We often hear people — usually younger people — complain about the lack of third places in post-COVID-19 America. In sociology, a third place is a space that’s not related to your home (first place) or your work (second place).
And they’re absolutely right. I have personally felt this, especially during the summers when I’m far away from campus. Here’s a thought experiment — if you were back home for the summer and couldn’t meet up with your high school friends, who would you hang out with?
Maybe you have some siblings or cousins. Maybe your parents have a chill vibe. But c’mon, I mean non-relative friends.
Back in the day, you would see third places everywhere, such as old heads hanging out at a barber shop or hooded teenagers at a skatepark.
With the decline of religion and the rise of e-commerce and work from home, there are less and less reasons to leave the house. When you do leave the house, there are even less reasons to talk to people.
Small talk feels like a relic of a time gone by. Think about it, don’t we associate small talk with small towns, southern culture and, most of all, older grandmas? There are too many headphones these days. Everyone feels like a stranger.
There’s a psychological and sociological aspect to this, as many experts assert that isolation decays our mental health. I’ll let the experts attempt to sort that out.
What I know is that these days you have to be the one to initiate, which is scary, until you realize there is a demand for it. There are people out there yearning for connection as much as you are. I personally believe that even if you already have an established social life, interacting with new people is a must for a fulfilling life.
I made one of my closest friends at an LA Fitness. All he did was ask me about my jump rope brand, and I accepted the implicit invitation to converse. Before I knew it, we were taking a trip to Chicago together.
Who says you can’t make friends after the age of 20?
But look, it’s good to be prudent with your social venues. Most people at the gym really are there to exercise. So this is where I arrive at the part of this article that makes the title make sense.
For a summer hot take, I believe that the pool is the best modern day third space. Yes, the pool.
Why do people go to the pool? To relax. Whether it’s swimming, grilling or tanning. And a relaxing environment makes for a social one.
There’s no religious context. No one is there exercising or grocery shopping. It’s not a dance club with loud music or a bar where the point is to drink.
None of that. People go to the pool to read a book or take a nap before dipping themselves in the water. Maybe there’s a hot tub nearby. Oftentimes these people are secretly hoping they’ll meet someone chill, so why don’t you be the person to introduce yourself?
School and work can’t be used as a social crutch forever. Some of the closest friends I’ve made have been at apartment complexes or community center pools.
The pool is America’s new third place, and what a refreshing one we need in this heat!