“When you have to go there, they have to take you in…”

blog pub flowersIn the bad old days when the British wanted to suppress rebellion in Catholic Ireland, they didn’t forbid attendance at the Mass. They knew what happened during that rite, who would be there, how long it would last, and where people went afterward.

They closed down the pubs instead.

DRNA1017, Cafe Grecco, Hamburg, 19th Century German coffee houseMany sociologists attribute the French Revolution to coffee, not because caffeine turns us into wild-eyed political radicals, but because the coffee houses created a place outside the watchful eye of the monarchy, where ideas could be exchanged, groups assembled, and plans hatched. Coffee houses, clubs, and pubs were thick on the ground in Georgian London, serving the same function in commercial, artistic, political and literary circles.

blog irish pubWhen I was in high school, one of my dad’s graduate students, an Irishmen, commented on how lonely Americans were compared to what he’d seen elsewhere. “You have no third place,” he said. “You have work and home. You try to make church that third place, but it’s church, where you’re supposed to act a certain way, believe certain things, and show up at a certain time. You need a good corner pub in every neighborhood, and you’d solve a lot of your problems.”

blog cheersThink of “Cheers,” of the sense of community and acceptance that fueled the show through nearly a decade of silly episodes, and you get his point.

For some that third place is the gym. Crossfit thrives not only because of a different approach to the physiology of fitness, but also due to a different approach to the gym community. For me, for some very tough years, that third place was the horse barn. My routine was built around those three or four mornings a week when I’d schlep an hour to barn.

dante heather rainbowThis is where my instructor would start a lot of lessons by asking, “So how’s the writing going?” and a tired, dull, work-oppressed day would turn smile-ly. My ridin’ buddies knew me, and I’m still in touch with the friends I made at that barn.

In any community, there’s a price of admission–buy a pint, keep your fists to yourself. Don’t criticize the gun laws. Bring your knitting, even if you haven’t learned to purl yet. Read the book we’re discussing, or at least pretend you have.

But for that relatively low price of admission, you get in return an open door policy, and often, and open-hearted policy. I can’t help but think if we had more of these third places–away from the pressures of home and work, easy to get to blog book cluband easy to leave, flexible hours of attendance–we might do better than a 36 percent turnout at the polls, and we might not be so lonely.

Do you have a third place? If you were looking for one, what would make you feel welcome? Have you read any romance novels that have as their series connector, a third place, or experiences shared at at third place?

To one commenter, I’ll send a $50 American Express gift card.



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43 comments on ““When you have to go there, they have to take you in…”

  1. No, but I desperately need one. I’m trying to find perhaps a Meet Up group but it’s difficult because I don’t like to go out at night by myself and I work full time.

    • A breakfast club sounds more suited to your schedule. I’m less and less keen about evenings out. Especially this time of year, I get paranoid about hitting a deer on some back road….

      The library might have some reading groups that meet on weekends? I love libraries, and librarians seem to know the community better than anybody.

      Happy hunting, but hold out for the group that’s right for you.

  2. I’m have a few third places in my life but I still feel like the odd one out at all of them. Every Thursday evening we have our community group, which is made up of three couples from our church. I purposefully joined a group made up of fairly new couples from our church because we have been there for 13 years and I wanted to get to know some new people. Our church has been experiencing a lot of growth and I thought this would be good for us. I like the other couples but am a little left out because the other ladies’ children go to the same school and their husbands work together. So during the first part of the group where we are snacking and chatting I don’t have much to add to the conversation and I am trying to make sure the boys understand the rules of the house, again.

    I also go to a book club once a month made up of some terrific women but, again, I often feel like the odd one out because these women all socialize with each other on a weekly basis. I have known these ladies for years and consider them friends but I am just not able to do much socializing because of my house dynamics. We also get together about once a month with our husbands in tow for a couples’ game night. We just did this last night and we always have a lot of fun but when we are just eating and chatting I am left out of most conversations. Last night they were all talking about the big Alaskan cruise that all the couples, except me and Eric, are going on this coming July. Which when it happens will be another subject I am left out of. We were invited to go on the cruise and they still want us to find a way to go but there are too many factors keeping us from going.
    As for books, there is a great NA series by Jay Crownover called The Marked Men series and one of the things I love about this series is the bond all the characters share. They are a bunch of lost souls that have come together to form their own family. The ladies get together every Thursday for “Girls’ Night” while the guys that are able to get to have their guy time. They also get together as a family as often as they can. I am currently reading the latest book in the series called “Rowdy” and love getting immersed in their world that is so much different than mine.

    • Sarah- do you ever do something by yourself? Without your husband or boys?

      My husband loves my dogs but will never ever attend a dog show or a training class.
      I think of my classes as ‘me’ time and I have met many new friends with common interests–corgis. It’s taken awhile to make friends in the dogs groups but well worth it. I have several great mentors and we talk about all sorts of things besides dogs. 🙂

    • Gads, Sarah…. but I know why you don’t ever pipe up with, “DO YOU PEOPLE NOTICE HOW EXCLUSIVE YOUR CONVERSATIONS ARE???”

      About a week into my last tour of Scotland, when for the eleventy-jillioneth time, all the couples who’ve had decades to enjoy each other’s company AGAIN sat only with each other on the bus, I said something to one of the wives. I was simply noting a pattern: You come to Scotland for a once in a life time trip, meet people you’ll never get to spend time with again, and spend the entire trip glued to the side of somebody you’ve had years with. Struck me as odd.

      And…. soon, the nice lady was pity-sitting beside me.

      And I bet I know what happens at the autism support groups, too: You do the supporting.

      ARGH! I agree with Sue, time to do some stuff for you, by your own self. Easier said than done, I know…

      • My book club/game night friends are at least great at trying to include me, but when I wasn’t there for the event they are discussing it’s hard to have anything to say about it.
        I have never attended an autism support group. I wanted to when the twins were first diagnosed but they were all in the evening and at that time my husband worked nights and now he isn’t even home until 7:00 most evenings.
        As for something all my own, I think that was why I loved going to the RT convention so much in 2013. It was something just for me. It didn’t involve the boys, autism, my husband or softball. Unfortunately things like that are once a year and aren’t cheap.
        It would be nice to have somewhere to go once a week but with Eric not getting home until 7:00 it won’t be happening and I can’t pay a sitter every week or expect my mom to battle homework with the boys while I go off and do things. It’s hard enough to make a once a month book club meeting and in fact I have only been able to attend 3 of the 6 we have had. Maybe when Luke is old enough to be left home with his brothers I can start venturing out.

      • Sarah- is there a writers group in your area?
        You have a wealth of knowledge about books and are writing a book.
        Wonder if there is a chapter of RWA near you…..?
        I travel three hours to take a herding lesson or a tracking lesson.
        It’s been a good thing for me to figure out what I need to do to get a title or training, attend a class and figure out how to get there..on time.

    • Hi Sarah,

      I understand, relate and further more, have lived your life. People around you–your friends in those groups–accept you and can even sympathize with you but they are not able to truly understand….not because they don’t WANT TO but because your lifestyle is so foreign. They talk about that cruise and I am sure, they think (not in a mean spirited way at all) if you did a little planning and tweaking, you should be able to. But in order to go, you must plan the autism version of the invasion of Normandy……and I’m not joking……and sometimes it’s just so much freakin’ work, you don’t have the energy left over to actually DO IT.

      I was involved in the autism support community (a prez of a local autism support group for a good number of years)and can tell you it can make a difference in your life. Those people WILL know what you are going through and WILL have suggestions on how you could go on that cruise….maybe a babysitting/respite exchange…and will not judge you. The group I was Prez of had a yearly holiday party with a Dad dressed as Santa so we could all get those precious holiday pix of our kids. We had swimming parties ever summer—rented out the local pool–and had great *normal* times. We had child care for at least half of our regular (not the two parties) monthly meetings a year (we didn’t meet July or August)and that was a huge help in situations like yours. The folks in that group became my *third place* because no matter what, they understood.

      My son with autism is in his 30s and for a while, I was also involved in the adult developmental disability support world…..and then I just *dropped out* because, as Grace suggests, I was doing most of the supporting and not getting any support myself. I was empty and unhappy and tired of always being the one to listen.

      Now my *third place* is rehearsal for the chamber choir I conduct. I write about choral ethics for my professional society. I lecture about music and disability (bringing my profession and my home life together)and music inclusion. And occasionally see my *autism girlfriends* from our old support group for lunch and we catch up….we’re all different, with different family structures but we understand what it takes to do what we do in the *normal world* and are proud of each other.

      Sarah, find something you love and make that your *third place*…….cut down on the things that make you feel like an outsider and become your own *third place* from the inside out!

  3. Gallagers Pub was the third place for the characters in Nora Roberts Gallagher of Ardmore series. The Pub was the centerpiece of the novel where the characters went to share a meal, have a beer or watch the local entertainment (sometimes the Gallaghers themselves), Gallagers was central to each of the three books: Jewels of the Sun, Heart of the Sea and Tears of the Moon.

    My third place is with my corgis! I have an obedience lesson scheduled for each Saturday morning. I bring bring Celeste and Greg and sometimes Rose to class. The dogs and I feel comfortable at the training center and with our teacher. Celeste has made such progress this past year. She sits, stays, heel and downs and has learned most of the beginner rally signs. Sometimes, it hard to get up and get ready early after a long work week. I am always glad that I go to class. It’s time for me and my dogs. I have learned a lot from my teacher and we share experiences and ideas. Celeste and I are working as a team. It took lots of practice and patience — well worth it.

    I think your third place can be a place without any walls, too. Yesterday, I took four dogs and headed up to the Mass. Agricultural Fields to track with a friend who has permission to use one of the fields. It was cold but a gorgeous Fall day. We have tracked here before– it’s a gorgeous piece of property. I am very lucky to have a friend to mentor me in tracking. She understands dogs and is teaching me so much. Each dog got a chance to follow scent and was rewarded. Celeste tracked three times , found ALL of her articles , followed the scent and made a right hand turn and was an exhausted corgi last night. It was a great day 🙂

  4. It’s so true that having a community — or two or three — where you are accepted is nourishing for the soul. My quilting group is one, and my women’s entrepreneurial group is another — and they feed different aspects of my life.

    Author Julie Ann Long uses a pub in the town of Pennyroyal Green as third place, where townsfolk can gather and share a game of darts, camaraderie and a pint. Almost all the characters in her series drop by the pub at some point.

    • I hadn’t thought of Julie’s series, but you’re exactly right, and another characteristic of the pub? Enemies are expected to behave with civility toward each other there. The Pig and Thistle is a Little Switzerland–neutral territory, where the identity “member of the community” trumps whether you’re a Redmond or an Eversea.

  5. Back when I was a sweet young thing (in the 60s) I was in the army and stationed in Frankfurt Germany for a year an a half. During my off time my friends and I would hang out at the local Gasthaus which seemed to be a combination tavern and restaurant. Had a lot of lively (but friendly) debates and discussions about the hot topics of the day (Vietnam, race relations, etc.). It had a wonderful atmosphere. It was not uncommon to see entire families there for a evening out.

    Nothing like that in my life right not though. I thought when I retired I’d be more active in groups I had dropped out of as I grew older – but that didn’t happen. I have chronic back pain – but maybe I’m just using that as an excuse. Have to think about that.

    On the plus side though, I was one of the 36 percent that did vote. Didn’t have to stand in line though because of the poor turnout. My back was happy, but my mind was sad.

    I have voted all of my life and it hasn’t always been easy. I’m a liberal minded person who lives in a very conservative state and many a time I have wondered why I even make the effort. But I have always felt that anyone who was fortunate enough to live in a democracy OUGHT TO VOTE even if they had to hold their nose while they did it.

    Okay, I’m getting off the soap box now.

    • I think that soapbox–we should VOTE–is one most people here would agree with. Mine was the first generation that could vote in presidential elections at age 18, and by heaven, vote I did.

      I also think that despite all the gobboons of money spent in this election, all of the victories, for whatever side, were mostly quite narrow. Nobody was voted in or out on a huge popular majority, so some accommodation and compromise would seem to make sense.

      Your vote, though from a minority perspective in your state, helps make that compromises and commonsense more attractive.

      My two.

  6. nope, I don’t have a third place. I wish I did, although going there would take away from book reading time, so perhaps I don’t really want one after all!

    • Increasingly, I think our third places are becoming virtual. Young people hang out on Facebook, play Farmville, belong to gaming communities, or haunt Wattpad.

      I like hanging out with book friends (obviously), but I’m not very social, generally. I found the horse barn crowd because I like horses. I found a newspaper crowd in college because I like to write. The activity came first for me, not the people.

  7. When I was a teenager we had our drug store. I had to catch a bus there but my friends who were all walkers would wait with me most of the time. Most everyone walked except a small percentage and that always made me feel like an outsider – they’d walk everywhere such as to the movies, shopping, libary and church but if my parents didn’t drive me I was out of luck.

    When we worked in town all the men would gather at the bars, my hours were later so I never went and back then not too many women were included.

    Once I quit working and had my kids I didn’t see much of anyone until they hit grade school age and then I joined a women’s group, helped with girl scouts, and joined a bowling leage. It was wonderful talking to other women again. My husband and I also do a lot with the American Legion which gives him lots of men to talk with and besides volunteering, we do group things together too.

    My sister never worked except for a few months and she had one friend that moved away and she doesn’t belong to anything. I would be crazy by now if I were her lol.

    • You allude to an excellent point. Women have a lot of options if they want some extra company–church stuff, reading groups, knitting, parenting–but a lot of guys will hit retirement with very few relationships outside of work and family.

      Which is, in the opinion of some sociologists, why a lot of guys DIE within a year of retirement.

  8. I don’t have a third place and I really wish I did. I think a book club would be the most natural place for me, but I kind of balk at having to read something specific in a certain time frame, so it would have to be more free form than the traditional one. Rather more of a place to just discuss books the group is reading, kind of like some of the blogs I visit. I used to have a third place, it was an animal rescue/shelter that I volunteered at, and I came away with several great friends that I still keep in touch with, even though I’m across the country from them now. In fact I got scolded by one because when I was recently back home, I didn’t have a chance to get together with her.

    • One of my most enjoyable academic experiences was a graduate seminar I took when pursuing a master’s conflict. Everybody was supposed to read a book each week from the required reading list, and report on it for ten minutes. That meant we each read ten books, and heard about seventy others, all within our discipline.

      I learned so much, and had such fun with that group. Wonderful discussions, great debates, and some of the most thought-provoking books I’ve ever come across.

      So your approach can work really well, with the right people.

  9. Yes, Grace– I do have a third place, where everyone knows at least my first name: Alcoholics Anonymous. It’s a wonderful place to be, and has been for a number of years. I wish I could still go to the pub or a winery because they, too, are wonderful places, but just no longer an option for me.

    I join others like me around a table– by that I mean other teachers, lawyers, newspaper editors, physicians, nurses, social workers, mechanics, farmers, housewives, bankers, teenagers, and retired people. And we talk about life and love and sorrow. We laugh a great deal because we can– now, at least. We have sober New Year’s Eve parties and whoop it up with great abandon and amazing picnics in the summer. We have candlelight gatherings on Thanksgiving eve to share our gratitude.

    I am not ashamed of my membership in this superb organization, but I do honor the commitment of anonymity I made when I joined. Sometimes I go 7 days a week and sometimes I go once a month, but I am always welcomed and understood. So you are entirely correct that such third places usually have an open-hearted policy– in AA, we will love all comers until they can love themselves. That’s a priceless gift.

    Thanks, once again, for a thought-provoking entry.

  10. My third place is the theatre. We have an amazing, vibrant community theatre where I live, and even when the people drive me batty (it takes ALLLLLLLL kinds, right?) I wouldn’t want to lose it! I’ve been on the board, I currently run the box office, I’ve done lights, stage managed, and production managed. My first and eternal love is acting! I’m beyond excited because I was just cast in a show that goes up in February! Truthfully, the connections I’ve found volunteering there and in other theatres has made me feel like part of something. I do a small bit, but I see it make a real impact. I give and I take and I’m blessed.

    I can’t think of third places off the top of my head, but I’ll be looking for them now!!

    • For you, and for many people. All the good things–community, health, fun–can be wrapped up in one. Hasn’t worked for me so far, but I haven’t given up hope. The horse barn had some of the qualities of the social gym–we certainly worked up a sweat–and maybe that’s why I enjoyed it so.

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  11. I really don’t have one – I use books (and some book blogs) as my relaxation. I do try to get together with friends a couple times a month, but our different work schedules and the need to get things done on days off make it difficult. Luckily, I get along well with my coworkers and we often have non work related conversations.

    • I don’t really have one now either, Glenda, though I have circles of friends. Author buddies, Scottish music and culture buddies. Lawyer buddies… well, sorta. I’m also involved in online communities (like this one!), and they fill a need to some extent.

      We’re Americans, and that third place is a puzzle to us, in part because we’re not inclined to limiting our loves to a narrow geographic ambit. When I tell my Brit friends that my house is twenty-five country miles from my office, they often ask if I take the train.


  12. Hmm… right now life is pretty busy between work and school. Normally I hang out with my girlfriends. I like Starbucks, or we may pick a different place. My girlfriend and I are going on a day trip on November 22nd, that will be a good day.

    • Starbucks took advantage of that “third place” vacuum, and nobody else seems to have made the same effort. Then Starbucks got rid of the cozy couches in favor of more durable, hard, furniture, and I think that was a bad move. They do serve hot chocolate though… makes up for a lot when a place has excellent hot chocolate.

  13. I am blessed to have a couple of groups that are my third place. In one of the groups we are close friends and try to get together for something every couple of months. My second group is a pool exercise class for those with chronic conditions. We bonded quickly, but it is not a “woe” is me group (thankfully). The group goes out for lunch every other week.

    • One of my lawyer friends has been swimming in the early mornings at the Y for decades. Some of her swimming friends, whom she might only talk to five minutes a day, have come up with terrific insights, great feats of generosity, and excellent, much needed jokes.

      I think there’s something about a swimmer’s mentality– determined, smooth, powerful–that makes for meaningful friendships. You glide through that water, you don’t fight it. Good skill to have.

  14. i love your books.

    And, your comment about a *third place* resonates strongly with me.

    Like you, I have my barn refuge. But, I also have my yoga studio refuge. Both give am a safe place to explore another side of my self. And both are deeply, wonderfully welcoming, safe, and soothing. .

    • First, thanks for the atta girl. Authors love it when their books find the right hearts.

      Second, seems everybody I talk to who’s found a good yoga instructor falls in love with yoga, and that sense of a “safe place” is part of it. The studio is a safe place, and paying attention to your body becomes safe too.

      OK… might have to renew the search for a class near me. Winters here, and cozy, stretchy, friendly sounds really good about now…

    • THAT is wonderful. I recall how absolutely bumfuzzled I was when I went to my first chapter meeting, and EVERYBODY was friendly. They were interested in me, my writing, my aspirations. Took some getting used to, but it’s been true of every writer’s gathering I’ve attended.

  15. My 3rd place is my Friday morning Bible study group. Yes we do a study every autumn and spring; but we also do service projects, and have a social component as well. These gal pals have been a lifeline for me ( during some very challenging times.)

  16. My third place is quite odd-every Tuesday night, and occasionally some other nights, I can be found at the VFW Hall (which has a floating wood floor) with the Ceili of the Valley Society. Ceili (pronounced kay-lee) means ‘party’ in Irish Gaelic, and it is two hours of Irish social dancing. Some folks who do it shuffle around, some are step dancers who grew up and still dance on their toes Riverdance style-some fall in the middle-but it is fun music and you have no choice in that you have to talk to people, even just to do the dances, which are a little like origami with people. On the second Friday of every month, there is a Ceili Mor (big party) with a live Irish group playing and a professional dance caller down from Portland. I moved here from Southern California six years ago and these are the people that I connected with.
    We meet up at various Celtic events. We demonstrate our dances at retirement homes. We even go to each others’ parents’ funerals. We all do different things for a living, and some of us. me, for example, have beloved husbands who absolutely have no interest in dancing or Irish music….but it is a real social group, and I don’t know what I would do without it. You are so right that we need a third place.
    I can’t think of any romances that use this, but it is a standby of murder mysteries! In fact, every time I help with the local Tree People, planting trees in various parks, there is a certain point where I always think “this is where we find the body” and look at my fellow planters for suspicious characteristics…