remarkableness.
Jordan has popped in and out of my life over the years. When The New York Times published a story about New York doppelgängers, I sent it to him. When he was looking to pitch a story to a publication for which I had written, I gave him advice.
There were times when having a double became an inconvenience. When editors wanted to know why I started insisting on using my middle initial in my byline (“To differentiate between me and my doppelgänger”) I had to explain. Or, when my mother wanted to know just when I had started writing film reviews for Critic’s Notebook (“Those aren’t mine, mom, they’re his”), I was forced to counter.
Most often, it was simply a funny anecdote to tell friends: “Did I ever tell you about my double?” I’d say.
But, for the most part, Jordan was less a person in my life than an idea — one which, frankly, I somewhat resented. Over the years, he remained that way because, though we knew a lot about each other, technically speaking, we’d never met.
And then this month, after four years of on-and-off communication, we did.
What could we possibly have in common? More than we imagined, we found out, over lunch on the Upper East Side. We were both raised Jewish, but are now atheists. We each have a younger brother — you guessed it — the exact same age.
But most importantly, we’re both struggling: primarily, to use our education and abilities to break into a shrinking field. The world, it turns out, is brimming with special snowflakes looking to offer their personal take on life.
We talked about internships, about the job search, about friends succeeding in other industries. We commiserated. And, as we walked along the East River, we got the idea to write this article. It was nice.
Having a double, I realize now, is a double-edged sword.
On the one hand: you’re not alone. The notion that you are nothing special is embodied in a walking, talking, taller individual who makes himself known every time you Google yourself.
But, on the other, you’re not alone: your problems aren’t just yours. There is a like-minded person out there who shares not just your name, but also many of your hopes and fears.
When I first met Jordan Teicher, I said the world couldn’t handle both of us. But if I’ve learned anything from my dealings with my namesake it’s that the world is perhaps too big. Not only am I a small fish in a large pond, I’m one of two, nearly identical small fish. But knowing this — that I’m not one of a kind, that the world isn’t simply waiting to embrace me in all my unique splendor — is part of growing up.
It’s not the most comforting realization, but it’s an important one. If you have the opportunity to learn it for yourself, by meeting your own doppleganger, I recommend you do it. And when you do, be nice. You may be meeting a friend.
Writers tend to overthink all their decisions—myself included—and coming face-to-face with someone who shares your name can sprout all kinds of insecurities and comparisons. Most of these thoughts are defensive—How am I better than my doppelgänger? And if I’m not better than my doppelgänger, how can I trick myself into believing that I am?
When I agreed to meet Jordan G. Teicher a few weeks ago, I didn’t agonize over how we’d get along. I already had a few years to weigh our similarities, so the shock of realizing I may not be as unique as I once thought had worn off. I wasn’t looking for a friend or an enemy; I was just curious.
Could we really be friends anyway?
I’d say no, not very good friends, at least, We’d be too conscious of the tug-of-war for individuality. Most friendships thrive on shared interests and experiences, but as a writer, I want those experiences for myself. We were comfortable as pen pals, communicating occasionally by email, admiring our respective accomplishments from a careful distance.
Then we met at a diner named Big Daddy’s, as if it were a scene in a Lynch film. We discussed the usual topics for recent college graduates, dipping into our personal histories a few times before retreating to safer conversations about the tough prospects for emerging writers. I almost wish I didn’t know his name; we could’ve just been two guys talking over omelettes. When one of us revealed a shared detail, we laughed it off as par for the course. But after a while, our likeness became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
If his name was Justin Tacker, this would be a different story.
Of course, similar stories aren’t that uncommon anymore. Spend five minutes on the internet and you can probably find a namesake. I remember reading an article a few years ago about a man and a woman both named Kelly Hildebrandt who fell in love after finding each other online. They took doppelgänging to the next level and got married in 2009, a match that must have caused absurd confusion at family barbeques. The day after I met Jordan G., he emailed me a Gawker article—the Hildebrandts filed for divorce.
The final line of the article reads: “If two people with the same name can’t make it work, what chance do the rest of us have?”
The ending may be cute, but it’s the wrong way of thinking about people who share such a crucial ingredient of personal identity. In fact, the Hildebrandt divorce perfectly captures the way I felt meeting the other Jordan Teicher. We will always be linked, but we’re stuck in an unavoidable gray area that brings us closer together and farther apart simultaneously.
When we talked at the diner, and later along the river, I was more interested in our differences than our similarities. I realized that Jordan G. enjoys the theater and doesn’t follow sports; that he was planning to move into an apartment with his younger brother; that he wanted to check out Game of Thrones for the nudity. He discovered that my middle initial is S.; that I’m good at quick math; that my favorite writer is David Foster Wallace.
If I learned anything from our encounter, it’s that having someone who shares a name or a passion—or in my case, both—forces you to look inward and ask, what makes me…me? So, if the other Jordan Teicher is a writer, I have to decide what type of writer I want to be. Journalist? Essayist? Author? Maybe all three. But now that we met, I can begin to carve out my territory as Jordan G. does the same.
For anyone interested in establishing a connection with a doppelgänger, I’d recommend a cautious curiosity. It’s easy to jump in and pretend the relationship is normal, but that outlook will likely lead to envy and/or divorce.
I don’t know if the world can handle us, let alone a city, but I now know that we can handle us. I hope we continue to talk periodically, because he’s a good writer and someone I respect. I don’t think we’ll ever be best friends, but when I Google my name, I look forward to seeing his future articles wherever they may be.
And if there are any other Jordan Teichers out there, know that we’re both trying to bring pride to our name, one article at a time.
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