Not your house. Not your work. A third place where you can exist just for fun and bump into people you know.
Sound unfamiliar? I’m not surprised. Common third places like churches are emptying, and coffee chains fire you through like you’re being served by a pump action shotgun filled with espresso.
But a life without a third place is a life of loneliness and isolation. A life that exists only to work. Go home. Go to work. Go home. Go to work. Where does it end?
It ends with a third place.
The days before cell phones
Journalist Dan Kois regales us with tales of life before cell phones. Where you knew the three or four places after work your friends would be. If you went there, you’d usually bump into someone you know.
Think Central Perk from Friends. If Ross gets bored, he can head to Central Perk and just hang out till someone he knows shows up.
This isn’t a feeling I know. When I lived in Glasgow, I constantly wanted to try new places. I didn’t even go to the same Starbucks often enough to recognize the staff who were being churned through.
At the time, I thought it was great because I had this idea of being a lone wolf in my head. But I was just that: Lonely.
After I gave up my job to go full-time on my solo business, it got worse. I was interacting with even fewer people, and I was miserable. I didn’t have a third place I could go. I barely had a second place I could go since I worked from home (this was in 2017 before the 2020 pandemic made working from home cool).
It took years before it got better. I thought more work would help — screw capitalism — so I isolated myself further so I could work more. I had no idea what I was missing was a community around me. A third place I could go just to exist.
Walking my dog — My accidental third place
When I got my dog, I thought I’d explore the Scottish countryside to find new adventures. But the real joy came from my usual walking route. I’d see the regular dog walkers and we’d stop for a chat. One of the old guys I see tells me all about the tractor he’s restoring. I love it.
It clicked. It was these small acts of kindness I’d been missing. It’s this casual socializing that builds community. These all happen at your third place and are all important interactions that take you out of isolation.
This is why lockdowns were so damaging. A lot of these casual interactions disappeared, and many of us are finding it hard to start them up again. But we can and we must. We need third places for our happiness.
“I’ll have my usual”: A phrase I’ve always wanted to be able to say. I couldn’t tell you why until I learned about third places. It’s because there’s a sense of belonging when you can order your usual.
It happened recently in my favorite cafe in Nairn — Wendy’s. I was at the back of the cafe, not wanting to crowd the counter, and the woman who works there looked at me and shouted, “Two cappuccinos?” An instant smile spread across my face. “Yes please!”
Another time the owner Wendy saw my wife and me and asked if she knew us from somewhere. The same woman from before said, “What are you talking about? They come in all the time. That’s why you know them!”
Such a simple interaction has brought more meaning to my coffee buying than I could ever express. A third place is born.
Here are 4 rules for creating a third place:
1. It has to be somewhere public where you can linger without judgment
A few ideas:
- Your favorite cafe
- The climbing gym
- The dog park
- Yoga class
Don’t overcomplicate it. Head somewhere you like going and start going there regularly.
2. Go there at around the same time on the same days
I used to be sporadic about when I went to the gym, so I’d rarely see the same people twice. Not least because it was in a hotel. Once I started going around 7 p.m., I started seeing the same 7 p.m. gymgoers.
People are creatures of habit. Make the habit of going to your third place, and you’ll find people with the same hobbies.
3. Ask people’s names, introduce yourself, go out on a limb and say hi
I’m terrible with names, but I always ask. Then I ask again when I forget. People don’t mind, and it makes things even more friendly.
People aren’t scary. If you wouldn’t mind someone saying hi to you, then they probably won’t mind you saying hi to them. Unless it’s in the middle of a meditation class. Then you can save it to the end.
4. Remember to leave the house
It has never been easier not to leave the house. You can work at home, eat at home, and exercise at home. You can get food delivered, drinks delivered and never see the sun if you don’t want to. But that’s a lonely existence.
Having a third place has stopped me from feeling lonely. It’s stopped me from feeling disconnected and isolated.
It will do the same for you.
Pick somewhere to go this weekend and head out. You’ll feel better for it.
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