Maybe it was a pact from years ago to commemorate a friendship. Maybe it was a decision made completely on impulse. Whatever leads up to the moment that you get a tattoo, having someone by your side can make the experience all the more meaningful. That’s why so many people find the idea of matching tattoos, whether they’re shared among just two people or a whole group of friends, so attractive.
We spoke with six people about their own matching tattoos—how they landed on the design, who also has it, and how they feel when they look at it now. One of our respondents described their experience as, “a moment of pain and excitement with people you love,” which, although every person invests their own, deeply personal, meaning into their tattoos, pretty much nails the spirit of matching tattoos. Regardless of the circumstances in which you got that ink, your first thought when you glance at it will be of the pals who share it with you. Here, read the stories of how six people’s matching tattoos came to be.
Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
“[My cousin and I] chose to get the Chinese character for our grandfather’s last name/our middle names, Lin.
“We all wanted to pay homage to our Hapa roots. In Chinese culture, women keep their last name when they get married, so all of our moms kept their last names, and gave us ‘Lin’ as a middle name to keep the tradition going. It started with two of us, and then more cousins have gotten it since or talked about getting it, too.
“I like that we all have it and all have memories of getting them together. It’s very small and on our wrist (one cousin has it on her ankle), so it feels like wearing a friendship bracelet or sentimental accessory.”
“[My friend and I got] the Avengers’ ‘A’, so the movie had come out that year and we decided, hey, why not get it? We’ve been best friends since seventh grade and he’s someone who I always knew I could trust. To have such a permanent mark, you can’t get it with somebody who doesn’t have their heart in the friendship 100 percent, and he’s somebody who’s always been there and I know will always be there.
“I love it, it’s small (size of a quarter) so I think it’s a pretty funny little thing to have. I don’t really have a photo, cause the place it’s in is….well let’s say the sun does not shine, haha.”
“A good friend of mine and I, who hadn’t seen each other in a while, ran into each other at a holiday party in my hometown. We were both drunk and both like matching tattoos, and each had some of our own. We agreed to get matching tigers the next day, and both woke up hungover but excited to follow through despite being worried the other one may want to back out. I was with my siblings, one of which has an artist she goes to for lots of her work, who agreed to open up his shop for us to get the tattoos. My brother also joined us.
“The next year, my friend was not back home, but some other good friends and I were talking about it, and decided to keep it going. We chose some flash, specifically a shark by @lueyduzit that I knew my friend already had, so we could retroactively match with him. This time, we managed to get most of my siblings and some other close friends to join, for a total of six tattoos. My mother came to see her kids get ink and we convinced her to join in and get one as well, which is how my mom got her first (and almost certainly last) tattoo.
“Since then, I’ve added to my collection every time I’m back home on Boxing Day, for two additional tattoos. Five of us got an exploding snake two years ago and six of us got a goat head this last year. Luey doesn’t have a shop anymore, but we managed to borrow a table at a local shop for his work, and I’m sure we’ll find a way to do it again next time I’m home on Boxing Day.
“I always tell people that the best time to get a tattoo is right after you think about it, or maybe before. A tattoo is an easy way to take a moment and keep it forever. Nobody ever forgets who they were [with] or what they were doing when they got a tattoo. Adding people to that equation just makes it better and creates a wonderful bond. Sometimes people ask me about why we get flash—tattoo artists are artists, and love to work with you on ideas. They spend a lot of time making flash and are usually excited to tweak it a bit to give it the color or personality that makes it special, and it’s much more unique than a tracing of an image someone found on Google. Getting a well-thought-out tattoo is not a bad thing, but the more you think about it, the more critical you’ll be, so you’re far more likely to get something you love if you trust your gut and pick something that you like in the moment — especially if you share a moment of pain and excitement with people you love. And it will last forever.”
“For a long time, myself and my two best friends—Caroline and Kim—have wanted a matching tattoo. It was just a matter of what and when. The plan unfolded during a recovery lunch; we were all hungover. I spontaneously suggested that we get our matching tattoos that day. It was now or never, considering one of us lives thousands of miles away and my friends aren’t too hard to convince.
“After a few suggestions and the help of Google, we settled on a travel symbol: Three lines that almost mimic a ‘Z’ would represent something we all love and three women who are bound for life.
“It was downright impulsive, but we couldn’t think of a better way this could’ve played out. We knew we were stuck with one another, but our little tattoo—all on some part of our wrist—made it official. Looking down at it now is just a constant reminder of our constant bond.”
“Jenn and I became best friends in college. After we graduated and moved to different cities, we decided we wanted a tattoo to commemorate our college experience together.
“I’m not big on astrology, but we both decided we really liked the elemental symbols. I’m a Leo, so I’m fire, and Jenn is a Gemini, which makes her air. Because it was my first tattoo and I was so nervous about getting it, I wanted something small, simple, and something I can hide easily if I wanted to.
“I never ever in my life thought that I would get a tattoo. My parents always hated tattoos and they would make sure that me and my siblings knew that. My mom always used to remind us of her friend who got a tattoo of a shamrock. Her friend got the tattoo when she was young, but she aged and gained weight and the shamrock turned to a big green blob. I never really had a desire to get a tattoo, but I really loved the idea of having something permanently on my body to remind me of such a special time in my life. I’m very happy with it and I love that I share it with my friend.”
“In college we spent late nights talking about our fears, hopes, insecurities and our signs. We used our signs, both Zodiac and elemental, to try to understand ourselves more and why we were the way we were. I’m an air sign which means that I’m social, inquisitive, always looking for solutions, while also stubborn when things don’t go my way or life feels unbalanced. So when it came down to decide what tattoo we would get, it just seemed natural to get our element symbols. It was a way to get a tattoo that unified us, but also celebrated our differences.
“It wasn’t until over three years after graduating that [Ally] and I got ours. It was a very spur of the moment thing. I was going to visit her in a week, and over text one of us threw out that we should get the element symbol tat together.
“Whenever I look at my tattoo, I’m always caught off guard because I forget it’s there. I usually only see it as I’m getting into the shower in the mirror. Every time I see it I feel happy. It reminds me of Ally and it reminds me of all the wonderful people I met in college. It also reminds me of my best qualities and helps me to keep those not-so-great qualities in check.”
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