Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Dimensions of Community: Party of Two

This is the second installment of a series I began June 6 on the Dimensions of Community. Today I'm going to consider community from the perspective of couples. Not necessarily intimate couples; just two people building relationship and connection.

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For this series, I will not be using "community" as shorthand for "intentional community." Instead, I'll be purposefully exploring and defining community in its fullest and broadest sense. So think expansively (I am). As part of my FIC elevator speech, I tell people that, "We're in the community business." This series is meant as a journey of discovery about all that that can mean.

In essence, community is about association. It's about connection and affiliation. While it implies consciousness and reciprocity, I will assume neither.
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Today I'll look at what two can create. While any connection can have value for the parties involved, some couples manifest magic:

Premise #1: Two can create synergy. That is, the energy created by a connection between two people can be something more than the sum of what each member of the couple can create on their own. However, it is not automatic that this will happen.

Some couples turn
inward with what they create, and less is available to build with others. This is particularly a potential with intimate couples. Relationships take time, and that can mean there's less available to connect with others. Some (traditionally men) tend to put all their relationship eggs in one basket, and once they're partnered don't leave much opening for connections with others. But it doesn't have to be that way.

Some couples (and I'm talking about any two friends here, not only romantic partners) use their relationship as a basis for being more expansive in the world. Knowing that basic needs are met at home (in their primary relationship), they are more available for new and deeper connections with others. Their core relationship becomes a platform of stability and strength that allows each party to be more than they were before. Plus, the positive energy generated by the two draws others into their field—they want some too!

These two possibilities are well known in intentional communities, and there is always a certain amount of holding one's breath whenever two people couple, to see which of the two kinds of relationship they'll create: the expansive kind, or the inwardly-focused kind.

Hint A: If you're scratching your head about which category a particular couple falls into, think about whether the two people can disagree freely in public (without the other feeling betrayed), or if they consistently speak with a united front. That will pretty well tell the story.

Hint B: Notice how easily each member of the couple tolerates their counterpart having a good time with others. Flexibility and sharing build community; jealously and control diminish it.

Premise #2: Community does not require couples as building blocks. In establishing relationship and connection in groups, it is possible to bypass the creation of strong pairs. While it is common to have a number of strong, expansive couples in a group (and it is almost certain that the strength of all dyads will not be equal), it is possible to build a healthy group without there being any particular pair that's established the kind of synergistic relationship described above.

To be clear, many individuals desire a partner and I am not making any statement about that as a good or bad thing. However, if a person seeks community as a way to screen for a partner, then early availability for community-building relationships can evaporate quickly in the presence of a bona fide partner candidate. Suddenly, all (or at least most) of that person's free attention can be focused on the one person, and connections with others can wither. This does not mean they are necessarily making a mistake; I am only pointing out that building community is not necessarily everyone's top priority.

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