I used to believe that close family and decades-old friendships stood solid and unmovable in the social landscape of my life. We were a cohesive “us” in a world full of “them”. Any cracks or weaknesses in those bonds might come about through natural erosion of time. Certainly, it never occurred to me that the troubles of the outside world could unsettle the solidity of these ties. There was an unspoken allegiance to each other – an unseen glue that held us together – as ordinary as Elmer’s glue.
We took for granted that we would be able to joke about cancelling each other’s votes at the polls. Husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, best friends forever could take different stands – it was a “no big deal” thing. We could still bring the outside world problems and complaints of our lives to each other to unpack, solve, and commiserate about. Where we differed and listened, it felt like an expression of loving tolerance rather than a giving up any of personal values or principles.
Alas, the divisions and fights “out there” are seeping in under the doorways to disrupt our closest circles. A chill has settled in where warmth seemed secure and limitless. The ordinary glue that once held us together is losing its stickiness.
I’ve been wondering why is this not happening in our cohousing group? Have we self-selected so effectively that we are immune? Have we deployed a superglue in our community agreements that creates stronger bonds?
Relationships have been preserved even during difficult discussions and decisions this past year – and all of it over Zoom, not ideal. Believe me, the design weekend that climaxed over a consensus block on the swimming pool was almost our undoing. So what is different?
I couldn’t quite put my finger on it until I read the following passage in a memoir, where the writer was quoting from correspondence with a close friend:
“It's best to be true to the relationship rather than being true to the person. Because when the person lets you down (and he/she will!), you’ll say to yourself. “All bets are off”…. If you commit to the relationship, you’re being faithful to that.“
“Commitment to the relationship.” That’s it! That’s our superglue. We all show up in different ways at different times. But we are always committed to this community and our project. It’s intentional. We can count on it – in ourselves and in the others. I get it now: intentional community. It seemed like a buzz word when I first stepped into this new world, now it’s taken on a definite shape and texture.
One of our community members told me that she finds, over time, others slide down and up on her favorite cohouser ranking scale. Don’t take it too seriously, she told me, it has little relevance. The light bulb goes on again: “… be true to the relationship rather than … the person.”
Where I once relied on blood, history and social ties to bind us, I’m now thinking of it differently. Commitment superglue will keep us together when we disappoint each other or we don’t agree. That’s what I’m learning about in our cohousing community.