This I Believe

Deborah - Woolwich, Maine
Entered on November 10, 2006
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: community
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I’m an introvert and a hermit. I live in a house in Maine with two middle-aged dogs and an elderly cat.

I grew up an only child. I always had a best friend, but didn’t do well in groups of kids. We just didn’t speak the same language. When my best friend wasn’t available, I was able to entertain myself by drawing or reading.

Eventually, I grew up and was expected to socialize as an adult. I hated dating. I hated every party and singles’ event I went to in hopes of meeting the prince. I was bored by the small talk you had to go through in the process of getting to know someone. You could never hear anyone at those parties, anyway.

In my late thirties I got my first dog. That took care of the loneliness problem. I became comfortable with my life.

So how, at the age of 61, do I find myself in the process of building a cohousing community in coastal Maine?

Cohousing is a form of intentional community in which people own their own homes, but share common space, including a common house where meals are shared, along with other facilities such as a workshop or play space for children. All decisions affecting the community are made by consensus. I sit through endless meetings in which every potential decision is discussed until there is no more to be said. I show patience and flexibility that I never knew I had.

So what in my life could have prepared me for this apparently uncharacteristic development? It appears, like most humans, I need to be part of a group.

I was an actress from high school through my twenties. The bond made with my high school friends during our theatre experience together has never been broken. Acting as part of an ensemble gave me the same sense of exhilaration that I assume athletes feel when playing team sports.

I lived with roommates during my twenties. Again, lifelong bonds were forged during these years we were growing into full-fledged adults.

I’m now a psychotherapist. I have facilitated numerous therapy groups. I have watched the almost magical process of people tentatively trying to connect with each other, as they go through the painful process of learning that risks need to be taken and defenses dropped in order to feel close to another human being.

I believe in community. I believe in interdependence. I believe that human beings can only grow through interaction with others. It can be a painful process, since flaws, along with strengths, become very clear when they’re bounced off of someone else. As a young man in one of those therapy groups, involved in his first relationship, remarked: “I’m learning more about myself than I ever wanted to know.” But, for better or worse, we’re descended from people who spent long, cold winters curled up together in caves to keep warm. And it can still get pretty cold out there.