The paradox of growing old and cohousing

May 17, 2014 11:52 am

Planning to live in a cohousing community means making a commitment of companionship with a group of people for a pretty long time. It is scary. We are young and mentally sharp today, but tomorrow? A commitment of companionship is not a commitment to years of caring for others. Doing the CIMG1556washing up together, yes; but personal care, no. The predicament of the goddess Eos (or Dawn), who asked for her lover’s eternal life but forgot to ask for eternal youth, has not escaped the rational person that I am. I cannot share it as elegantly, however, as Professor Mary Beard from Cambridge University A Point of View: The paradox of growing old – this is why, as a society, we should value our universities, to protect our regular supply of good thoughts, clearly articulated, eternally. No paradox of growing old here.

Sometimes I look across the table during meetings and assess the state of health and cognitive abilities of my fellow cohousers [Editor – and I thought it was just wind!]. The dismal part of me is reassured to know that, statistically, this cohousing group should get a slow, but steady, intake of new blood in the form of new members, as our personal decline becomes acute and then final.

If the end of the story is known, the length of the novel depends in part on our behaviour. We can push the onset of decline and try to get to the end without the indignities, or at least as few as possible. A cohousing community is the best place to do just that. For example, ‘smoking and obesity are not as dangerous as loneliness’ ( ). Cohousing will delay the deadly onset by the simple virtue of providing a supply of good quality, deeply valued friendship. Even better ‘peer pressure and a smoking ban’ in the common house should help any members to quit smoking ( ) and ‘quitting smoking’ ( ) helps to slow down cognitive decline. The beauty of the virtuous circle! The same goes for alcohol abuse, but also lack of regular exercise and a silly diet. A healthy environment fosters healthy old age. It’s a lot easier and more fun to achieve it with a group of friends than alone.

Olympus must not have been a good cohousing community. From what I’ve read, it sounded a bit dysfunctional with too many gossips, jealousies and power struggles – not a model to follow; otherwise Dawn and her lover Tithonus could have been drinking nectar, eating homemade bread and engaging in cogent discussions with their cohousers, for example on the impact of Zeus’s sexual peccadilloes on the policies of the Middle East, a little while longer.

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