My daughter, Jo, turned 21 last week. After a blow-out 72 hours in Las Vegas with her older brother (my son Ceilee) where they were painting the town on the stroke of midnight, buying drinks together the first minute it was legal for her to do so, she came home to celebrate with her community family.
Her mother, Elke, came out from New York and we spent a long weekend together, highlighted by a Sunday sushi extravaganza where Jo cranked out 120 rolls—that's 720 pieces—in a wide assortment of vegetarian, tuna, salmon, and eel. It was an amazing party, and the best part for me was spending the day in the kitchen working with my talented daughter preparing food together for the appreciative hordes (the neighboring communities—Dancing Rabbit & Red Earth—joined us for the festivities).
Sitting around on the front porch in the Monday aftermath we conducted an informal poll of the 10 or so adults present, and not a one of us celebrated our 21st birthday with our parents. In fact, none of could even imagine it! But Jo did, and it was her idea. Though it was the first time she'd been home in 18 months, she wanted to mark her coming of age by returning to her roots. We roots were touched.
But there's more. Let me tell you about her drive home. She departed Sandhill Tuesday to return to Asheville NC and her job at a family-owned restaurant in Weaverville (a northern suburb). It's about an 800-mile drive: a real schlepp. However, wanting to be helpful, she agreed to leave at 4:30 am in order to drop her mother and step-brother off in Quincy IL, so they could catch the early morning choo-choo to Chicago.
She also had a Sandhill visitor on board: Marius, a German national who wanted a ride to Louisville. Since that's one of the ways to Asheville, she agreed. But first she swung down to St Louis for a lunch date with a long-time friend of the community whom she hadn't seen in years. And while in St Louis she called up an old friend of mine, Ella Peregrine, who lives in Louisville and made a spontaneous dinner date with her after dropping Marius off. Ella has been sick for the last several months and was so buoyed by the visit that she called me up to remark on my thoughtful daughter just as soon as Jo got back on the road post-dinner for the final six-hour leg of her driving marathon.
What can I say? Jo grew up in community. To my everlasting pride and joy, it shows.
Thursday, July 31, 2008
My daughter, Jo, turned 21 last week. After a blow-out 72 hours in Las Vegas with her older brother (my son Ceilee) where they were painting the town on the stroke of midnight, buying drinks together the first minute it was legal for her to do so, she came home to celebrate with her community family.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
This afternoon I edited job descriptions for the trio of people who will soon be replacing me as PEACH administrator. That meant I got to look over some new acronyms, which is rather like waving candy in front of three-year-old. I just love acronyms. Why say one thing when you can say two (or three)?
As background, here's the set of acronyms I crafted back in 1986, to help put some sizzle into the original proposal (who wants to read pages and pages about self-insurance without a little levity thrown in?):
PEACH: Preservation of Equity, Accessible for Community Health (the overall program)
PIT: Person Into Technicalities (the main administrator; me, in this case)
PIE: Program Income + Equity (net assets)
MELBA: Member Expected to Look after Basic Affairs (the program representative from each participating entity)
TOAST: Time Of All Sitting Together (a meeting of the MELBAs)
BASKET: Body of Advisors SKilled at Evaluation and Troubleshooting (an exectutive committee of MELBAs)
TREE: Timetable for REimbursement Eligibility (the formula by which the coverage for individuals increases over time)
PRUNED: Position Rule Under which Non-continuous Eligibility is Devalued (how an individual's TREE position can be diminished by a lapse in membership or coverage)
As you can see, it was a lot of fun. I even photocopied the original proposal (remember, this was in 1986—way before pdfs) on peach colored paper and had a graphic of a smiling fruit on the cover page. It was a hoot.
Anyway, once the MELBAs decided to divide up the job, they created two new roles to accompany the PIT: SEED and FUZZ. The original stab at SEED was: Someone to Ensure Endurance and Delegation. But I thought we could do better. The SEED is meant as a kind of back-up PIT, or PIT-in-training, so I thought perhaps Support for Exemplary Execution and Delegation would be more on the mark.
The FUZZ was listed as a "FUZZilitator," which I found lame (sure Z's are challenging, but hey, that's part of the fun). This afternoon I upgraded it to: Facilitator with Urbanity, Zeal, & Zest (the process person).
This is an art form, folks!
Before calling it quits for the day, I came up with one more, which I intend to spring on the MELBAs in the coming week. It's for the person (perhaps the PIT) whom we'll be calling on to negotiate more reasonable fees for doctor and hospital bills—which have been soaring well ahead of inflation:
NEGOTIATOR: Network Expert in Getting Others To Integrate and Accept Temporized Offers of Reimbursement
Now if I only had the same success in negotiating fees that I do with words...
Saturday, July 19, 2008
Wednesday—the last day of meetings discussing the future of PEACH [see my July 4 and July 13 blogs for more about this]—we tackled a tough issue around communication guidelines. There have been problems with the program representatives not always adequately informing their home communities what’s going on or soliciting member input before making program decisions. To what extent should we be attempting to address those concerns by requiring more steps for the representatives and administrators to take before making decisions, and to what extent should the burden of responsibility fall on the communities who have either not been making great selections in their representatives, or not holding them accountable for fully informing the community of what’s going on?
I’m worried that the easier solution is to shackle the administrators (asking for more frequent reports; not allowing decisions to be made unless everyone has voiced an opinion [that is, not allowing silence to be interpreted as assent]; dividing the administrative tasks into more jobs, so no single person is as powerful; pushing for more structure and limiting individual discretion), which is an example of addressing a power disparity by hamstringing those perceived as more powerful, rather than focusing on strengthening the weak spots. I don’t think it's a good approach.
That said, it’s still a real dilemma how to reasonably strengthen the community representatives. Most of the work is clerical, with the occasional need for serious consideration about a tough issue—around which tens of thousands of dollars may hinge. It’s hard to assign your best people to this job because of the low amount of challenging work, and yet it can be highly expensive to not have a heavy hitter in there when a hair ball comes along.
What we're going to try are two things, First, we'll attempt being more diligent about how groups select and evaluate representatives. (This is not now happening and it's tough to get cooperative groups to tackled accountability in a straight forward way. If you raise questions about performance, it tends to be translated into a personal attack and leads to bad feelings. Most groups simply don't try, and the price for this is that eventually some key job will get filled incompetently and the groups then don't have the will or culture to hold that person's feet to the fire.)
Second, we've established the importance of the representatives responding to requests involving decision making in a timely way and crafted a protocol for how we'll proceed when we don't get a response. The key feature of this is that we'll identify a responsible party at each community willing to be a back-up contact in the unhoped for event that the rep is stubbornly silent. Here's the sequence we adopted:
a) Initial email to the rep (we place "RSVP" at the start of the subject line to indicate that a response is required) with a deadline.
b) If no response is received by the deadline, a follow-up email is sent to the rep, with another (shorter) deadline.
c) lf still no response, we try to reach the rep by phone. If the rep is not in, a message will be left which will include a deadline for response.
d) If that fails, then the back-up contact will be phoned. If the back-up is not available a message will be left which will include a deadline for response.
e) If all of the above fail, the group can proceed to make a binding decision without input from the unresponsive community.
We'll see how well this works.
Sunday, July 13, 2008
I'm at East Wind, a 34-year-old community in southern Missouri, where we've just completed Day One of four days of meetings to discuss the policies and future direction of PEACH, the self-insurance fund created 22 years ago to protect the member communities of the Federation of Egalitarian Communities (FEC) from catastrophic health care costs. [See my blog of July 4 for more about PEACH.]
Today the main topic was whether to open the door for non-FEC communities to participate in the program—and if so, how wide. In thinking about it, groups face some version of this dilemma all the time: breadth versus depth; inclusivity versus purity; quality versus quantity, etc. The PEACH flavor of this question was whether to cast the net slightly wider in the hopes of increasing the numbers of people in the program (which translates to greater revenues and increased security against future health care needs) versus the potential awkwardness of working out program issues—such as assessing loan applications, evaluating personnel, and validating claims (not at all like validating parking)—with people holding a slightly different set of core values. These were tough conversations, cutting to the bone about who we are in the world and the best way to both secure funding for our future health care needs and to use our program as a vehicle for social change work.
There are currently eight participating groups in the program and seven sent representatives to these meetings. Though the program has been around for 22 years, we have not had a face-to-face meeting in more than 12 years (while it's amazing what geographically dispersed groups can accomplish via email and conference calls these days, there are limits) and this particular configuration of representatives had never all sat in the same room before today.
While PEACH has a culture of making decisions by consensus, it was an extra challenge to be attempting that process with tough issues on the table and with people who barely knew each other. To everyone's credit though, we came through the first day well. People did not back away from voicing their concerns and everyone seemed well grounded in the need to hold a cooperative attitude. While we repeatedly bumped into some deeply held positions, there was also room for creative responses.
This was all the more interesting in that we'd been laboring over this fundamental issue of whether to open the gates or circle the wagons for more than 16 months, encompassing two fairly frustrating conference calls and enumerable emails. What made the difference? I think the biggest factor was making the commitment to being in the same room, and giving people enough time and attention to make and digest full statements. If people feel heard—especially on their core concerns—listening improves markedly.
For those holding a more cautious position on the proposal to open up the program to non-FEC communities, there were concerns that groups who did not practice total income-sharing would see the world differently:
o They would, as a bloc, favor a different loan strategy.
o They wouldn't be as committed to preventative health care.
o Recuperative care would be more expensive because group members would not be as committed to collective support.
o They wouldn't be as careful in monitoring how health care dollars were spent, because it would be seen more as the individual's money (and choice) than as the group's choice.
o There wouldn't be as broad a base of common values to draw on when we disagreed, making it harder to work through issues to find consensus.
For those wanting to open things up, these factors were in play:
o A bigger pool is a safer pool (less likely that a few big claims would compromise the fund's ability to handle future claims).
o Extending our health care umbrella to the next ring out was walking our talk about cooperative values.
o Because a basic tenet of the program is that participating entities must take primary responsibility for the health care of the members they are covering, non-income sharing groups will need to move in the direction of greater sharing to be eligible and this will promote a higher level of resource sharing in the world (something the FEC stands for).
A major sticking point was the extent to which it was appropriate to ask PEACH to promote egalitarian principles (as opposed to the more modest objective of simply supporting the health care and financial needs of egalitarian groups). While there's no doubt that FEC communities care a great deal about egalitarian principles, the truth is that there's considerable variety in the way that FEC member communities go about practicing them and PEACH has not made any appreciable difference in promoting new egalitarian communities the last 20 years—there are about the same number today as there were when the program started in 1986.
My concern is that by insisting that all groups participating in PEACH be income-sharing (and eligible for FEC membership) we will be sharply limiting our ability to increase the risk pool, which has the inadvertent consequence of increasing our risk. For some, the greater risk was diluting our commitment to egalitarianism (read commitment to creating a more just and fair world). For others (myself included) the greater risk was in not creating a sufficiently robust health care fund.
We ended the day with a decision to open the door as an experiment, and I think that was the best balance possible. While there's still a lot of issues yet to be addressed in the next three days, we're off to a good start. And if you start to think that meetings are going well, you're much more likely to actually manifest that experience. Hurray for positive thinking.
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
I grew up as a lover of board games (I know that for many, they are thought of more as "bored" games, but not for me). Last Sunday, in Las Vegas, I participated in my first Game Day in two-and-half years—it was something I had been looking forward to very much, yet the day didn't unfold as planned...
I've raised two kids, my son Ceilee (27) and my daughter Jo (who'll be 21 in less than a fortnight). As soon as they were old enough to tell a club from a spade, and had developed an attention span superior to that of a may fly, I started playing board games with them. It was much better than flash cards for teaching math (they'd have to ask for the correct change at Monopoly), and most games are great for inculcating kids with a sense of simple strategic thinking and logical sequencing—things I consider basic life skills.
Over time, playing games became one of the ways we bonded as a family. While my kids were both still living at home, we'd occasionally set aside whole days for game playing marathons. We'd start in the morning and play 'til we dropped—sometimes as late as 4 am the next day. This was the genesis of Game Day, but the concept wasn't fully developed until we added an extra nuance: the Meta Game.
For this, we kept track of who won each game, awarding the most points for winning, yet partial points for finishing second or third. And because all games are not considered an equal test of strategic skill, we started given extra weight to the games we most respected. It gradually evolved to the following understanding:
Rules for Game Day
1. We always start with Monopoly.
2. You score 5 points for first place; 2 for second, 1 for third; and the fourth place finisher gets to select the next game (though it has to be a game that at least four can play).
3. We allow people not playing the Meta Game to compete in any single game, but their results are ignored when calculating points for the Meta Game.
4. We do not play the same game twice.
5. We negotiate the multiplier for each game at the beginning of each game. Monopoly, by agreement, has a multiplier of 1.0.
6. The mutliplier is always a number in the form (1.x), where "x" is a whole number from zero through nine inclusive. The points earned in the Meta Game are the raw score times the mutliplier.
7. If it is a game that does not eliminate other players (such as Monopoly or Risk), it is possible to earn a "Super Win" by finishing first with a score at least double that of all other players. In the event of a Super Win, the winner's Meta Game score for that victory is increased by 50%. [It's rare, but it does happen.]
8. The winner of Game Day is the person at the end of the day with the highest score in the Meta Game.
The nuclear core of Game Day is Ceilee, Jo, me, and long-time friend Jeffrey Harris (ex of Dancing Rabbit) . We're all board game nuts. Altogether, we've probably played about eight Game Days in the course of the last ten years (and I have the master records for each). When we were all living in Missouri it was not that difficult to synchronize schedules, but in recent years the logistics have been considerably complicated by Jeffrey having left DR to pursue work opportunities in Berkeley CA, followed by Ceilee moving to Las Vegas NV, and then by Jo settling in Asheville NC. Now we're scattered across three times zones.
Going into last week we hadn't played a Game Day since New Year's 2006—a long dry spell. All of which is to say we were psyched for Sunday.
However, other things had changed as well as addresses in the last 30 months. In particular, both Ceilee and I got married and, amazingly enough, our partners (Tosca & Ma'ikwe, respectively) also like to play board games. Understandably, they wanted some of Sunday's action, too, as well as Ma'ikwe's 11-year-old son, Jibran. It was an embarrassment of riches. Only a few of our games are suitable for more than five players, and some can only accommodate four (such as Mah Jongg). That meant people had to sit out, which no one particularly wanted to do. Hmm.
The key challenge was putting out the welcome mat for the new folks, while at the same time preserving the integrity and uniqueness that Jo prized so much from days gone by. Game Days were an especially strong memory for Jo, and a large part of what she wanted from flying in for our rendezvous in Las Vegas was special time with her brother and father. It was awkward.
Tosca got bored waiting for a game to be selected that she already knew, and Ceilee wound up leaving early to support his wife (and help take care of their 10-week-old daughter). Jo was frustrated with her performance in the second game, dropped out part way through and spent some time sulking. Ma'ikwe hung in there, but felt unwelcomed by Jo and was worried about Jibran's not having a good time. Trouble.
Probably the best move we made all day was calling a temporary halt to the gaming to sort out the tensions. Talk about complicated strategies—try group dynamics!
Luckily, this particular configuration was game for this unprecedented hiatus (thanks to our strong, collective community heritage). We had a number of one-on-one conversations, and then ordered pizza. While low blood sugar may have been a factor (for which the pizza was an excellent antidote), I believe the most valuable part of the day was simply listening to everyone's hurts and counteracting feelings of isolation.
The best part for me was a conversation I had with Jo on the steps outside Ceilee's apartment. She was in tears and I got a much clearer picture of how much she wanted continued close connections with Ceilee and me. In the end, I was able to convince her that we had a much wider palette of choices for addressing that than just falling back on Game Days as they used to be.
We made a date to have a further father-daughter conversation the next day—about how I could help her sort out what-she-wants-to-do-with-her-life, and how to better manage her personal finances (which went well by the way)—and that paved the way for a much more congenial ending to this Game Day, which wrapped up gracefully around 1:30 am with my delivering Jeffrey to his Super 8 accommodations just off the strip. He and I had a nice (if brief) personal check-in during our 20-minute drive, topping off the good mood he was in from having coasted to victory in the Meta Game.
While I started Sunday anticipating that winning the Meta Game would be the day's big prize, I went to bed feeling like a winner by virtue of my conversations with Jo—which showcases one of the neat things about games: sometimes you win even when you lose.
Friday, July 4, 2008
There was no fireworks for me this 4th of July. I have been mourning the loss of Kat Kinkade, my long-time friend and community founder, who died July 3 of complications related to the bone cancer she'd been battling for years. Thankfully, she died among family and friends, in her bed at Twin Oaks, the egalitarian community she helped found in 1967.
I last saw Kat in August, at the cottage her daughter Josie had bought for her seven years ago in nearby Mineral VA. In recent years it had been become a ritual for me to come by for a visit during the annual Twin Oaks Communities Conference, usually sneaking off for a couple hours Sunday morning. She'd receive visitors in her upholstered reclining chair, while I sat on the couch. During the course of the visit, one or more of her five cats might wander through the conversation and we'd touch on what we were reading, what we were thinking about, mutual acquaintances, community politics, and how are children were faring—roughly in that order.
Ninety minutes would pass in a blink. Instead of Tuesdays with Morie, these last handful of Augusts I had Sundays with Kat. It had become a precious ritual that has now, sadly, come to an end.
In addition to being my friend, Kat was a politician, an author, a musician, and a wit. In saying good-bye, I'd like to recount an example of how I knew her as each, offered chronologically.
This coming week I'll be traveling to East Wind (one of the three communities that Kat helped found; Acorn being the third) in southern Missouri for four days of meetings to discuss policy and the future of PEACH (Preservation of Equity, Accessible for Community Health), the self-insurance fund I created in collaboration with Kat and Don Rust (a long-time East Winder) in 1986 to meet the catastrophic health care needs of income-sharing communities. When I first cooked up the idea 22 winters ago, I knew that the participation of the big communities (Twin Oaks & East Wind) were crucial to the viability of the program.
However, when I traveled to Twin Oaks in the spring to make my PEACH pitch, I discovered, to my chagrin, that the community had grown impatient over the winter and had bought a commercial health insurance policy to met their needs. Kat was one of the three community planners at the time, and she supported my being given a chance at a Hammock Shop community forum to make my case for why the community should drop the commercial policy and cast its lot with PEACH.
Fortunately, it was not difficult to convince Twin Oakers that their interests were more likely to be aligned with an egalitarian-run self-insurance program or with a commercial carrier (kind of like asking folks to choose between Kucinich or Bush on the question of US policy in Iraq). Reading accurately the enthusiasm among her fellow community members for PEACH, Kat was wistful about having the newly settled solution to the community's health care needs unravel before her eyes. So much for the commercial policy.
In a tender moment right after the forum, I happened to be in the Ta Chai Living Room (a multi-purpose room separated by double doors from the Hammock Shop) packing up after the meeting. As it happened, Kat & I were the only two in the room. It was during her learning-to-play the-piano phase and she was using Chopin to mellow out after the meeting. She was studiously playing with her back to me when she blithely interrupted my paper shuffling with, "Well, it's a fine mess you've brought us to with all this PEACH talk," never once taking her eyes off her sheet music. Setting my papers down, I strolled over and placed my hand gently on her shoulder. When she stopped playing and met my eyes, I replied, "It's the best I could do on short notice."
Ever the realist, Kat got over her frustrations rather quickly and became Twin Oaks' first PEACH rep (or MELBA—Member Expected to Look after Basic Affairs) and helped enormously in setting up sound initial policies. Kat was an incisive thinker and it was a pleasure for me to iron out the details with her and Don those first couple years. Two decades later, more than 90% of the original policy agreements are still intact.
While no longer true today, for most of its existence, Twin Oaks' main income source had been making hand-woven hammocks for Pier One—for decades the largest single hammock account in the world. As is not uncommon when larger retailers are buying about 80% of one company's output (reference Wal-Mart), there were some wild roller coaster rides when Pier One would periodically threaten to take away its hammock business as part of the contract bargaining process. Production droughts (will Pier One ever order again?) would be followed by surges and I recall a particular visit to Twin Oaks in the late 1980s, at the height of a hammock production push, when the community was patriotically weaving away full bore.
Kat dutifully suggested that her and my social visit (already a fixture of my pilgrimages to Twin Oaks) might most appropriately occur over a hammock jig (I believe this happened only the one time in the quarter century of our friendship). Kay breezily stated, "We should weave as we talk; making hammocks is what we do here" While I'm sure I raised my eyebrows, I'm reasonably certain I refrained from rolling my eyes. In compliance, I gamely wound the shuttles as Kat selected a jig in a quiet corner. About 10 minutes into our first hammock—all the while shuttles flying along with the conversation—I achieved perhaps the ultimate compliment: the quality of our exchange was such that Kat dropped a stitch. She exclaimed, "How could that have happened! After 20 years I thought I was immune to that."
Kat had a sharp tongue and didn't suffer fools well; fortunately she was an equal opportunity lampooner and was willing to laugh at herself with the same gusto with which she skewered others. You needed to experience the needling in both directions to get the full picture of her wit, as well as her hunger for substance and appreciation for elegance.
While not mean, she could be cutting, and in later years she pulled back from much of the community activism that marked her early years because she was stung by the criticism directed her way—mainly by those who didn't know her well and mistook her high standards for high judgment.
Kat was a gifted writer, able to capture the essence of complex topics using straight-forward language, and crisp images that easily placed the reader in the narrative—she had that rare capacity to reach her audience both viscerally and cerebrally.
I recall walking with her at Twin Oaks in the spring of 1990, while the FIC was assembling the first edition of our Communities Directory. I told her we wanted an article that explained to prospectives how to think intelligently about visiting an intentional community. Realizing instantly how valuable that would be, she got inspired. The next morning she handed me a polished article, so good that we kept it in print for 10 years. The trick of getting her to write about something was capturing her imagination. Fortunately, it was a big target.
She authored A Walden Two Experiment in 1972 (chronicling the first five years of Twin Oaks), and later Is It Utopia Yet?, covering the same subject in 1994, 26 years into the experiment. They remain classics today, perhaps the best examples I know of attempts to give the lay person a realistic peek behind the curtain of mystery and excitement that is life in an intentional community.
And it is all the more special to me in that reading an excerpted review of A Walden Two Experiment in the February 1973 issue of Psychology Today is what started me on my personal path to community. It was a pleasure to finally meet her in 1980 and thank her personally for her unwitting role in my enlightenment.
While everyone knows that pigs can't fly, and neither can cats. Not everyone knew that Kat didn't fly. While this was mostly a curiosity, in 1993 it turned out to be a huge inconvenience and a personal challenge to overcome.
In August of that year, the FIC hosted the Celebration of Community, a six-day event on the campus of The Evergreen State College in Olympia WA, and I was damned if we were going to host the largest event ever focused on intentional community and not have the founder of Twin Oaks in attendance. I had to arrange for a driver to get her 3000 miles cross country and back, including overnight accommodations along the way. I never cashed in so many chits in one go in my life.
But I got it done and it was all worth it seeing the sparkle in her eye as she attended the afternoon wine and cheese reception for plenary speakers (including Noel Brown, then the Secretary of the Environment for the United Nations); and to hear Craig Ragland (then just a member of Songaia in Bothell WA and now the Executive Director of the Cohousing Association of the US) burble excitedly about having sung with Kat Kinkade during a musical interlude at the conference.
Kat made the people around her feel special for having spent time with her. And that's about as good as it gets. I'm proud that on occasion I got to return the favor. I'll miss you, Kat.
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
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.
In essence, community is about association. It's about connection and affiliation. While it implies consciousness and reciprocity, I will assume neither.
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.