Wealth or family? Twin lifestyles test reader values
Whether because of some mistaken idea that they are exact duplicates of each other, some Corsican Brothers notion that they share a supernatural link, or simply because they can add a little flash to an otherwise boring sociological study, twins are the go-to subjects when one is trying to make a point -- any point -- about society.
This medieval fascination underlies Emmet Rosenfeld's recent piece in The Washington Post. Dean of Students at the prestigious Congressional Schools of Virginia, Rosenfeld lives the kind of life that many educators dream about: he and his wife, both teachers, live in a conservative, two-story farmhouse in Arlington, Va., one of Washington D.C.'s pricier suburbs.
Their combined income -- somewhere north of $100,000 -- is sufficient to their needs, even if they have to occasionally scrounge a bit. Perhaps best of all, Rosenfeld generally gets home around 7 p.m. every day and can enjoy evenings and summers with his wife and two sons.
While la vida Rosenfeld is enviable, it isn't particularly noteworthy; many people experience the same simple joys and irritations, concerns and delights. Like much of the country, he is solidly -- perhaps a little boringly -- middle class. What makes Rosenfeld fascinating, at least from a demographic perspective, is his brother Jim. Or, to be more precise, his twin brother Jim.
Jim Rosenfeld lives in a two-story brownstone house in New York's upscale Brooklyn Heights neighborhood. Where Emmet's place is homey, Jim's is trendy, with Danish modern furniture and glass panels, stainless steel railings and Arts and Crafts architectural details. Where Emmet's car is used, Jim's is new. Where Emmet is middle class, Jim is decidedly wealthy.
Jim is a partner in one of Wall Street's high-priced law firms, a job that pays considerably more than Emmet's. In fact, Emmet was recently surprised to discover that his brother's monthly bills totaled $65,000. As he put it, "My brother's monthly nut was almost the same as my entire year's pay."
The lessons of the Rosenfeld brothers' relative finances are more or less what one would expect. While they grew up in the same area and went to comparable Ivy league schools, Emmet's path to education led him on a meandering path through Colorado ski country, teaching stints in Eskimo villages, and outdoor education trips in Minnesota.
At the same time, Jim was blazing a straight path through college and law school, clerkships and internships, following the well-worn and clearly delineated steps to stratospheric success in the legal world.
Now, years later, Jim and Emmet's relative lifestyles continue to reflect the disparity in their values. Jim often says goodnight to his sons over the phone as he slogs away at the office until after midnight. Emmet, meanwhile, is home for bath time and puts his own kids to bed. Jim brings his work home in the form of his Blackberry; while Emmet probably has grading to do, he is able to set it aside.
The ultimate question -- how the two brothers feel about their respective lives -- is unanswerable. Like most siblings, the Rosenfeld's occasionally regard each others' lives with green eyes.
As Emmet puts it, "As children, Jim and I embraced the mantra 'You split, I choose' to prevent fights [...] This Solomonic approach taught us to live with our choices. We also learned to keep an eye on the other guy's slice, and we've been doing it ever since."
Still, while Emmet certainly feels some envy, it is unclear if that translates into a real desire to trade lives with his brother. In general, he seems happy with his home and life in Arlington, and takes a certain measure of glee in Jim's occasional compliments. He delights in the fact that he gets to spend evenings at home, as well as the fact that he doesn't have an electronic leash tethering him to work. On the other hand, there's the fact that Jim makes SO much more money...
The ultimate point of Rosenfeld's essay may not lie in the salary comparisons that inevitably emerge between the brothers, but rather in the broader issue of lifestyle satisfaction and relative goals. In the final accounting, it encourages readers to weigh their own values and ask how much, exactly, a Brooklyn brownstone and a corner office -- or homey evenings and a house in the 'burbs -- are truly worth.