Rick and I had an argument in the car last night. Well, you might better describe it as a squabble, the kind of low grade tiff married people have. Earlier in the evening, surrounded by Canadians and Americans, I’d used the expression “swings and roundabouts”—which turned out to be unfamiliar to them. Rick claimed it was also unfamiliar to him, and took the rather dangerous position that because he hadn’t heard of it, it didn’t exist. Of course, it does exist, but when Rick takes a position he sometimes does so without any regard to its precariousness.
At any rate, if you are not Australian, you can be forgiven for needing an explanation of the expression. Swings and roundabouts are items in the Australian playground; swings go back and forth, roundabouts go ’round and ’round. So when you say, “it’s swings and roundabouts”, you loosely mean something like give and take, what comes around goes around, win some lose some, give a little take a little. For example, if you get married, you acquire some companionship and lose some independence. If you move into a communal household, you have much more stimulation but risk losing some privacy. It’s swings and roundabouts.
To put this squabble in context, let me tell you a story.
A year ago last April I completed my book, Shedders, and published it on Amazon. At about the same time, three women in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania published a book, My House, Our House, about their own co-householding situation. My friend Paul (who once missed something that happened behind Jupiter’s second moon but I don’t think has missed much else) noticed their book. He contacted them, introducing my book, and contacted me, introducing their book. I read the blurbs and sample chapters and thought the three authors looked like true fellow travellers. I wrote them and we set up an email correspondence that’s lasted ever since. Jean, Karen and Louise have become internet friends.
So here’s where it gets interesting. JKL, as the three of them call themselves, decided to come to Vancouver for a tourist visit, and as Rick and I are nearby on Vancouver Island, we organised to meet.
We spent all of yesterday face to face. We breakfasted together (“I’ll wear a yellow rose”), then drove up Howe Sound, walked through Lynn Canyon, visited Lonsdale Quay—on the pretext of getting to know Vancouver better, we settled in to learn more about one another.
It was really quite an extraordinary day. JKL were personable, interesting and interested women: eyes-wide-open, self-assured, worldly, fiercely independent, friendly, outgoing, open-minded and not overly concerned with what others think. When you’ve read one another’s very personal books about their lives, fears, concerns, proud moments, it’s a real short cut to getting into relationship. “What happened to the cat?” “What did you mean by…?” “How did ….turn out?” “”Do you still…?” We hit the ground running, so to speak.
We also spend time comparing our mutual living situations. There were many interesting similarities, which we enjoyed exploring. For example,
- we both started our projects at about the same time, at about the same age
- we both chose co-householding, where you share one roof and have a close living relationship with your partners
- we all speak a common language of inclusiveness, respect and desire for growth.
We also touched on a couple of major differences, on which I’m still reflecting this afternoon.
One is the obvious one that the JKL community is comprised of three women, and the Shedders of three couples. There are a number of factors buried there. Six residents/decision-makers versus three. Couples versus individuals. Male/female versus female only.
In my experience, three women could look at one another, decide quickly, and make a 10-year commitment without too much difficulty. The challenges of six people/couples/male-female magnify the problem exponentially. Six people is not just twice as complex as three people; Rick the mathematician tells me it’s three-times-three=nine times as complex. Then factor in the wildcard dimension of couples (you know the kind of thing: siding with your spouse even if he’s dead wrong; siding against him even when he’s dead right). And finally throw into the mix the fact that men are from Mars and women from Venus, and you’ll understand the precarious dynamics of the Shedders group.
Another major difference I had almost missed is that JKL created a finite agreement, right from the beginning. They were pre-retirement at the time they cast their lot together, and they agreed from the start that the arrangement was to last until they were ready to retire. And only until then. Ten years on, they’re within a year of that milestone. Karen and Louise have bought a condo in Florida; Jean will remain in Pittsburgh with four seasons and near daughter and grandchildren.
It’s a big difference from our own Shedders intention for our situation to last “forever”.
When you can see the end, you can relax in the harness. You can overlook irritations more easily, just taking advantage of the positive opportunities. I’m reminded of the Shedders’ two-year lease period when we rented together in Tambourine Bay in Sydney. Although that time was a test of co-householding for us, we knew we could survive anything for two years. There’s no doubt it’s more challenging when the agreement is open-ended.
At any rate, we had an excellent visit with Jean, Louise and Karen. And then, at the end of the day, we had an opportunity to share our stories with Paul’s Meetup group. People who were interested in co-housing, community and ways to save money showed up full of interest and questions. JKL presented brilliantly about their experiences, and we all reflected on some of the challenges we faced and will face.
When Rick spoke at the meeting, he told a strange story. “When I was little,” he began, “my mother read Babar books to me. I loved them, and I especially loved the pictures of coconut trees and the tropics. From age three I wanted to live in a warm climate. Thirty-five years later we moved to Australia.” Hmmm. That explains Rick’s attachment to the two palm trees he planted on our Mitchells Island property.
His point was about dreaming, and that you can get what you dream. A number of people when introducing themselves had said that they really wanted to live in an intentional community, but were finding it difficult to establish one. Rick wasn’t buying any of that. He reckons if you want something, you can get it.
Creating something outside the square takes something, but it can be done. Yes, you’ll have to give things up. You’ll live in a new uncertainty. You might make decisions that don’t work out. You’ll have to be open to scary things like sharing about finances. But you’ll likely find yourself happier and more fulfilled than you ever dreamed possible.
It’s swings and roundabouts. Win some, lose some. It’s like being in the playground. You scrape your knee, you fight with the pig-tailed girl. But wouldn’t you rather be in the playground than anywhere else?