‘The Hive’ as Home: Making Friends your Family in Later Years



Andrea S. Gould

IT WAS 1979 WHEN I FIRST THOUGHT about creating “the Hive,” a form of sustainable living for when I am older, probably single, but still needing—and enjoying—the company of others. Looking back, I was wondering about how I would live alone, children grown, husband passed on, and the quality of daily life would be…what?

What I knew then, and still know now, is that living alone doesn’t work for more than brief periods of time: necessary respite, sanctuary and hermitage, all good for the soul. But the daily-ness of self care, sociability, humor and support of all kinds could so easily be missing, or worse, impersonal, if I don’t plan this out. Who would be the mother of this invention, this Hive—and where will she be when we need her?

Over the next 30 years, I began my exploration of this notion through interviews and writings, bits and pieces, living through marriage, divorce, widowhood, (now married again), while counseling hundreds having similar anxieties, thoughts, fear and ideas about aloneness. This subject comes up frequently, regardless of age. There exists a primitive need for “family,” one way or another, in all of us.

Biologically and philosophically, we are social and interdependent. The family unit—the extended family of the past and the contemporary nuclear family, shaped by cultural evolution, economic and technological forces, has been weakened over the years. Household sizes have fallen, giving rise to the primary homeowner, often without close family in later years. Independent living retirement communities, assisted living and nursing homes, often fall short of our needs, because once a group gets too large, its ability to serve the basic needs of love and support are often challenged by a rigid bureaucratic structure—not to mention the emotional anxiety of living with strangers.

Granted, there have been lots of forms of non-marital cohabitation and successful experiments in the “intentional community movement,” from communes in the 1960s and ’70s to “co-housing” developments and kibbutzim. But in my mind, nothing comes close to communities forged by friends, especially later in life.

It’s a theme that seems to have hit a cinematic nerve, popping up in several popular movies, such as “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” “Quartet,” “Amour,” and “All Together.” In “All Together,” a 2012 indie film starring Jane Fonda, five septuagenarian friends decide to share a house in the outskirts of Paris, rather than move into retirement homes. At one point, Fonda’s character muses: “It’s strange. We plan for everything. We insure our cars, our homes. We even insure our lives. But we don’t give a thought to our final years.”

During every critical period of my life, I have created a family of friends to grow with.

They are my supporters and critics, reactive and nurturing—my consultants and caregivers in times of need. It is with these people that I have ventured into discussions of “The Hive.”

Wouldn’t it be glorious if when we’re old, we could live, work and be together? We could share tasks; depend on others with special abilities to lift the mood, the spirit; bring in the necessities that exist in our wider communities and invent those shared resources that don’t exist yet. We could offer younger people an opportunity to apprentice with us elder mentors, while we benefit from their physical and social vitality. As to size of our household:  Not too big, not to small, but  just… right.

But the key to The Hive is planning ahead—for all of us. Don’t buy into the notion that someone will take care of you; don’t let yourself become someone else’s problem. Take the reins, call your friends together. Include singles in their 30s and 40s; explore their desires, visions and plans, see where the puzzle pieces may fit. This is just as important as estate planning, financial planning, and all the other kinds of considerations of long-term care.

The housing forms we create can be anything from having a friend or friends move in with you (or you with them), to buying something together, finding something that exists, or building something that doesn’t. Just begin the inquiry. Use your imagination and your ingenuity. Remember:  Who are the GRANDparents of invention? We are.

Dr. Andrea S. Gould is a psychologist, coach, seminar leader, consultant and community organizer. She maintains a public practice as CEO of Lucid Learning Systems, LLC., an Arizona-based human resource company, as well as a private practice in “Uncommon Coaching,” helping clients  transform themselves  when considering or experiencing a change or life transition. She is the author of “The Virgin Widow,” available on amazon.com. Contact: DrAGould@lucidlearning.com or visit her website at www.LucidLearning.com.

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