First up, I should mention this term 'habitually single'. I formulated it the other day as a way of describing myself. I don't consider single-ness to be a very important or defining part of my identity, if only because I don't think about it a lot and it doesn't proceed from any sort of decision or realisation on my part. However, for those who look for that sort of thing, it has been a fairly consistent part of my life and the trend looks set to continue into the immediate future, barring the unforeseen.
That unforeseen, of course, could come in many forms. The main one, though, would be the sudden appearance of Dr Right to sweep me off my feet. I don't see any point in dismissing possibilities. If that happened, it would be a change, and various changes would accompany it, for example, I would get some sense that I could and would like to build a life with the person in question. So for me that's a hypothetical package, which if it happens, I will be fine with, otherwise it wouldn't happen. As it is, though, it's not happening and I've no reason to anticipate that it will.
Hopefully that describes some of my situation right now. Having reached this age without any serious relationship entanglements, I have been thinking around how my life could progress beyond my current living arrangements, which are closely connected to my job/calling and therefore stable but not inflexible.
I figure, I'm in my twenties. It's a time to be open to experimentation. I can try monasticism. I can try on some different identities (asexual, celibate, single) to see if any of them fit. I can work really hard at developing skills for community building, or I could focus on economic security so that I will be able to do some grander experimentation down the line.
The fact that I am not doing any of that, in fact, is hopefully not a bar to my future happiness.
I have started to wonder, though, how a state of habitual singleness would play into a community-living situation. Particularly, how it might work for me. Egotistical, I know, but that's me all over. Write about what interests you.
Some of this is the whole property thing. What belongs to me, what belongs to the community, what belongs to no-one. This gets tricky when we start asserting rights over relationships. It's a few steps away from asserting ownership of humans... but it comes with complications. I should be clear about one thing. I'm not advocating some kind of hippy free-love no-strings-attached sexy easter-egg hunt. The matrimonial bonds, lace-edged and dusty though they be, are fine by me. I'm not looking to queer anyone's pitch (tee hee).
I want to make that clear partly because in exploring some of these and related issues with chums I have once or twice given the impression that I am some sort of polyamorous love squid. I have hastened to correct that idea. It comes about innocently enough. I am attempting to express how I haven't ever experienced a feeling for one individual that goes beyond an assessment of our compatibility. I acknowledge that there are many fine people all around who I could form a long-term relationship with. So how would I pick just one?
This might be more of a problem if I had a need of a long-term partnership. Some people think that polyamory (no 'u' apparently: ironic?) is the solution. Perhaps these people are considerably better at scheduling than I am. I can barely handle the emotional well-being of our houseplants, much less other humans. So although that perspective does inform my considerations somewhat, I haven't found it to be primarily useful.
The story from me is an old one; experimentations in community. I read an article last year that identified 123 individuals as the ideal number for a community; not too many nor to few for all essential and necessary parts of life. Well, I doubt I know that many people who'd be good to live alongside in a full-time space. I feel a lot of potential depth would get lost in the scrum. I'm not overly happy even in a church that big (and that is not considered an excessive church size).
So, how could a singleton live alongside a couple? I've been trying to picture it and it basically looks like almost every crazy sitcom on ABC1. Arguments and accidents aside, I have been speculating on what some of the power dynamics might be. Right now I live in a house that contains a couple, and other singles. This actually has not provided me with a lot of data (my polite way of saying that it's not much of a problem here). That said, I am sure that some of the situations I speculate about exist in my own situation, but I would not want to suggest that they are overly powerful in the house. There are other dynamics, after all, many of them, between and above each of us in this house. It would be unfair and untrue to single out couples as a prime or overpowering site of power manipulation. That does not speak to my experience; and certainly others experience other forms of power manipulation in other combinations of peoples. My intention is not to analyse my household, and the following speculations are not drawn from here.
Weirdly, one of the biggest power dynamics I keep coming across is that a couple and a single co-habiting is unconventional. Society allocates normality charisma to the couple while the singleton seems to be strange. It's as if the coupled individuals are more advanced or adapted or basically better human beings, while the singleton is not - either because they have not yet found a partner (i.e. there is an assumption that they ought to do this) or because they are unable or unwilling to form that bond. So either they are socially younger/less advanced, or somehow emotionally immature or underformed.
Perhaps that is because the nuclear family model is two partnered adults and dependants, usually children, but perhaps elders. In our speculated house, the singleton takes the role of the child, both positionally and relationally to the parents. I remember living as one of a few single people in a house with a couple. At Christmas, the couple's grown-up kids came to visit for a day of family baking. "Oh well, let's go into the basement" said one of my housemates, "their real kids are here."
So, what happens when a couple have kids? That would seem to profoundly affect the position of the singleton. More than before, their position is socially questionable; because the couple appears to be developing According To The Pattern of social norms. Who then is this loser hanger-on? It seems that there's an opportunity there to design a strong model for community. The singleton can be brought into the family and help out with the tasks attendant to a child. But what happens to the space? Who budges when a family starts to expand? Imagine that there isn't space enough for everyone. Does the single take a hike? Do the couple move on? Do they all move on? The decision lies with the couple - the family - by nature. The single might be brought into the picture - but that's the choice of the family.
Assuming that the trio manage to make it work out, where does the single go from there? I've been picturing someone habitually single - but not exclusively so. What happens if they want to bring someone special into the picture? In most communities there will be some kind of process for discussing new housemates. Does the couple get to approve the choice of the single? If they do; does that make it the single's duty to choose between their home and a potential new relationship? That certainly seems to give credence to the idea that a 'proper' family is two adults and their associated children.
I have never quite been sure what I think about meetings. Should they be sites for discussion or for agreement? I have this idea that a meeting ought to be a place which allows each voice to speak equally, and has practices to ensure that any decisions are done through consensus and after adequate consideration of the facts. On the other hand, that takes a lot of time. I got to wondering the other day if a meeting's purpose might not in fact be just to check for consensus, not necessarily do the work of getting it. After all, people talk. Before, during and after meetings are informal conversations and methods of communication. Perhaps ideas and proposals can be discussed informally and consensus gained without the need for a full formal meeting except to ensure that everyone knows what page we're on.
But that concerns me. The informal process means there's no checks to ensure that everyone is included and consulted. It is open to excluding some, either through not consulting or through consultation in circumstances that might not be optimal for an individual to process appropriately. So what to do? Sit on an idea until you can arrange a meeting to discuss it at length, or take the initiative and risk doing damage by setting process aside. I guess it's one of the places where the social contract could use some clearer wording.
For singles, process is important because there might not be informal time together with others in the household. For couples, it's part of the deal. That doesn't take into account individual differences, though. Some people and some lifestyles lend themselves way more to interactions where details of daily living can be hashed out. It seems to me that there is a cultural component as well. The prizing of the formal, scheduled meeting as THE place for decision-making and authority for activity seems to be quite arbitrary. Like the people who think that what the Pope or Councils or Bible say are the sole authority on religious practice, whereas religious practice gets on quite well without having to appeal to any of them, the majority of the time.
One specific issue when thinking about couples in community would simply be how to honour and respect such a bond in a good way. Love is a good thing, worthy of celebration and desirous of support. How better to do that than in a cherishing community? By doing that, perhaps a community could also contextualise romantic/partnered love in a more practical, realistic and honest way than the dominant culture does. Instead of seeing it as the be-all-and-end-all of any successful life, perhaps it can honour it as one way that individuals are called to move beyond themselves and act out of love. There are many other ways. Rearing children or caring for elders is a similar love-based relationship that calls individuals to surpass themselves. A religious or spiritual devotion to a lifestyle could be another. Commitment to caring for marginalised people, from whatever community, is another way of doing love. How to honour all of these callings? How to ensure that those honoured are not also given excessive power?