Some new friends invited us to their boat docked in Lake Union, here in Seattle. This is the first year they’ve been at this dock and they are trying to get to know the other boat owners.  Although they’ve owned their boat for 5 years, they were docked at two other marinas with beautiful boats and tighter security but they were “dead”.  They were looking for more social interaction.   People they could recognize and say hello to.

I have never been a boater and did not grow up in a boating family, so I don’t know what it’s all about.  But it was obvious from the time I set foot on the dock  that part of the fun of boating is just to enjoy it while it is docked…which  means enjoying the  folks hanging out on the neighboring boats.

I know this is true for camps back east.  I know people that leave their homes on an acre or more, to go to their ‘camp’…a camper/trailer that is parked in a campground all year long.  The camper may be all of 12 feet wide and their whole campsite may be 30 feet wide.  They spend their summer weekends and more  hanging out in this small space just to be social with the other campers.  They sit outside and chat with everyone that walks by.  They drive their golf cart or ATV around the campground and say hello to everyone they meet.  They spend the day cooking, eating, tinkering around and being social.  They spontaneously  invite passersby to join them at their picnic table or around their fire  for drinks or dessert.  They go to a friend’s camper for dinner or morning coffee.  They take walks.

The same seemed to be true for the boaters.  They walked the dock and chatted with other boaters.  They wave or shout to everyone that walks or boats by.  They invited people for appetizers or spontaneously accepted an offer of margaritas from Keith, the guy who has a perfectly good house three blocks up the hill from the dock in a very desirable neighborhood…but he chooses to live on his houseboat that’s decked out in party lights and palm trees.

I find myself longing for the same thing this summer.  To take off and set up tent camp at a campground somewhere and narrow life down to making meals, tinkering around, watching the boys play, chatting with others and hopefully sharing a spontaneous margarita or a meal with a fellow camper.

I find it interesting that when we want to get away, take a break from our schedules and responsibilities, many of us move toward opportunities to be social with other people…even strangers!

At the same time, how many of us incorporate opportunities for social interaction into our everyday homes and lots?  We put up 6 foot fences around our yards.  We choose the homes with the bigger lot, further from neighbors, set back from the sidewalk and street.  We orient our lives toward the back yard and ignore the front yard and front porch (if we have one).  We choose neighborhoods with no destinations within them…no reasons for people to walk along the sidewalks.  All in the name of ‘privacy’.

We do design into our homes wonderful spaces for socializing like big social kitchens or back decks and patios for planned BBQs or parties.  But these interactions take some effort to instigate.  We have to coordinate schedules and invite people, grocery shop, cook, etc.

We don’t spend much thought or effort designing for spontaneous social interaction with neighbors walking by.  These are the freebies.  No planning involved.  A chat at the sidewalk or the fence.  A beer on the front porch.  These seem to be the same kind of social interactions we seek out at boat docks and campgrounds.

And I have to wonder….are we lonely at home?