Marrying In To The Commune: Twin Oaks Turns Fifty

Twin Oaks commune is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary. Hundreds of people have converged on the lush, low-lying land, which houses numerous buildings, shops, and fields. My husband Rich seems to know most of them. I, having never lived there, do not.
     So, what is that like? It’s not like being a spouse at a high school or college reunion. These people lived in close quarters for years, know each other well, intimately. After a few tries, I figure out the analogy—it’s as if I’d married in, like the folks I know who married into Hopi or a sprawling Irish clan. I’m in and out at the same time—although more of an observer than a participant.
     Could I have lived at Twin Oaks? The short answer is—no. My first husband Robert and I visited in 1984—visited Rich in fact. Robert and I cared primarily about two things at that time—he cared about Zen and I about poetry. Twin Oaks wasn’t focused on either, and we were interested but not tempted.
     However, I can’t help but feel, even at my age, a certain competitive check it out urge. Are my clothes ok? Am I cute enough for my cohort? If I had lived there—would I have been high status, or reclusive, in or out?
     My observation over the years (this is my fourth visit) is that Twin Oaks values work and the group above all. Pitching in, doing your share, and being up for helping might be the prime commodities. I’ve got some conflicts here. First off, I wasn’t raised to be domestic by my intellectually oriented mother. Feminism directs me out of the kitchen. And being a writer—well, it directs me out of the group.
     So how did it work for those who joined, and stayed? Some folks lived—and still live—there for decades. Some spent a few years, then moved on. Many ended up staying locally in central Virginia, building different kinds of community. I would say people seem more affected by Twin Oaks than by the usual high school or college experience. But after asking a few people about this I have to conclude I can’t really sort it out—did the idealism that propelled members in simply continue out in the larger world? Or did Twin Oaks build that idealism?
     In some cases—as with all communities—it may have shattered it. Falling in love—whether with one person or a group—brings the risk of heartbreak. Which brings us to what is now called polyamory, but which was just called multiple or open relationships back in the day. One of the reasons everyone seems to know each other is because the web of primary and secondary lovers is so complicated it would take a team of anthropologists to map. My ex-sweeties are mercifully scattered—I don’t know where many of them are. Three of Rich’s are sitting around eating brunch with us. Does this bother me? Not at all. I like them quite a bit, and it gives me insight into Rich. Would I feel the same if they were present tense sweeties? That is a question for another day.
     And here is the thing—having lived with Rich for over twenty years, sometimes it feels as if I’ve picked up a lot of the culture of Twin Oaks from him. I don’t even notice it, but the one bit I’ll always remember is that when he moved in with me and Isabel, who was seven years old, he said that we’d divide up chores so no one had to do anything she or he didn’t like to do. At first I was dubious, but it worked. I actually like taking out the garbage, Rich likes getting a good deal on insurance, Isabel liked caring for the guinea pigs, and so on.
     While work and the group will never be my highest goods, it doesn’t matter. I’ve seen these values do good, and benefited from them. I’m not a communard, but it hardly matters, because I do feel I married into the family.


2 thoughts on “Marrying In To The Commune: Twin Oaks Turns Fifty

  1. Miriam, hello my name is Bob Glbert, my Twin Oaks name was Koala Tupelo. I just posted a prose piece about Anniversary, I live at Twin Oaks from 1975 to 1982. I was 19 when I joined. the piece is on the Friends of Twin Oaks site. love to chat. Bob aka Koala

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