Is a "Third Place" the Answer to Work-Life Balance Struggles?

In the early 2000s hit TV show "Gilmore Girls" it was Luke's Diner. On NBC's sitcom "Friends" it was Central Perk Coffee. On "A Different World" it was The Pit. "Third Places" can be seen all over our TV screens, but rarely do we actively think about curating a Third Place of our own. If you're unfamiliar with the concept, a Third Place is a physical location in your community that has a limited financial barrier to entry and allows you to interact with other people. The term was coined by Ray Olgenburg in his 1989 book "The Great Good Place."

A Third Place is unique from your first place (your home) or your second place (where you work) as it allows for a space for meeting and engaging with people both new and familiar. Natalie Jones, PsyD, licensed psychotherapist and advisory board member for POPSUGAR's Condition Center says "human beings are naturally wired for attachment, and our network of social connections is what helps us to be more resilient" — emphasizing just how valuable third places can be.

"An alternate space, where one can feel free to be creative, engage in eye-opening conversation and see a familiar face is the breath of fresh air you may have been looking to add to your routine."

Often, the limited financial barrier characteristic is the hardest part of finding a Third Place, as it seems everywhere you go these days involves a price tag. Oldenburg had eight total characteristics that define a Third Place, one of which requires that it be neutral ground: a place where no one has to be and where there are little to no pre-requisites for your attendance. Financial ability, political leanings, nor any other individual characteristics should impact one's access to this place.

In the past, the most common Third Place was a house of worship. Arguably one of the most famous Third Places in the Black community is a hair salon or a barbershop — a place that is often a mix of shooting the breeze, discussions on community affairs, and a breeding ground for activism and culture. Today, popular Third Spaces may be cafes, dog parks, public libraries, breweries, and skate parks. Learn more about how to cultivate a third place of your own and why it may be exactly what your routine needs.

What Are the Benefits of a Third Place?

In a world with an increasingly remote workforce, identifying a new space to spend your time is crucial to maintaining work-life balance and can contribute greatly to your mental health. Dr. Jones says "a combination of the social distancing mandate, as well as the fear of getting sick, and increased use of technology (e.g. social media, television, internet use) caused a substantial increase in people feeling disconnected from their social outlets." We all deserve respite from seeing the laundry basket overflowing in your bedroom-slash-office, or the stacks of paper piling up on your kitchen counter that doubles as a standing desk. An alternate space, where one can feel free to be creative, engage in eye-opening conversation, and see a familiar face is the breath of fresh air you may have been looking to add to your routine.

As you transition to different phases in life, you may find Third Places as the answer to "how do I make friends as an adult?" College grads moving for their first job, retirees looking to fill their schedules, or new moms who need a new activity out of the house, may all find Third Places a beneficial space to cultivate new relationships.

How Do You Find a Third Place?

Finding the right Third Place for you starts with reflecting on an activity you might be interested in, and where other people who like similar things may also be congregating. For example, if you like sports you may research a local run club or kickball league. If reading is your thing, maybe check out your local public library. They often have a robust programming schedule for residents.

I've found that using an activity as a starting point is helpful in engaging with new people as it provides a shared experience, therefore making it easier to initiate conversation.

I recently began ballet through a community rec program. Before I knew first position from second, I was able to break the ice by commenting on someone's leg warmers, or relishing in how great a class was as we changed back into our street clothes. Slowly, week after week, these inconsequential conversations evolved into venting about life at work or at home. Soon enough, I felt like I knew the people I was plie-ing beside every week and it became a place where I felt a true sense of belonging.

But finding a Third Place through an activity is not your only option. Sometimes it's as simple as frequently returning to the same place at a the same time and paying attention to the faces that stay the same. This winter I started going to the same coffee shop after work, three or four times a week. One afternoon, a young guy leaned over and made a comment on the stapled stack of notes I pulled out of my bag. Soon, we were in a lengthy conversation about his life after college, my desire for a new job, and what we would do if we didn't have to work anymore. It was a refreshing conversation with a stranger, and it became a recurring event. I returned to the coffee shop days later and saw him again, this time greeting him by name and asking how his last final went. Suddenly, I had a new friend and all it cost me was a $5 matcha latte and the courage to talk to someone new.

Keeping Third Places Inclusive

COVID-19 exacerbated the need for alternative spaces in our communities, but for those who are immunocompromised or disabled finding those spaces can be difficult. Unfortunately, the lack of extended COVID safety measures have excluded them from many of these potential Third Places. While virtual Third Spaces like discord groups, video games, and social media platforms can be great accessible options, everyone deserves a chance to safely access their public community. We can all play a positive part by advocating for the continuation of masked events, mandatory mask hours at local businesses, and outdoor event options.

With that being said, virtual options can make great Third Spaces or even be helpful in finding people to try out in person activities with you! Dr. Jones recommends utilizing your social media community to form in-person connections. It can be easier to identify other people with similar interest on the internet. Together, you can tackle the task of finding a Third Space in the real world!