Monday, May 11, 2009

Pros and Cons of the choice to live in intentional community

**Update** We are now several months into this experiment of rooming with another married couple, and it's great. We keep a chore chart, have a weekly family meal, and in general it has been SO GOOD. Moving to Dallas was very lonely, and having people around really makes us feel more like we are at home here. It takes being very intentional to communicate with each other (as the introvert, that's probably my biggest challenge), to get time as individual couples (so far that's been easy), and keeping it clean for each other. All in all, it's been great - sorta feels like college again!


A month or so ago I wrote to say that we were considering getting a three bedroom apartment with some friends. We now have our intent to lease signed and should be moving next month, and we're all excited.

What has been really interesting is to see the reactions that people give us when they hear what we're doing. People seem to think this is SO unique and different, and there the reactions split to either thinking we're crazy or thinking it's super cool and amazing. In fact, I'm starting to meet new people that have already heard about "those couples that are moving in together".... we're apparently becoming a legend!

The Pros:
1. Living in community. This is huge, and this is why my dearest friends are mostly excited about this, because my closest friends really, really highly value community and intentional relationships. It's been striking to me that the people I'm close to are all equally opinionated for this decision, and it says I must be very drawn to people who hold close relationships as a very high value. In any case, we really do find living in relationship with people very important, and especially in the West right now we tend to be very fragmented. Most of the time we are alone in a crowd, and truly knowing and being known by people is rare. Being able to share our lives with Asher and Steph and know them more is...a cool thing. We really think that although there will be things that will be hard about sharing space, ultimately we'll really learn from each other and grow through this experience.

2. It's cheaper to live with people. This is a very motivating factor for all four of us, since three of the four are in school and we all struggle to pay the bills. This is also one reason that a lot of people that think it's a little weird to move in with another couple still think this is a good idea - because everyone is looking for ways to cut costs right now because of the economy, and this is really seen as a creative, out-of-the-box idea. We will be saving $600 a month on rent alone between the two couples, and probably more because we'll buy some groceries in bulk and cut our utilities costs as well. If we manage to save a total of about $800/mo, than we'll end up saving $9,600 for the four of us, which is... awesome.

3. Social fun! This is a little different than community, but they are related. All four of us have struggled to build relationships here in Dallas, partly because you get so little TIME with people. This ... certainly provides time. :) We all love the idea of opening our space to our friends and having fun crazy social times... sort of a return to college life, almost. In this way I think this is the perfect time of life for this - none of us have kids yet, so we're really enjoying our time as young couples without a lot of commitments outside of work and school.

Cons (and my response to them)
1. Lack of privacy. Like I said, our society really really highly values privacy, so much so that most people are really shocked at the idea of living with another couple. We like to control our own space and don't like to have people infringe on it. To be quite frank, I dislike how extreme we've gotten in this - I find it pretty selfish. In most of the world, people don't have a choice and often both necessity and cultural values mean that most people live with extended family or friends, and it's not weird. So yes, I recognize that there's times when it'll be frustrating to share a kitchen or to have to work out the details of shopping and to not be able to come home to an empty house when I just want a quiet evening.... but I really hope that Isaac and I are mature enough to work around all of that and simply be able to live peacefully with other people. I just... think it's sort of basic. Yes, it will be inconvenient, but really... are we willing to sacrifice relationships for our own personal convenience? I hope not.

My brother and his wife already live with another couple (which also makes this less of a novel idea to me), and his response to this objection is that living with a couple that you're close to and care about is not so different then having grown kids around the house. Yes, you have less privacy than a newly-married couple does, but you value your kids enough to WANT them around, and your marriage adjusts accordingly. Yeah, we probably will avoid having fights in the living room, but we've all agreed to attempt to not infringe on each others' conflict. We've been married for nearly four years and they've been married for nearly three, so we're past those initial adjustments to marriage that you go through in your first couple of years.

2. Potential interpersonal conflict. This I also see as quite basic. It's the same as roommates in college - sometimes personalities clash or expectations aren't clear, and so there is conflict. This why I think that we shouldn't all just move in with anyone. We wouldn't even move in with some of our closest friends - sometimes personalities and lifestyles just don't fit. That's why I think we're lucky - Asher and Steph and Isaac and I get along really well, we hold the same things in value and really enjoy a lot of the same things (movies, theology, politics, friends, fun, and Lost.. lol). I feel like this is a uniquely good situation for sharing space... although of course that's easy to say before we move in! :) We are being very intentional about expectations and guidelines for the space and being open about our thoughts and feelings.

3. Potential sexual temptation. Ok, I have to admit that this didn't occur to me at all and I was surprised when this was the most vehement caution (and in one case, objection), by some people close to us. I have to take it seriously because it IS a possibility that all sorts of weirdness can happen when people live in close proximity and it is important to protect marriage. I guess I would caution people so that if you KNOW this would be difficult for you, don't do it. For Isaac and I, we intentionally check up on this area within our marriage already, and we're lucky to feel very, very comfortable communicating openly about it. We've also put guards of accountability around us within our church community group and also for Isaac in his guys small group at school. So - simply by acknowledging that you have to guard against temptation and by putting guards of accountability and modesty up, we move forward.

To those that actually object to moving in with people because of this reason, I first point back to scripture and say that Paul lived with Priscilla and Aquila, so clearly you can't just say, point blank, that living together is unwise. Again I say that through most of history and in most of the world, we don't have as much privacy as we have here today in the West. Being around other women and men in close quarters is normalized. That doesn't mean there are never problems, but lets face it, privacy doesn't do away with temptation either. The problem isn't proximity, it's the heart. I point to James 1:14-15 and say that temptation is really from within. "14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin." I recognize the importance of DEALING with this, but I don't think that this is truly an issue of living with people, it is an issue of the heart, and the heart finds its own opportunities.


Sturgmom said...

I think it's very cool! We've often talked about it with some of our friends, but the timing hasn't ever worked out. Good for all of you for making a go of it. I think living intentionally in community is really lacking in our culture.

Clare said...

I think as long as you're happy then who cares what everyone else thinks? It's good that you've talked about it though.

I find it interesting that people have said the sexual temptation is an issue. It hadn't crossed my mind until you brought it up, and I agree with your "the heart will find it's own opportunities" thing. Besides, you'd have to be an idiot to sleep with the guy if his wife is RIGHT THERE making breakfast for him in the morning.

Anyway, the only reason I wouldn't is the privacy and conflict thing. I value mine too much and I've had enough flatmate drama to last me the rest of my life without having 2 people potentially ganging up against each other and their partners behind them backing them up.

But you're mature, you'll be fine. Keep us updated :)

Alice said...

It sounds like you have thought a lot of things through. I'm guessing it will go well, and later on, you'll look back fondly on the time the four of you shared a space.

Anonymous said...

another pro to add to the list....

collective awesomeness begets more awesomeness.

:) Steph