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  • Carlos Arroyo

Third things


I recently came across Donald Hall's poem "The Third Thing" and it really struck a chord with me. I find it to be a very accurate observation of what relationships need to thrive. Here's an excerpt:

"We did not spend our days gazing into each other’s eyes. We did that gazing when we made love or when one of us was in trouble, but most of the time our gazes met and entwined as they looked at a third thing. Third things are essential to marriages, objects or practices or habits or arts or institutions or games or human beings that provide a site of joint rapture or contentment. Each member of a couple is separate; the two come together in double attention."

I love the phrase "to come together in double attention". I believe we do this unconsciously most of the time. We get together with (or are found by) people who share our interests. There is probably nothing more meaningful to us as humans than deep shared experiences. We define ourselves mostly by our interactions with the world. And I think that during this time of quarantines and lockdowns it has been quite hard to have or even plan these kinds of experiences. The only shared experience we certainly have had at some point during this year has been that of confinement and perhaps fear. We need to find a better third thing.


I find it fascinating to reflect on the third things we have with the people we love. How has that third thing strengthened our relationships? What other third things could we start partaking in? Another interesting aspect about third things is that sometimes they disappear, or fade, or die. But the loss of the third thing can become the new third thing: a deep shared experience of loss can be very powerful.


Our relationships need third things to grow, to evolve and to thrive. Let's make those third things noble and great and meaningful.