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The Third Place

Last month, someone in my community Facebook group asked why Christmas carolers weren’t going around singing from house to house, anymore.

To be fair, I’ve lived here all of my life, and have had a caroler at my door never, but I get the sentiment, it was the holidays, and we all love a Hallmark movie moment during the holidays. 

I know the go-to response to these complaints now a days is lazy youth, and their cracked out avocado-guzzling heathenism and disrespect for tradition. 

But like, why the hell would anyone of any generation want to Christmas carol in 2023?

We both know the moment I step my little (knockoff) Ugg boot onto your porch you’ll be some blasting raccoon-eyed Ring camera footage of me to the whole town facebook group, accusing me of staking out the place like the Wet Bandits. 

I see people light pitchforks over cars that turn around in their driveways, and you’re confused why I’m not pa rum pum pum pum’ing you right now?

I really want us all to be concerned. Not about the gaggle of menacing teens in your driveway holding sheet music, but about how absolutely disconnected and insufferable we’ve become. 

I spend an excessive amount of time wishing my kids could have been teens in the 90’s. Or at least my romanticized, nostalgic idea of what the 90’s were at the time. 

No social media drama, no phones glued to our hands, riding your bike everywhere, weekends spent at the mall, nights at the skating rink, and all the MTV and Jonathon Taylor Thomas you could shake a stick at. Life was good. Fashion was better. 

But when I think about the real differences between my childhood and theirs, what I’m realizing is that I had a life full of community, and they do not. 

I blame the loss of the “Third Place.”

If you’ve never heard of this before, the concept of “third place” comes from Ray Oldenburg’s book, The Great Good Place, and the general idea is that people have three places: home, work, and then a third place they go to gather and socialize. It’s the place that truly makes and ties you to a community. 

Humans need that third place, and I don’t think we’ll survive not having it. 

Maybe it was bowling leagues, bunko nights, parks, barber shops, churches, community centers, or even just meeting up after work at the bar or stopping by for a drink on someone’s front porch. I mean, are we even building front porches on houses, anymore? 

Goodbye Central Perk. Goodbye Luke’s Diner. Norm? Never met him. 

The result is that we are lonely, we’re depressed, and we don’t feel safe anymore, because we don’t have neighbors, just people who live near us that we don’t know, don’t trust, and don’t feel connected to.

We live in a town of strangers we follow on Facebook for their drama.  This is why we don’t Christmas carol. 

From 2nd grade to 6th grade I went to girl scout camp for two weeks every summer, I didn’t see or hear from my parents for a literal fortnight, zero contact. Now I have a panic attack if my dog sitter doesn’t send me videos at least twice a day. 

I trust no one, I’m an anxious mess. We’re changed beings, folks. 

But hey, great news, we’re losing the intangible connective tissue, too.

Like the shared pop culture experiences we’ve sacrificed to streaming services. Now we just binge stuff on our own schedule, on one of the 900 rando platforms we’re subscribed to. I’m, like, 5 years late to Suits, apparently? (It’s good, but I’m only watching for Luis at this point, sorry Meghan) 

We aren’t racing home to watch big season finales or famous sporting events together like we used to. There are no water cooler Lost recaps or American Idol vote breakdowns. Remember the Friends finale? Huge deal. Now, I can’t even name one single show on NBC outside of Saturday Night Live.

I mean, does the thought of watching commercials makes me want to stab myself in the face, yes, but I remember watching Donna finally lose her virginity to David by candlelight, from the comfort of my college dorm with 5 girls piled on my bed, drinking cheap sparkling wine, crying happy tears because she waited so long, and it was finally happening for our girl. Core memory, worth the commercials. 

We’re also losing our local news institutions. Radio programs switching over to syndicated shows out of bigger cities. I have no idea who the hosts are, or any of the places they reference, because they aren’t my community’s places or my community’s people. 

Local newspapers have shuttered entirely. My mom has boxes of newspaper clippings in her attic from my childhood. Honor roll lists, sports photos, social events, engagement announcements. It was such a big deal to see yourself in print, especially as a kid.

Local prom famous. This was basically my family’s Christmas card in 1998, they were that proud. 

Not to mention it’s those local news entities that hosted Christmas toy drives, trunk-or-treats, emceed parades, and ran silly local contests for concert tickets. These are the fun community moments I remember about my town. 

You mean I can drop off an unwrapped toy at the mall and meet a locally famous radio DJ who takes my request to play Six Pence None the Richer every hour? Yes, absolutely, I am on my way.

And not to be dramatic, because I know we all love us some remote work, but we’re losing our second place- our shared work place- as well. 

So that means we’re down to one place. We are a one place people.

I just don’t think our lives were meant to be this small and insular. 

Is there a word for both loving and hating the things that are destroying us? Like, I don’t want to put pants on and go to an office, or order pizza on the phone with my voice, but I do want to chat with my neighbors every time I see them outside, and I like skipping the self check-out so someone else can ask me how my day is going and bag my groceries. 

I want whatever that balance is. 


Thursday 18th of January 2024

Can I recommend the book “Stolen Focus”- he talks about the loss of play, loss of community, and the damage social media is causing- real social problems being made worse because of the algorithms’ purpose just to ratchet up the intensity of everything people are watching. He’s a great narrator so it’s a great audio book. But the key is he offers up organizations that are working against all of the bad things you mention, trying to bring back the community, playtime, making an effort to work on the good. So not just a book about more problems, but how we can work towards the solutions.


Wednesday 17th of January 2024

This is spot on. A year ago, my husband and I left quiet suburbia for the big bad city of Chicago. We landed in a neighborhood that has such a strong community, and we're not leaving! Last summer, I had no idea where my kids were half the time. But all I had to do to find them was look for the pile of bikes and scooters. My kids trick or treated this year like we did in the 90s. Pillowcases, friends, out at 4 pm, break for dinner, back out at 7 pm for some nighttime tricks and treats. I haven't seen that much halloween candy since 7th grade. We have three block parties a year. Once I sent my daughter out with a mason jar because I needed a cup of milk for a recipe and I was out. She was back in ten minutes with the milk and a plate of fresh baked brownies. And. We Christmas carolled. Twice. Once with kids. Once with wine. It was grand. Whoever thought that we'd find such strong community in the city. I've spent most of my life in suburbia where, after my mom living in one house for 20 years, I had about 10 total conversations with our neighbors. Upon meeting one of our new neighbors shortly after moving in, he goes "and hey, welcome to Mayberry." So far, he's not wrong.

Brittany Gibbons

Wednesday 17th of January 2024

This is absolutely joyous to read. I hope it's contagious, we all need these places!

Patti Leach

Tuesday 16th of January 2024

Well said!

Brittany Gibbons

Tuesday 16th of January 2024

Thank you!

Josephine C.

Tuesday 16th of January 2024

Oh My Goodness, Brittany. Just add 80's in addition to 90's and it's like you are right in my head and voicing my exact thoughts. So SPOT ON. I just love your blog. I really do make an effort on the regular to keep my community going, but the reality is that people care less and less for various reasons, some through no fault of their own and it's truly sad. But I'm not giving up. Thanks for the sad yet absolutely lovely reminders. I 1000% would like the same balance you're looking for so please if you find it, send me some tips. xoxo

Brittany Gibbons

Tuesday 16th of January 2024

Don't give up! I know it's so hard, and I swear, some people might find me so annoying or nagging, but it's so important to keep these ties in place.


Tuesday 16th of January 2024

This hit me in my soft spot. Lost connections to nearly every connective social tissue is also making for world record levels of mental short circuiting. Community is one of the safety nets that stops a doom spiral from progressing into a fall to the fiery depths. Damn, I miss the 80s/90s.

Brittany Gibbons

Tuesday 16th of January 2024

I sometimes just lay in bed fretting over this exact thing!

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