A few weeks ago, I was sitting in my sweet minivan with my wife and daughter, on our way to our very first gathering with members of the Cohousing ABQ community. We’d driven in from Kansas City the day before. As many introverts will understand, the whole thing seemed like a super fun idea at first. I was excited to meet new people and learn more about this amazing community they’re building.
But . . .the closer the time came, the more sure I was that the entire thing was a terrible mistake. What would I say to all these new people? Would they be weirdos? Would they think I was a weirdo? What if it was secretly a cult? What would I do with my hands? My stomach started hurting, and I found myself hoping it was food poisoning so I could escape back to our Airbnb.
Somehow I managed to refrain from jumping out of the running car, and we arrived. And it was completely fine. And before very long, it was downright lovely. And just a few days after that, I found myself sad at the thought of leaving these wonderful people who would hopefully be my neighbors in the not-too-distant future.
As I reflect on that wonderful week with the group, I’ve keyed in on a few things that Cohousing ABQ and many other communities did to help me feel at ease. So if you’re an introvert nervous about jumping into this like I was, or a future cohouser working on building your own community, here are some things that I found really helpful.
1) Lots of openness about and understanding of being an introvert
Within the first 5 minutes, multiple community members shared that they, too, are introverts and know how overwhelming the first few gatherings can be. They took the reins in conversation to give me some time to gain my footing and settle in. They talked to me one-on-one or in pairs rather than plopping me in the middle of the whole group and making me feel like I was on stage. As a nice bonus, this allowed me to get to know people individually.
2) A balance of scheduled socializing and spontaneous get-togethers
One of my biggest social struggles is unplanned activities. I find I’m able to be much more present when I can plan ahead for socializing and “store” some energy. When we arrived, we had a nice list of plans for the week and knew who we’d be getting together with for each one. As the week progressed, various community members also reached out if they were up to something they thought we might be interested in. This allowed me to be ready for each activity but also jump into some extra activities when I had the energy for them.
3) A mix of large and small group gatherings
A few of the things on our list were:
A Halloween party at a member’s house followed by group trick-or-treating
A midday trip to the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science (VERY highly recommended)
A morning at the ABQ BioPark (also very highly recommended)
A potluck dinner at a member’s house with tons of delicious soups (a high compliment from an admittedly picky eater)
A trip to Creativity Warehouse (is it too much to highly recommend this one also?) for some pottery fun
We got together with as few as two members and as many as fifteen. The smaller gatherings were wonderful for getting to know people well without draining my energy too much. The larger gatherings allowed me to see how the community functions as a group and the overall “vibe” I could expect as a member.
4) Proactive opportunities to opt out Because so many others are introverts, we were given lots of chances to skip activities if we were just too worn out, even if we’d already committed to attending. For each get-together, we were reassured that we could skip it if we needed a break or just weren’t interested. We did opt out of a few things throughout the week and were met with nothing but understanding and often a, “We totally get it!”
Cohousing is introvert-friendly
By the end of the week, I knew this community would be a place that not just tolerates me, but actually values and understands me as an introvert. The openness about various social needs, a variety of group sizes and scheduled and spontaneous activities, and genuine, proactive opportunities to step back at any time were the keys to this introvert’s heart.
It turns out that surveys of cohousing residents tend to demonstrate that the majority of them are introverts. Sure, there are plenty of extroverts, too, and lots of opportunities for them to be as social as fits them. But cohousing provides what many introverts crave–built-in, long-term community combined with household privacy.
If you’ve been wanting to join or consider cohousing but are afraid it will be too draining or too demanding, you might want to give it a chance first through the Explorer process that allows you to get to know community members and how their idea of “community” works in action. Or, if you’re wanting to make your cohousing community safer for introverts (who seem to be drawn to cohousing), these simple approaches that I experienced should do the trick.