Tuesday, May 10, 2011

405. The Third Place

I think I first heard about the concept of the Third Place back when I was in college. The idea is that people spend the majority of their time in two primary places (home and work), but, in order to stay healthy and happy, need a Third Place that is independent from the first two places. The Third Place is meant to be a reprieve from the stress of everyday life. Church could be your Third Place. Or an art studio where you take classes. Or the gym. Or Starbucks. Or a local bookstore. It is a place where people recognize you and greet you as a familiar presence.

When I first got married ten years ago, my Third Place was actually a second job I had at a ceramic studio. The owner trusted me with the keys (what was I going to steal? clay?) and I would often find myself there before or after hours, painting. Painting was therapeutic to me; I felt relaxed, rejuvenated, and refreshed after painting. I liked to create art.  My Third Place was an ideal fit for who I was then.

Shortly after I had my first son, I quit my part-time job at the ceramic studio, as well as my primary job as flight attendant. I went from three places to only one. Since my new full-time career was taking care of an infant now, the First and Second Place were the same place. While The Husband could escape from a tired me and a crying baby (or is that a crying me and a tired baby?), my worlds had melted together, like m&ms forgotten in the car on a hot day.

And my Third Place? The place that I longed to establish as my invaluable Third Place was a spot that already existed but that I had taken for granted all these years: my bed. Ah, yes. I did not want to make small talk with moms at the doctor’s office nor attempt to socialize at the park with other stroller-pushing zombies like myself: no. I wanted to sleep.

Let me clarify. I wanted to sleep for longer than two hours in a row. Five and half hours sounded like a sin. I would’ve been happy with four.

In the meantime, I felt my personality melting away along with the Second and Third Place. I was not sure exactly who I was anymore; but I knew I needed a place that was not my living room or my kitchen.

“What about the study?” The Husband offered helpfully, not clear on the concept of the Third Place. “The study is not the living room or the kitchen. What about our backyard?” he asked next, referring to a tiny patch of grass behind our house the size of a picnic blanket that we affectionately called 'our backyard', “The backyard could be your Fourth Place!”

This was not my Eureka moment. This was my moment of despair.

I did not get my Third Place at that time, nor even my Second. Not until my younger son was born a few years later did I find it, and in doing so, find myself.

When Short was about a year old, I informed The Husband I was going to get a job at the high-end kitchen store “just for the holidays.” The temporary holiday period strangely morphed from four weeks to four years.

Even though I love and cherish my two healthy and beautiful sons, I also love and cherish my healthy time away from them at the beautiful high-end kitchen store. I need that job as much as the job needs me. I probably need it more.

My Third Place has finally been filled by a local cafĂ© that I have been frequenting for quite a long time. The owner greets me with a cheery, “Hello, MOV!” and knows I will order panna cotta before I even know I will order it. She knows not to put tomatoes on my salad.  Sometimes I take Tall and Short with me for lunch or a treat, but mostly I just go by myself.

Everyone needs a Third Place. And it needs to be further away than the sliver of grass in the backyard.

(with thanks to Megan for the idea)

**readers:  tell me about your Third Place.  And did you have an experience like mine after having kids where the First and Second Place became indistinguishable?


  1. My first and second places are totally indistinguishable - I spend my days (and evenings) in the living room and kitchen, and my "office" is a desk at the back of the living room! Ack!

    I used to have my place, a little coffee shop across the street from my apartment where I could study, write, think, read, talk, eat.

    Now my "third place" is the car, because it's the only place I go where I have two hands free and a thought to myself. It's also where I pluck my eyebrows and where I catch up on my news. I don't think that the car actually counts, but it is what it is. (Maybe I should write about my car as my sanctuary?)

  2. Hey! I just got here from Hyperbole and a Half, and I must say I love it here. As a fellow Virgo, I agree on so many little things you say. I rarely believe the whole "astrology defining your personality" thing, but it's so spot-on at times that it's hard not to.

    Regarding my Third Place, I think it overlaps with my "home". I live in a small apartment by myself, and compared to the time I shared an apartment with a friend, living alone is so... relaxing and calm. Coming back to my quiet, little place after a long day of school and bus rides; it soothes my soul. Kinda.

    Happy Mother's Day!

  3. Car as Third Place. I had not considered that. Love it!

    And to my Fellow-Virgo: welcome! Hyperbole and a Half is a huge inspiration to me bec. she is so darn funny. I aim to be half as funny as her, but it might take me twice as long.

    Enjoy reading, and thanks for being here!!


  4. Many guys have a third place; it's called the garage; they are known as "garage guys." But I think that for me ideally, I would love a fourth place, besides a studio for alone, alone time and creative projects, when I want to be social, a coffee house, "where everybody knows your name."

  5. I'm still looking for my third place. Maybe I'll find it when my son leaves for college in the fall.

  6. garage! did not think of that, even though my own husband does disappear out there from time to time to rearrange all his tools and piles of wood and stuff.

    le'ann, maybe college is your son's Third Place??



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