Third Place

Dear Friends, 

It’s been three months since my husband, Craig, and I settled in Manhattan. While I understood it would be a challenge and take time to make meaningful connections here – everyone seems to scurry from one place to the next in hurried determination – I didn’t expect it to be this harrowing.

After all, I had no trouble making friends when living abroad in two foreign countries. I had built-in opportunities through the boys’ schools and sports clubs, my workout groups, and neighbors. It’s true that we are new empty nesters, and our sons are now grown and live in different cities; we can no longer count on the ease of meeting other parents through them. But why am I surprised that I haven’t made a single connection on an island of 23 square miles and 1.63 million residents?

I partially blame myself. 

Since our return from Europe (Craig and I lived in Stockholm and London for over eight years), we have been focused on work and reconnecting with friends and family in neighboring states, gathering for celebrations we would otherwise miss if we still lived across an ocean and a six-hour time difference.

I’ve also been spending too much time inside our apartment. I didn’t set out to pass my days sitting at a small desk in the guest room, but I needed a private space, a room of my own if you allow, to establish a routine as a new writer. Writing a memoir is a soul-searching endeavor that requires you to revisit and examine significant moments in the past, some of which can shake and bring you to tears. Until I was more comfortable with the process, I wouldn’t consider venturing out, although I fantasized about living a writer’s life in the city. (There’s also the fact that I often talk aloud. Something about speaking the words makes them real and helps with editing. Not sure the public would appreciate my practice, but then again, this is New York City 🤓.)

My online writing community and work as a property manager and board Co-Chair for a national nonprofit kept me from noticing that I hadn’t yet made a friend IRL. I had grown accustomed to my routine and wondered if I had unknowingly become an introvert. (The answer is brilliantly clear for those who know me well.) I even retook the 16 personalities test to see if my source of inspiration and energy has shifted these past years, especially as I spend a good portion of my days in isolation. But, I am a person who needs the energy of others to be at my best.

So, I searched earnestly for fellow writers and ponderers in local cafés. Many coffee shops I visited did not invite lingering, as evidenced by the limited seating and lines of nomophobics edging toward pick-up counters. Admittedly more of a fan of their community outreach than coffee, I imagined spending mornings in the creative buzz of a Starbucks, fueling on their milder Veranda coffee blend and tapping away on my laptop. I wandered to several of their renovated stores near my apartment and saw similar changes where they notably traded their inviting nooks and tables for the digital convenience of preordering and take-out.

I’m wondering what is left now that this beloved Third Place for writers and creatives doesn’t seem to exist in brick-and-mortar. Surely there is something I’m not considering. After all, this is a major city. If London has local pubs, Stockholm cozy cafés and Fika, undoubtedly something similar exists here.

In the meantime, I want to be intentional about making friends I can give my energy to while discerning the kinds of people I want to surround myself with. I’ve thought about this for some time: how we are the average of the five people with whom we spend the most time. In an exciting city like this one, I’ll need to think differently about ways to make connections outside of writing and step out of my comfort zone.

I am deeply grateful for my community beyond state and country lines and virtually, including you, dear readers. Thank you for taking the time to read and share.

In the spirit of friendship, I am curious if there is a facet of your life that can benefit from contemplating or thinking differently. What would stepping out of your comfort zone look like?

With love and this Season’s best wishes to you for a healthy and joy-filled 2023.

Nancy

Morning bite at a London cafe before writing

Published by

Nancy Roldán Johnson

Author of La Mariposa: An Empowerment Program for Adolescent Latinas, Co-Founder of Together for Latinas, Inc., Co-Chair of the One Circle Foundation

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