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“Self-Care is Not About Staying in and Becoming a Hermit”

“Self-care is not a destination or a final state of being,” says Alisha Ramos, the founder of Girls Night In. “Self-care is something you do so you can give your energy back to your community.”

By Caitlin Abber

Imagine for a moment that you’re the founder of a pretty popular networking group. You’ve got members meeting up in each other’s homes in different cities—from Toronto to Washington, D.C.—to talk about books, learn new recipes, and build relationships. People rely on you for connection, and on fellow members for a social life. So what happens when the world shuts down because of a pandemic, and people are unable to physically be together? How do you make sure your people can still get what they need?

For Alisha Ramos, the 30-year-old founder of the wildly popular newsletter and now community platform Girls Night In, the answer is clear: you build a beautiful app, and for the time being, you take the whole thing online. Then, you watch the community flourish during a time when people need connection more than ever before (it helps if, like Ramos, you’re a Harvard grad with a background in tech and design).

We recently spoke to Ramos about building The Lounge, the (for now) online-only extension of Girls Night In, how she defines self-care, and why she doesn’t have Zoom fatigue just yet.

When we first launched the Girls’ Night In newsletter, there was a really big interest in book clubs. Our readers said, ‘Hey, we would love to read a book each month and discuss it with other people in the GNI community.’ And  I said, ‘Okay, great. Let’s set up a club.’ We had a few amazing volunteers who worked with me over the course of a year and a half or so, setting up these book club hubs in 10 different cities around the U.S. For about two years, we were meeting once a month in Toronto, Boston, Philly, D.C., New York, L.A., San Francisco, Austin…and I’m sure I’m forgetting a few other cities in there. It was such a beautiful thing because, for me, it came from a very personal place of reaching the end of my 20s and wanting to connect on a more meaningful, deeper level with other like-minded individuals. 

It was a very transitional moment in my social life, and the book club was amazing, because it helped me get out of my shell. Eventually, the Girls’ Night In newsletter grew to a certain size where our readers were saying, ‘Well, why are there only meetings in these 10 cities? Why can’t we have book clubs or gatherings in our city?’ I used to be a designer and an engineer, so I put on my tech product hat and thought about that feedback. I ultimately decided it wouldn’t scale as just a book club, so the Girls’ Night In mission evolved. We were very focused on bookish topics in the book clubs, but I think at a deeper core mission level, we’ve always been interested in helping people build meaningful connections. That’s when we came up with The Lounge. 

Our intention was never to become a ‘self-care company—whatever that means. When I first launched Girls’ Night In, I never mentioned that phrase. But the mission was clear. It was to help people relax, recharge, and build a meaningful community. And that mission statement has never changed and never strayed for us. In my mind, as the founder of Girls’ Night In, The Lounge is the ultimate culmination of that mission statement, especially that latter part about building meaningful community.

Our thoughts on self-care have definitely evolved as a team over the past few years. And right now, it’s that community care is so important as part of your self-care practice, which sounds counterintuitive. But self-care is not really about staying in and becoming a hermit. Self-care is not a destination or a final state of being. Self-care is something you do so you can give your energy back to your community. It’s about staying in, recharging, and then going back into the world to develop meaningful connections and friendships. So I guess that’s the long way of saying I came up with this idea for a community-powered platform (The Lounge) that would allow anyone to host their own gathering. It doesn’t have to be a book club. It can be a cookbook club or a dinner or a podcast discussion or a watch party. Someone is hosting a pickling tutorial this week! It’s been fun to see that initial grain of an idea for a book club in a few different cities grow and scale in this way.

And then Covid-19 changed everything. We had to shift all the gatherings to online only. But I actually think that’s been going well. We had an information session for hosts last night, which is where we do a walk-through for our current members who are thinking about hosting their own gatherings. Given the number of people that we have in the community and the demand that we’re seeing, yes, I absolutely think people are looking to connect in new ways. We have a members-only Slack channel, and it’s bumping in there. We have an introduction channel and that’s going all day, every day, with new people popping in. It’s encouraging to see that there is still space for gathering, it just looks different right now.

I think some folks are Zoom fatigued, and that’s totally understandable, but I love going to our gatherings. I have no plans. We’re very strict in our household about not socializing in person during Covid—not even going to restaurants to sit outside—and it has felt isolating sometimes. So when I go to an online event, and there’s chatter happening while somebody is presenting or doing a panel, it’s so fun. I love it. It’s something to do. It’s entertainment.

Personally, there’s a lot going on in my life. We just bought a house. I’m getting married in October. It’s an interesting time. I was just chatting with my friend, who is also a coronavirus bride getting married in October. And we were saying, ‘We have to remind ourselves, we are doing blank, blank, and blank in the middle of a global pandemic. We are working through a pandemic. I am leading a team through the pandemic. I am planning a wedding through the pandemic.’ So, I’m really focused on the fact that, yes, I want to get these things done for work, but I’m trying to give myself and our team grace and patience.

At the end of the day, when I’m thinking about relaxing and recharging, it’s because I want to exactly do that: recharge my batteries in order to give that energy elsewhere, whether it’s to my personal community of family and friends or—especially in this time of Covid—to the larger community. I think The Lounge encapsulates that, because it’s community care to its core. People are joining because they want to build new relationships, friendships, and connections, and that’s been inspiring.

 

*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

Photos c/o Meredith Jenks, Anna Meyer Photography, and Bustle. 

 

Caitlin Abber

Written By

Caitlin Abber

Caitlin Abber is the Brand Editor at M.M. LaFleur, and an award-winning writer and content creator. Over the last decade she has held senior editorial positions at MTV, Women's Health, Public Radio International, and Bustle, and has bylines at InStyle and OprahMag.com.

See more of Caitlin's articles

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