Becoming who you want to be and finding where you belong

Readers, last night, for the first time this year, I caught myself thinking wistfully of the coming fall, with its crisp mornings, turning leaves, and completely different routine. School starts next week here, so I’ll get one of the three, and soon. But it will be at least six weeks for the other two.

That put me in mind of an experience I shared this time last year in my newsletter. We have a lot of new readers around here since this went out by email, and I wanted to share it again here today, in this public space, because it all still rings so true, and feels so right, for right now. (This is pretty typical of newsletter content; if you like what you see and you’re not on the list, click here to get these monthly-ish deliveries in your inbox.)

I hope you enjoy this piece, whether it’s again, or for the first time. And I’d love to hear about your Cheers experiences in comments.

***** ***** *****

I have a big life goal: I want to be a regular, somewhere.

Two and a half years ago, Will and I moved our family to a new-to-us old house in a hundred+-year-old neighborhood, one where we can walk and bike to buy our books and brunch and coffee. We love it here, we feel like we belong, it’s felt like home since Day One.

But we’re still working on that “being a regular” thing. When we go to brunch, they don’t know our order, even if it’s always almost the same. Weirdly, I go to the coffee shop now less than I did when we moved in. (Unsurprisingly, they know me at the bookstore, but it feels like cheating to count it.)

Everybody might not know our name at our brunch spot, but there seem to be a lot of regulars there. This summer, we’ve seen the same couple sitting at the same café table with their dog. The same people duck in for coffee on their way to work.

I’m a writer: I know everyone has their story (and it’s an occupational hazard to wonder what, exactly, each person’s story is). But there’s one particular woman at this brunch spot—and she’s clearly a regular—whose story I really want to know.

We see her when we stop in on Thursdays. She’s well-dressed, right down to her reading glasses. She always has a salad in front of her, a half bottle of wine, a little bread. She’s usually reading The New York Times when we arrive, and moves on to a paperback before we leave.

I have so many questions.

Does she eat there every day? How long has she been coming? Do the staff know her by name, do they know her order by heart? How did she establish this routine, and what does it mean to her? And, perhaps most importantly: can I be her when I grow up?

The school year is about to start, where I live. Something that surprised me about becoming an Adult was how much the school calendar dictated the rhythms of my life, even though I didn’t have kids. Now I have kids, and boy, does my life ever change when school starts.

Three months ago, I couldn’t wait for school to let out for the summer. Now, I’m eager for school to begin—and for the new rhythms, and new routines that will bring. And as I think about what I want those rhythms to look like, my thoughts keep returning to this woman, and her rhythms, her routines. They’re not conventional, but they sure seem nice, and they seem to work for her.

As I turn this corner into quasi-fall (so-called because it can’t be real fall when the forecasted high is still in the 90s), I’m hopeful that I will find the rhythms that work for me, even if they’re not exactly conventional. And I hope the same for you, that you will find the server who knows your name and your order, who will deliver your salad and Americano (though not in that order), and happily tell you they’ll see you next Thursday. That those rhythms will suit you, even if they’re not the ones that would work for everyone else.

I’ve only ever seen two episodes of Cheers, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to find my own version of the neighborhood spot in my own life. Do you have your own place where you belong? Please tell us about it in comments.


Leave A Comment
  1. Joanne Long says:

    It’s familiar to have a server ask if you want your glass of wine today or to know where you always sit. I tend to sit at the same table even when I travel. I’m getting tired of summer. Even though I’m partially retired, I miss the routine of school days. I like September better than August. There’s a woman in our little village who fascinates me. She is elderly now but I’ve seen her over the years. She is always so well coordinated with raincoat, hat and umbrella!
    She has coffee at the bookstore often. My mum and I go to the same restaurant every Sunday after church.

  2. Jeanne Sentell says:

    My husband and I go to the same Mexican restaurant almost every Friday night. There is a Mariachi band that plays there and a group of regulars that are always there and we’ve all become friends with each other and with the band. We love it because we don’t have to make a decision about what we are doing on Friday night. Plus we both love Mexican food! So we go, order a margarita, listen to the music and visit with out friends. I think having the entertainment, the mariachi band, is kinda the glue that has made us all regulars.

  3. Nancy Jones says:

    Your musings and questions about the mystery woman could be the inspiration for a novel….if one is a writer, that is.

  4. Kitty Torres says:

    Believe it or not, my fav “go to” place is our town’s library. I have been blessed to join the writer’s group there for over a year now. Sometimes the librarian comes running to me (she can see me come in the front door.) It does feel like home.

    • Amy G says:

      I have found that the key to someone like a server or parking attendant knowing me even if I see them every day is my learning their name first. I am one in a sea of 1000 faces, and learning their name makes them want to learn my name. It’s like a less personal version of “if you want to have a friend, be one.” After all, everyone is hungering to be known, right? That applies to the server as well as it does to me. It’s possible that the salad lady is wondering about you also, but doesn’t know how to make the first move.

      • Lori East says:

        I agree wholeheartedly! So many servers I speak to have expressed their heartfelt thanks whenever I make the effort to get to know them. Simply being nice to people matters and I especially want to make that difference to the person who makes my coffee. 😄

      • Yep. That’s been my experience too. After reading Dave Carnegie’s book, I started asking servers at our two favorite restaurants their names and greeting them when we went back. This has not only gotten us even better service (not my original intent), but it’s also prompted them to know ours, remember our orders, and even throw in some perks.

  5. Rebecca Strom says:

    Years ago I worked in a small community as a pastor and I became known. But living in a city I realized I had my own places of being known – library who knew my book interests and reserved books for me. Now I have a coffee shop where my writing group and I go every Monday. It is local and the owner knows our name and when we come. I love it.

  6. Renae says:

    We’re just back from vacation, school starts next week, and I just got my new academic year calendar. So naturally I am also ready for fall, the crisp mornings, and the routine. And as always, September will probably prove to be Nebraska’s hottest month. Sigh.

    We used to be “regulars” in the small, parochial school that my kids went to for elementary. While there is a lot that I DON’T miss about it, there is that community spirit that I DO miss. In middle and high school, there are 150 or so kids per grade, my boys had 12 and 11 in their classes in elementary. We knew the parents, we knew a lot of the kids, and we definitely knew all of the teachers…and they knew us. So there is a lot of anonymity that we experience now, and I kind of miss the smallness of the school that I couldn’t wait for us to get out of.

    Now I really want to know if you ever stopped to chat with the mystery woman to get her story…I’ll actually be quite shocked if you tell us you didn’t. 😉

    • Cindy says:

      We live in London and go to the same deli/cafe most days, including once or twice a week for lunch. I don’t have to tell them what I want they just make it, and we have made a lovely group of friends there, too. They closed yesterday for their annual 2 week break and we are bereft – all of us. We have a lot of coffee places nearby but for one reason or another they just don’t hit the spot (poor coffee/too noisy/no parking) so much as I love the summer I have something to look forward to as it nears the end.

  7. Mindy McConville says:

    I find that people tend to remember me when I start to remember them. So, when I go to my local Ritas or coffee shop, I occasionally chat with the employees. When I start to remember them, they start to remember me. 😉

    • Elizabeth Watts says:

      Yes, yes, yes! I will often say to people, ‘I really like to say hello with your name – could you tell me your name so I may do that next time?’ It means a lot to them, and they often return the favor.

      • Bruna says:

        I would in theory love to be a regular at a coffee/bookshop place, but I do tend to avoid going outside whenever possible, so I am not sure that would be for me.

  8. This seems particularly apt for me. Today I realised that I’ve become a “regular” at my favourite coffee shop when the barista knew my order before I asked for it. I was surprised by how cheering I found that! Especially since, for the longest time, the thought of becoming a regular somewhere was something I actively avoided- for whatever reason!

    • Aimee says:

      A few weeks ago, I drove through at Starbucks and as soon as I had finished ordering, the barista cheerily said thanks and see you at the window with my name. I was shocked she knew my name as I don’t go all the time. I was also surprised and a tad embarrassed how happy it made me! We all want to be known.

  9. Jerri says:

    I grew up in a small town where I was a regular everywhere. My goal was to live where I could go about my day without running into anyone I know. I now do run into people I know and have to fight the urge to run across the street, hide in another aisle, or dive under a car when that occurs.
    Obviously, being a regular isn’t my thing, but I love chatting with strangers and being an anonymous character. I enjoy the no expectations quality of those types of interactions.

    • Lori East says:

      Ha, Jerri, I live in a small town too and while I do enjoy making friends with the folks who fix my coffee, I often remember my “anonymous days” (when I’ve lived in big cities) fondly. I am fortunate to have a local coffee shop that gets me and lets me disappear when I need to.

  10. Serene says:

    We had a few places where we were regulars, but life changes and now we are looking for more — the dance teacher left, the regular musician at the restaurant moved, and the server at the Bistro had a conflict with management. Thankfully the love my husband have for each other has only grown, so we can adventure out to find new places together.

  11. Suzanne says:

    Next time you see the lady why don’t you ask her whether she’d mind writing down a few things for you on a postcard. Then give her a copy of this article & a postcard with your question on it. She will either be flattered and give you your answers or she’ll think you’re a stalker and choose a new place to be a regular!!

  12. Stephanie says:

    We do, in a weird way. I take my kiddos every Tuesday for “Errand Day”. We go to the grocery store, the library, etc…

    The people at the library know my kids and what kinds of books they like and love to recommend things maybe they haven’t read yet. It’s so wonderful to have support in helping them find their reading niche!

  13. Calidaho says:

    Back during my year on Tinder, I would go to my favorite fancy bar. My friends own the place but I wasn’t as familiar with the bartenders. I became good friends with one bartender who evaluated all of my Tinder dates that I suggested meet me there for a first date. He knew my favorite drink and had one ready for me when I sat down at the bar. I don’t know if this impressed my dates or if they thought maybe I spent too much time in a bar (again, it was a FANCY bar–craft cocktails and luxe decor where I was completely in my element and in control of the situation.) That bartender has gone on to write on a TV series (so LA) and I have gone on to sipping LaCroix at home with my husband. We had a destination wedding but threw a party for our friends who couldn’t travel–it was at this, my favorite bar.

  14. Suzanne C says:

    I grew up in a small town. At least once a week, we would go to lunch at a local burger joint and the nice man at the grill would start fixing my burger as soon as he spotted my little blond head coming through the door. He knew exactly what my order was going to be: cheeseburger, ketchup only. (It was a momentous day for everyone when I graduated to a cheeseburger with ketchup and pickles, lol.) Everyone over the age of thirty in our area still mourns the loss of that restaurant.

  15. Nicole Matisse says:

    I lived a semi-anonymous state for the first 39 years of my life in two large cities: Los Angeles and Seattle. At different stages of my life in those cities – in particular neighborhoods – I created a ‘regular’ status at a few spots…after quite intentional interaction with the waitstaff/long-term employees/baristas/shopkeepers of various cafes, restaurants, beloved dvd/video stores, coffeeshops and assorted boutiques. But the key word there is intentionality. If I hadn’t made a point of saying hello to folks I remembered and using their names in interactions again and again it would have been easy to fly under the radar and remain anonymous.

    8 years ago I moved to a small community on an island in the very most northwestern corner of the US-Orcas Island. Now, almost every interaction is that of a regular, though not in the sense of ‘I know your coffee order by heart’. In my community, every day is an opportunity for multiple spontaneous connections that remind me that I’m Home.

    The cheerful postmaster who says hello with a smile and goes to grab my boxes without asking for my PO number, the lovely boutique owner who lets me know that my favorite rose oil is back in stock, the friendly pharmacy employees who engage my daughters in sweet conversation, the thoughtful grocers who never blink an eye when I ask if there is another carton of organic half n half in backstock (we drink a lot of good, creamy coffee in this household), the delightful bookstore owner and staff who always have a warm hello when I enter their shop, and the wonderful cadre of librarians at my local library who grab my holds when I approach the desk before giving them my name, or let me know that they’ve ordered the book that I recommended. The list of positive interactions is seemingly endless. This lifestyle is different for sure. And not everyone is built for absolute NON anonymity. There is no hiding out on this rock unless you literally don’t leave your house. But after so many years vying for that esteemed regular status I’ve found it on a sweet little island far from the hustle and bustle of my prior lifestyle. And I appreciate very minute of it. Thank you for prompting me to consider all this. In this way. It reminds me to be very grateful for my island community and also this MMD one where I love to visit when I want to dive into all things bookish and fabulous. You’re the best Anne!

      • Nicole Matisse says:

        Hi Laura-Yes. Doe Bay Resort puts on Doe Bay Fest every year. It’s a great music festival in a gorgeous location.

    • Anne says:

      Nicole, I so enjoyed reading your story. It made me laugh, too. Glad that your new home (on the “rock” that you can’t hide out on, ha!) suits you.

  16. Libby Miner says:

    I grew up and still live in the same area of Maine, where all the towns are small, and unless I know someone’s name or I am related to them (yes, really, there are layers upon layers of interrelated generations in Maine–everyone is likely my cousin), they probably aren’t from here originally. Or maybe I just haven’t met them yet. And when I do meet someone new, all it takes is to ask who their parents are or where they grew up or what high school they attended and year they graduated, and there is usually some kind of connection, somewhere. Sometimes I feel socially claustrophobic when I go into the local grocery store and run into multiple people I know. Other times its really nice to see so many familiar faces. However, I did think about this after visiting the Cheers outpost restaurant at Quincy Market this summer and blogged about it here:

    Hope they learn your name soon at your brunch spot!

  17. Breanna says:

    I live in a small town in South Louisiana, and my family is a regular at Waffle House of all places (weekend breakfast tradition). We know all the staff’s names and they know us. My 5 year old son is practically a celebrity there. He talks to EVERYONE and remembers their stories. It’s such a comfort to walk in and see everyone’s smiling faces. They know what section we like to sit in and know all our orders by heart. It’s nice to be regular. It’s nice to be known.

  18. Susan Clark says:

    We have moved 10 times since we married in 1987 – two of those moves were to Louisville and Crestwood, KY and one in France. And I have to say that Louisville and Charlottesville win big for me – but not so much they knew/know my name and what I wanted to eat. Soon enough that will happen for you Anne!! Be a bit more patient!! Living in one place has its advantages! I now live in Charlottesville- I feel it has a lot of the same qualities that Louisville has – especially nice people!!!

    • Anne says:

      I’m quite fond of both Louisville and Charlottesville, and find they have a lot in common! Though I envy Cville’s proximity to mountains and ocean. 🙂

  19. Teresa Starkey says:

    In early October I’m presenting a talk at a local TEDEx event. The theme is “React, Respond, Reflect.” My talk centers around my love for my community. In fact, I share how important it was for me to find my “barstool,” those spots, usually a corner stool, where I can chat with the barkeep and watch my city. Our local coffee roasters know my Saturday-after-run-Club morning glory muffin and black coffee. I’m just beginning! My point is that I walk these streets, I visit businesses, I teach at a local elementary, and I volunteer. I volunteer at a very controversial place – our local emergency shelter. Some of our residents don’t like to admit we have a homeless problem. And they think our shelter is a way for our guests to get out of finding a job. Sometimes finding that “ Cheers” feeling in a community means we must accept our community in all its facets, from the small plates restaurant and the craftsman’s league gift shop to the poor and displaced hanging out in Railroad Square. It’s at that intersection that I ask my neighbors to find a cause that makes us all feel welcome, to feel like everyone knows our name.

  20. Noelle says:

    I find myself struggling to find my spot as well. Two months ago my husband and moved from Ohio, where we had lived for 20 years, back to our native state of California. Being an educator and with children in the school system, there was always someone I knew or recognized. The barista knew my order! Now, no one knows my name and every place we go, I continue to search for a familiar face, but I haven’t found one yet.
    Thank you for bringing attention to this feeling of inclusivity. I had not been able to recognize that I was missing it!

  21. Mona Parish says:

    After 27 years in the same place, we are regulars at the local deli where my husband’s parents ate even before we moved here. Our children grew up eating there and now our grandchildren count it as a favorite place. The first time we visited after my mother in law passed away, our waitress sat down at the table and cried with us.

  22. Mary Taylor says:

    we live in a small town on the Oregon coast, Manzanita. Except in the summer when there are tons of tourists it seems like everywhere you are people know you or at least know who you are. The place I’m known best is our library. I’m in there almost two or three days a week, dropping off books or getting holds.Sometimes my husband and I go to Portland area just so we are out of a routine and can be strangers. Love the (mostly) quiet of small town life and the nature that surround us, but,, sometimes feel I have no privacy. Love all your post and books and we have the same birthday, I’m older!

  23. Laurel Bandi says:

    My husband and I frequent a little local coffee shop. Since we live in a rural area, the coffee shop is one of the few places where there is community. We know the owners, and many of the baristas by name, and they all know us and our adult children who come to visit us. It is a great feeling to know and be known.

  24. Sarah Hall says:

    I started actually asking people those similar questions and it’s delightful! They never seem to mind, rather they welcome it. Two days ago I met a couple in my town that have an AirBnb (as we do) and were just going to pick up their new labradoodle puppy in an hour. We got each other’s contacts and who knows, we may turn into lovely friends! Do it!

  25. Debi Morton says:

    We moved to the college town where our son is a pastor in Sept. We love being near him and his family, and as he pastors at the same church he went to and interned at during and after college, we were easily able to feel at home there. But I do miss being a “regular” at all the places, as I was where we lived before for 15 years. The folks at the pharmacy don’t recognize me, and ask me to verify my address. I miss my wonderful sacker at the grocery store who always told me what he’d done or would do on the weekend, and knew just how to pack my bags. I miss the owner of our favorite Italian restaurant who always teased my husband about how much crushed red pepper he uses. I’m looking forward to making all these new relationships, but it isn’t always as fast as I’d like.

  26. Linda Johansen says:

    My husband has the ideal traits for becoming a regular and most places we go they remember his usual, even if he’s only been there a few times. He exudes friendliness and always has extensive conversations, including bad jokes, with the waiters. On our way out the door, he always runs over to the bartender and compliments him on our drinks. I am much more shy and always think I am keeping them from working with any idle chatter (if I could think of any). I am friendly and smile, but no one will ever remember my usual.

  27. Ronda says:

    As a former small business owner I have to say that we love our regulars. And we do remember those who take the time to get to know our names, and remember that we are human too. It also helps if you always order the same thing.

  28. Edith says:

    I live in Monterrey, Mexico and I work from home, but when I go to the city to work I always go to the same Taco restaurant, and the plate with tacos magically arrives to my table, they know how many tacos and my favorite ones. Until today I never thought about it <3

    One thing that could help you is learning the names of the people there, once you call them by their name I can assure you they will try to learn yours

  29. Carol B says:

    The check-in folks at my gym always greet me by name. Perhaps it’s corporate policy, but I do appreciate it.
    I was hoping this post would include a list of books about becoming who you want to be and finding where you belong. Any thoughts?

    • Anne says:

      Have you read Melody Warnick’s This Is Where You Belong? She addresses this question, perhaps not in the way you’re expecting, but in a way I found helpful and satisfying.

  30. Kim Morrison says:

    I love this so much! It’s the third space concept. I just blogged about this. I have my favorite local coffee shop and walking in there is like coming home. Everyone knows your name. The unplanned meetings and just doing life together feels like a big hug. When I travel, I even set myself up with a temporary third space. I really love feeling a sense of belonging and connection.

  31. Kara says:

    I love this concept, too, and appreciate this blog as a place that appreciates that desire to “be a regular”. As a fellow coffee nut, it’s been a little dream of mine to be on a first-name basis with a barista. Once a coffeeshop was placed inside my place of employment, I finally succeeded with this! It’s so lovely to have a first-name basis interaction with the folks making coffee. I realized, though, that I am too much of a statistical outlier to be a regular at very many places because I change my order frequently. Whereas my officemates order the same thing every time and our baristas have their orders down pat – and have known their names for far longer than me – I do myself no favors trying to be a regular with getting three or four different items on rotation.

  32. Libby Miner says:

    When my son was younger he always looked for the Lego Star Wars book published by DK publishers when we went to the library. After a while Teri, one of the children’s librarians, would go see if it was on the shelf when she saw us coming. The day I told her he didn’t need it any more because he had received it as a gift, I think she was a tad disappointed! It was very sweet! She is a great librarian!

  33. Katherine says:

    When I was in medical school my friends and I went to the same “Taco Tuesday” place every week for 4 years. We always sat at the same table and they even started assigning us the same waitress after a few months. When we graduated we got our waitress a gift for helping us make it through such a stressful time and making great memories.

  34. Denise says:

    I know the feeling if everybody knowing your name. I worked in the coffee shop, centrally located in my suburban town. It’s a great feeling when you remember someone’s drink order, and they remember your name. Also being an introvert, I am only comfortable meeting new people when I am doing something for them. My person who came in everyday was a dog walker. She would come in at 1p and leave at 3p everyday.

  35. Robin says:

    My “Cheers” place is Mamma Napoli’s retaurant in Florence, Italy. When I moved here 4 years ago I went about once a week, often ordering a pizza or tagliatelle with wild boar sauce. As I became more familiar with the city, I ventured further afield with new friends and did not visit here again for about 3 weeks. On my next visit I was greeted with “Where have you been? We were worried about you!” When I stopped in on my birthday they insisted I accept a free glass of prosecco. And when my son visited from the US, they were so pleased: “You brought your son? Brava!” Starting a new life in a new country is thrilling, but having a “place” where you are known is especially comforting.

  36. Mona Parish says:

    When my husband’s family moved to Houston in our early years of marriage, they introduced us to Victor’s Deli. We ate there every time we visited. Two kids later we moved to Houston as well and weekend breakfasts at Victor’s became routine. The staff there watched our kids grow up and watched the rest of us age. The first time we were there after my mother-in-law died, one of the waitresses sat down at our table and cried with us. With children grown and gone, Saturday mornings saw my husband, his father, and me visiting over breakfast and coffee. Each of our four grandchildren were welcomed to Victor’s as infants, amidst many congratulations and much oohing and aahing. Now that we have moved an hour away, our visits are less frequent, but we are always greeted excitedly when we do return. I guess you could say we are regulars.

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