New York Times  Bestselling Author

Where is your Third Place?

Remember the show Cheers? Every person had his own seat at the bar. Each of them drank the same drink every day. Norm walked in and everyone said in unison “Norm!” You knew these folks were in a place of comfort and camaraderie.

If you’ve read my blog for a while, you know I spend a lot of time writing in The Opium Den, also known as my local Starbucks. I gave it that nickname years ago when I realized I had to go there each day. I figured the cup manufacturers lined the cardboard cups with an addictive substance activated by hot liquid. But I gradually understood the real reason I needed to go there: it had become my third place.

Writer Ray Oldenburg described ‘the third place’ in his book The Great Good Place. It can take many forms, but it’s always a place separate from home (the first place) and work (the second place) and it’s always welcoming and comfortable. Many of the people you find there are ‘regulars’, like Norm on Cheers.

I didn’t always have a third place. I’d never even walked into a Starbucks until eleven years ago, when I joined Match.com after my divorce and needed a safe, neutral place to meet the five gazillion gentlemen I got to know before meeting John.  I’d bring my writing to the Starbucks in my Northern Virginia neighborhood while waiting for a guy to show up, and soon I was looking forward to the writing more than the guy (until John, of course!). I started working there both morning and evening, making connections with other writers (You can so easily identify other writers. They type, then stare into space, then type some more), producing tons of pages and eating way too many pastries. When I moved to North Carolina six years ago, one of the first things I did was check out the location of the Opium Dens. Here I am in this 2006 photograph with my 2006 curly hair, happily ensconced in what is STILL my favorite chair. (One of the ‘regulars’ came in the other day and asked if I’d even moved from the chair since the morning before).

I adore my third place for what it doesn’t have–laundry, piles of stuff to sort through, bills to pay, dogs to groom, floors to vacuum. And I love it for what it does have–comfy chairs, soft (usually) music, friends to chat with, and of course, lots of coffee in those opiate lined coffee cups.

Do you have a third place? Is it a coffee shop? A bookstore? A gallery?  A bar? Maybe a church? What draws and keeps you there?

12 Comments

  1. Cindy Mathes on July 13, 2011 at 12:35 am

    I loved this Diane. I mean it really makes me think I am missing something. I don’t have a Third Place..and I was just sitting here in a funk trying to feel what ever this is I am feeling tonight. And then Here you are writing what I couldn’t put my finger on. I need that place. I have a very noisy house. Although all the kids are grown, and 2 are gone, it should just leave Mike and I. However, Tamara still lives here as well. Joining her here with our dog, Ruby, is Mike’s brother and Mike’s best friend’s son. We are helping both of them right now. The gkids are here a lot as we help with them while their parents work. Along with our gkids, comes the neighborhood kids. My house has a revolving door on it and I never know who will be here.
    I don’t have that other place. One where I can be at “home” without the laundry, kids, dogs and problems. I have gotten in the habit of sitting up late at night. Very Late…and sleeping late. Which by the way, I hate..as I feel like I am sleeping my life away. That time at night, is my quite, my sanctuary. So then, this is it. This is what I was trying to figure out. I need my Third Space…Somewhere where I am not the last on the list of things to do. It seems that what I want gets put on the very bottom of the list. And really, I usually don’t mind as I am that type of personality..where I fix everything for everyone else. I am the fixer, the holder up of all things in my world. Sometimes I just get tired of balancing it.

    I need to thank you also…Am I going to run out of space here? I felt like writing, but like you, I just didn’t know what to Blog about tonight. I feel as if I have hijacked yours. I started typing and then I was like, I should have put all these words in my Blog… Now I say goodnight as I have to go and pick my grownup daughter from work.

  2. Margo on July 13, 2011 at 8:29 am

    Definitely my 3rd Place is my Yoga Sanctuary…what is that you ask?…well, I’m fortunate to work for a company that is located in an old Mansion which has been renovated with offices…I’ve worked here 18 years and behind the Mansion is an old Carriage House that the owner of our business revamped into ‘open space’…our Yoga classes are held in this wonderful space that overlooks the most beautiful flower garden I’ve ever seen; including gorgeous water fountains…the birds and the deer, fox and all kinds of wild animals gather in the garden and love to watch through are huge glass windows as we peacefully practice our love of Yoga. I walk over to the Carriage House everyday, not only to practice Yoga but to sometimes just sit and think by myself, synchronize my own Yoga routine, read a book…it’s a wonderful place to getaway from everything and ‘breathe’.
    What draws me to this place is not only the peace & tranquility, but also the energy and the feeling of connecting with nature. I love it.

  3. Diane Chamberlain on July 13, 2011 at 10:24 am

    Reading Cindy and Margo’s two totally different responses is really something! Margo, how lucky you are to work in that mansion with the serenity of the carriage house nearby. The description reminded me so much of the Weymouth Mansion where my writer friends and I retreat a couple of times each year. It sounds blissful. But Cindy. . . I’m worried about you! It sounds as though you’ve created an amazing household for so many people…I think kids who grow up in a “revolving door household” (I didn’t) are so fortunate. But what a toll it must take on you. I hope you can carve out a little place and time for yourself somewhere. Hugs.

  4. Pat on July 13, 2011 at 10:47 am

    What a great thought! After pondering on it for a while I realized the Library is my third spot! You can sit there for as long as you want, (as long as your not disruptive) and no one will make you leave. Quiet, and all the books you could possibly want!

  5. Margo on July 13, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    Diane, when you first blogged about the Weymouth Mansion and showed photos, I thought of my place of employment…They look very, very similar. Its a joy for me to go to work everyday, not only because of the wonderful people I work with and for, but also for the beauty of the Mansion, Carriage House and Gardens. I am very, very lucky.

  6. Ann Weightman on July 13, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    It was Borders bookstore when I worked. They were in the same shopping center where I was employed. I was there every lunch hour. I would also go on Sunday evenings sometimes when I felt I needed my own space. I’m retired now and have rediscovered my library and that has become my new place. I still go to Borders, but not as much I used to. I seem to buy my books from Amazon now. I don’t have a Starbucks close to my home, but I visit my Wawa every day for coffee, and come home and sit on my porch….my 2nd favorite place…and read.

  7. Marlene Rosol on July 13, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    Well, I think you know my answer to your question! Your Opium Den is my Third Place too! Like Norm, they know my name when I walk into our local Starbucks, and they know what I drink and even what sweets I enjoy! The staff has to be the friendliest in all of Raleigh, and the ambiance is perfect for sitting by myself, reading and sipping, or getting together with a group of friends. Winter, summer, spring and fall — Starbucks is the place for all! 🙂

  8. Kelly on July 13, 2011 at 10:57 pm

    My son said this morning that I could save $10 a day if I ate breakfast and had coffee at home each day. However even though usually I live alone, my third place is the local breakfast restaurant. I know the waitress, like the coffee, read my newspaper – no vacuum, no chores, no phone. So I told him if I charged him $10 a night for the nights he has been staying with me, I could break even. End of conversation. Of course he has only been staying in my 500 sq foot apartment with me for a week and has a job and apartment as of sunday but even so…… thanks Diane – good blog.

  9. Diane Chamberlain on July 14, 2011 at 11:23 pm

    Marlene, it’s been so nice getting to know you as one of the regulars at the OD! Kelly, I’ve thought about how much my third place costs me, but decided to look at it as being much cheaper than renting an office. Only wish I could deduct it. 🙁

  10. Sher Laughlin on July 14, 2011 at 11:37 pm

    My third place is a public garden near my home. A cedar gazebo spans a lovely raised platform surrounded by themed beds: herbs in one, hostas on the shady side, native perrenials next, a grassy labyrinth overlooking wild marshlands. The oversized flower pots conceal speakers that play soulful music. And always I meet the same family from India, the grandfather and grandmother in native dress, the next two generations in western attire. For three summers we have met there. We don’t speak. We listen. We nod and smile to each other. They sit by the koi pond. I sit in the shade next to a speaker and its music. I walk the labyrinth. It is a good day when I go to the garden and find them there.
    I wander in this garden in the winter as well. The fairy lights against the snow make me happy. Funny, in the winter I don’t see the family there. I don’t really miss them then. I imagine they are home, surrounded by friends who share their aversion to black ice and frozen nose hairs. The aromas of Indian spices bubble up from whatever is on the stove. At least that is what I imagine. They’re probably in Florida.
    No, we are summer friends, this family and I. I would miss them if a summer went by without our paths crossing.

  11. […] each of the characters. So in the case of Midwife, I had five chunks of chapters. Then I go to the Opium Den, settle into my comfy chair, and read only the chapters belonging to a single character as I tweak […]

  12. Nikki on July 20, 2011 at 6:25 am

    Honestly not sure I have one but, if I did, I guess it is my parents house which is also my childhood home. I always feel so comfortable there.

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