RE: cohousing lifestyle query
From: Rob Sandelin (
Date: Sat, 28 Nov 1998 22:59:21 -0600
 Jan Gordon asked about cohousing and the social interactions. I have lived
for 8 years now in cohousing, and also been to a fair number of cohousing
projects, and have been involved in numerous networking events for cohousing
and intentional communities. I have also taught some group process workshops
in a few cohousing groups as well, and several intentional communities. So
here is my take on it.

At the 1996 Regional Cohousing gathering in Seattle, I observed something
that I thought was a good definition. Several of us had breakfast together
one morning. There were about 8 or 10 tables, of which two remained empty.
People just kept joining the tables that had people at them, and people just
kept making room. It was a tight squeeze, but nobody wanted to sit by
themselves at one of the empty tables. I thought this defined cohousers
nicely. Most places, people would be very shy about joining a table full of
other people and would have filled up the empty tables first. Not cohousers.

>From my perspective, cohousing comes with a built in social life. If you are
investigating built cohousing groups ask how often they have community
meals. This is the prime social event. In fact, most peoples issues about
cohousing are not, is it social enough, but rather, is it TOO social for me?
And of course, you only have to partake of as much socialness as you want.

Most cohousing groups in my area tend to hold parties at the drop of a hat.

Now as for the deeper relationship stuff, that varies. If you are the type
that really latches on to a small number of people, you could certainly do
so within the context of cohousing. Depends on what defines the people you
tend to latch on to, and if there were any of those sorts in the community.
The implied social contact of cohousing does not exclude close personal
relationships between members, and since you live so close together and
share so many things it can be pretty easy to get to know people very

However, Cohousing groups as a whole tend to be much less emotionally
committed than some other kinds of intentional communities and so if your
experience is from one of those sorts of places you may find cohousing to be
quite a bit lighter weight in terms of commitment. Most folks in cohousing
didn't join to do group therapy work, and so that sort of intense sharing
and emotional work does not happen except perhaps in some crisis like death
or divorce or larger conflict.

To be fair, in most cohousing groups I have visited or done workshops with,
there seems to be a mixture of desires for close personal relationship. Some
folks want it greatly and are disappointed that it does not become a
community agenda, they are balanced by the folks that did not join for all
that "touchy feeling stuff". In a couple of cohousing groups, those that
wanted to do all that emotional work formed their own little subgroup and
did it together, without making it a larger community agenda.

Another thing I have  observed is that there is often sort of a
passive/agressive behavior around this issue of deeper community. Those that
claim the loudest that they want "true deep community" take no leadership,
nor do any work to create such a thing, just sigh and complain that nobody
else is interested, nobody supports them, etc. They give one, very half
hearted effort and then give it up because EVERYBODY is not interested.
Sheeesh. I must admit, these kind of folks are my personal bugaboo, so may
be this isn't being entirely fair.

In my experience, in most communities the issues, concerns, or tasks which
have leadership are the ones that get accomplished. So if you are interested
in deep community relationships, then I would take stock of what you can do
to create such a thing. Then join a group and make it happen. It will take
awhile to get it rolling, but ONE persons impact on a community can be HUGE,
depending upon their leadership abilities. I have seen huge changes in my
own community come from a single persons efforts to create a different
realty than the one that previously existed.

So my point is, to paraphrase the Rolling stones: if you are willing to work
to create what you want, you just might find, you get what you need.

Rob Sandelin

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