COVID Ruined Our Hangout Spots
Here’s how they come back
For Reid Shaffer, hitting the gym is about more than just physical exercise — it’s an excuse to flex his social muscles, too. By design, the gym presents plenty of opportunities to break the ice, the 25-year-old said; ask a stranger to spot you on a bench press or inquire about another gym-goer’s gear. These conversation starters have served him well: Shaffer, the general manager of a landscaping company in Farmington Hills, Michigan, has made several friends via gym small talk.
But when Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer ordered gyms, among many other non-essential businesses, to close their doors last March, Shaffer began to feel anxious and without an outlet to fulfill his social needs. “It’s a lot of missed connections and interactions that you could’ve possibly had,” Shaffer said.
As a critical component of social distancing measures, communal spaces like gyms, bars, restaurants, libraries and places of worship were forced to shutter early in the pandemic; more recently, some have reopened or are operating at limited capacity. Sociologist Ray Oldenburg coined a term for this these public and commercial gathering spaces — “third places,” locations that are not the home (known as the first place) or work (second place). Research shows access to these places enhances one’s quality of life and strengthens ties to the community.
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