Do you have somewhere you feel like you belong that’s not your house or office?
We spend most of our lives at work or home, but what do you do when you need a third place — somewhere you feel happy and comfortable, with friends, fun, and no judgment?
With a wave of loneliness sweeping the world, so many of us are missing out on a vital space of belonging and expression.
Is having a third place the key to reviving human connection? Do we really need a third place and, if so, how do we go about finding one?
What Is a Third Place?
The “third place” is a term coined by US sociologist Ray Oldenburg in his 1989 book The Great Good Place. It describes a place outside your home or work where you can relax and hang out.
Your first place is your home, a private and domestic space. Your second place is your work, a structured social experience and where you likely spend most of your time. Your third place is somewhere you can connect with others, share your thoughts and dreams, and have fun.
A third place is an anchor of the community and usually a public setting that hosts frequent and informal gatherings of people. Most people are loyal to their place and return regularly to unwind and socialize. It’s best if it’s located close to your home or work.
Your hangout spot could take the form of a coffee house, pub or bar, book club, beauty salon, local library, or the dog park — anywhere that builds community and shares the following common attributes.
Characteristics of the Third Place
Oldenburg defines eight characteristics for a third place, so look for these when choosing your next hangout.
It’s neutral ground.
People are there because they want to be there. They are free to come and go as they please with no consequence. There are no financial, political, or legal ties and invitations aren’t needed. Even if you don’t return to your third place for days or weeks, your return will be greeted with enthusiasm. This is a refreshing reprieve from your first and second places, which are often structured and require a time commitment. If you waltzed into your work or home after days of unexplained absence, you’d likely be met with divorce papers or a termination notice rather than a cheerful welcome.
It’s a leveling place.
A third place accepts people from all walks of life. It’s a level, unpretentious place where economic and social status does not matter, and there are no prerequisites for participation. Without a social hierarchy, a sense of commonality thrives among its people. Status and class can be major points of stress or contention in the first or second place, but when you arrive at your third place, it’s simply not relevant.
Conversation is the focus.
Playful conversation is the main activity in a third place. The tone is usually good-natured and lively, and the conversation is likely to be stimulating and engaging. These are places where humor and wit run freely and people are open to sharing their ideas and dreams.
They are accessible and accommodating.
Third places should be readily accessible and accommodating, meaning they are conveniently located (ideally within walking distance of your home), and they have long hours with no reservations needed. They often have free or inexpensive food or drink to accompany good conversation, although this is not always essential.
There are regulars.
The best third places have a host of regulars that habitually return there, and they’re an important part of the mood and atmosphere of the place. Although it should be easy to find a familiar face in your third place, they’re also open to newcomers. Regulars are also there to help new people feel welcomed and encouraged.
They keep a low profile.
Third places are wholesome and homely. They’re usually located in physically plain and modest places, and they’re never snobby or extravagant. Your third place should be comfortable and approachable — like a living room for the community.
It has a playful atmosphere.
When you enter your third place, you’re met with a spirited mood that makes you want to come back time and time again. It’s not a place for the tension or animosity that can often mar our first or second place. Instead, you’ll find laughter, lively conversation, and witty banter.
It’s a home away from home.
A third place has the same feelings of warmth and belonging as you’ll find in your own home. It should feel safe and steady, and you may feel regenerated after spending time there. You may feel a sense of ownership or that a piece of yourself is firmly fixed in your place. Mostly, you’ll just feel at home.
Why do you need a third place?
No matter how much you love your job or your home life, you need a place to get away from work and you need somewhere other than your home to hang out. And if you work from home or have babies or young children, a third place can be the only thing that gets you out of the house.
It’s somewhere that allows you to switch off from the worries of daily life and gives you the mental distance to relax and unwind.
How often do you actually leave the house to connect with people? Maybe you’re struggling to start over in a new city or perhaps don’t know how to make friends as an adult. Maybe you’ve retreated into a virtual bubble in your home.
As our homes become smarter, we have less reason to leave them, and instead of going out to socialize, we order in, shop online, watch Netflix, and scroll through social media.
But these are just substitutes for authentic connection. No matter how many devices are plugged in, we’re still disconnected from real human interaction.
Kira Asatryan, author of Stop Being Lonely, says that social media is a surrogate for friendship, and it makes us “feel like we have more people in our lives than we really do.” We gain validation from people interacting with our posts, but it further exacerbates the loneliness when people stop replying or engaging with us on social media.
Although some online communities can offer an important sense of inclusion and familiarity, it’s just not the same as more traditional means of connection. We need to balance our digital worlds with in-person relationships.
The Age of Isolation
As more and more people become withdrawn, we’ve found ourselves living in the age of isolation.
Recent studies have revealed some alarming statistics. Nearly half of Americans feel alone, a third of Britons suffer from loneliness, and 40 percent of people in the UK over 65 say that their pet or television is their main source of companionship, while more than half a million people under 40 in Japan haven’t interacted with anyone or left their house in at least six months.
We’re suffering from a global epidemic of loneliness, and it’s bad for our health. Chronic loneliness can cause a reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being obese. Lonely people are also more likely to have problems with drug abuse, depression, and sleeping.
A third place is a powerful antidote to isolation and exclusion. It restores connection, gives us an identity, supports us, and allows us to be our genuine self. Strong relationships are our greatest asset and so vital to our health and happiness, and third places are a haven for nurturing great relationships.
When you go to your third place, you can let your guard down. Everyone welcomes your presence and makes you feel valued. They make you part of something bigger than yourself. For many, they make life worth living.
How to Find a Third Place
It almost sounds too good to be true. What is this unicorn place where you’re surrounded by friends and get to laugh and banter to your heart’s content?
They do exist, and they’re not that difficult to find. You also don’t have to stick to one place. Switch it up and meet different people. Here are some tips for finding your third place.
Think about your ideal place.
Everyone has a different idea of a perfect third place. The best way to narrow down your search is to think about what you’d like to experience. Do you need somewhere to relax and recharge? Do you want to learn a new skill or practice a hobby? Do you simply want somewhere to chew the fat with new and old friends?
Focus on what you’d like to sense and feel. Do you want to enjoy a good meal and a glass of wine? Do you find a sense of calm in things like painting or listening to jazz music? Do you like chatting about books or walking your dog?
It’s also helpful to think about when you’d like to retreat to your third place. Do you love letting loose on a Friday after a long week of work? Maybe you can only get away on a Tuesday evening, or you prefer to recharge on a Sunday.
Consider your ability to access your new hangout place. Does it need to be within walking distance, or are you willing to drive or catch public transport?
Once you’ve considered all these factors, you’ll have a clear idea of your perfect third place. So where do you start looking?
Search your public spaces.
The public places around your neighborhood are great for getting an idea of the social networks around you. Go to your local park and you may find a group doing yoga or tai chi, or head to the skate park to find another community.
Cafes, bars, and libraries are good places to start looking, while weekend markets are filled with like-minded people and events. Your local theater or university may have communal hangout spots or free workshops, or if you have a dog, head to the nearest dog park to find a host of fellow dog-lovers.
Look for a place that encourages social activity.
Remember that the whole idea of a third place is to build connections with others.
Avoid falling into the trap of reverting to your local Starbucks, where most people have their heads stuck in a phone or laptop, and try not to rely on gyms, as most people aren’t there to socialize (although group classes can be a great way of forming a regular hangout spot).
Your third place needs to be somewhere that actively encourages people to interact with each other, and creates a space for conversation, activities, and fun.
Listen to your body.
Most important, your third place needs to be comfortable. A good sign that you’ve found your third place is that your body is relaxed. Be aware of your nonverbal cues, such as loose muscles and a calm mind.
Your presence should feel safe and easy, and you should not only feel rested, but rejuvenated when you visit your third place.
If you’ve noticed yourself feeling bored, withdrawn, lacking purpose, or you just feel like your life is off track, try seeking out a third place.
From easing loneliness and building friendships, to adding color to our lives, a third place holds the answer to almost every struggle we face.
[Featured photo by Louie Castro-Garcia]