“But I'm a creep, I'm a weirdo / What the hell am I doing here? / I don't belong here” - Creep, Radiohead, 1992
You know what I like? Friendships. You know what I hate? Restricting myself from friendships because someone’s decided they have a partner now. I’m speaking of course about Third Wheels, and my own (countless) experiences as a Third Wheel. Just like the word “single,” I don’t think the term “Third Wheel” should have negative connotations anymore. I like being a Third Wheel for two reasons: First, there is nothing inherently weird about hanging out in threes, and second, if I’m honest, we’re doing you couples a favor.
So what’s a Third Wheel? Technically, it’s the front portion of a tricycle (and who can forget how fun those were), but in modern parlance, a Third Wheel is a person who hangs out with a couple with no other people present. I’ve gone to dinner as a Third Wheel, I’ve gone to the beach as a Third Wheel, I’ve even (gasp) gone on vacation as a Third Wheel. Stand back kids, I’m a professional.
In taking an accounting of the people I’m closest to, essentially all of them were single when we became friends, then they became not single anymore, and dammit if I was going to simply fade into the background like Homer Simpson in a bush. I’ve always made an effort to stay present in my friends’ lives during any phase of coupledom, and my partnered friends (bless them) have never made me feel unwelcome when we hang out in a three. (Though, I suppose, when they don’t want me around, we simply don’t make plans.) I thoroughly enjoy the people my dearest friends have partnered with, and feel lucky that people I love have found love. I, in turn, have found a neat new friend. Everyone wins when you look at it right. Am I lucky that my besties all partnered with people whose company I also enjoy, or do I just pick good friends who pick good partners? Either way, I’m not scared to Third Wheel it with people I love, and they don’t seem perturbed by my presence. It’s from this perspective I write to you now as a proponent of Third Wheeldom.
There’s a weird, and in my opinion incorrect idea that the presence of a third person in proximity to a couple is somehow an invasion of or imposition upon that couple. As if the very presence of a third person is somehow taxing on a couple’s ability to exist in that moment. I think that notion holds couples on too high a pedestal, and crushes single people like an emotional trash compactor. The idea of Third Wheels being inherently bad or unwelcome reiterates to us that we matter less than couples, and we don’t. We are just as valid and important as people who split their rent, thank you. It also completely ignores the fact that couples like hanging out with people who are not themselves.
Couples spend plenty of time together on their own! Like literally all of their time! I myself have discovered that they find me refreshing, bringing something new to the table that’s a nice change of pace. A bright, unexpected flavor note introduced to an already lovely cocktail. Yes, I just compared myself to a twist of lemon as a garnish, so be it. I love the dynamic I have with my friends who are couples. I love talking to them and seeing a pair’s perspective on things and also just seeing for myself how couples communicate and grow together. I feel like they’re giving me an education that I’ll use in future partnerships. Also it’s suuuuuper fun to pick sides when they fight. Kidding.
And of course couples like hanging out with other people, this isn’t a novel idea. They’re not locking themselves into their refurbished Brooklyn townhomes the day after the wedding, never to be seen or heard from again. It’s just far more assumed that they’d rather hang out with another couple, as opposed to just one other person. Heaven knows a couple can’t hang out with just one other person. Everything is unbalanced! Do their tables tip over? Can their cars even make right turns? Do they even sell tickets to sporting events in threes??
And a Third Wheel girl? That’s the worst! At least a Third Wheel guy has a sort of “lost puppy” thing going on. One or both members of the couple are probably hellbent on setting him up as soon as possible, because we can’t have one lone man hanging out in the breeze, now can we? Not with all these fabulous single women lying around. (Stares directly at camera.) But a Third Wheel girl? That evil minx. That temptress. She’s going to lure one half of this couple into her sinister sex lair and break it up — keep away, Third Wheel Girl! We know your kind, we don’t want you here!
Nonsense. I can safely say that my interest in hanging out with a couple pertains solely to the fact that I don’t want to lose friends once they start having sex with someone on a regular basis, nor do I want to feel like I’m less welcome in their lives now that they have someone in it who is presumed to be the most important person who could possibly exist for them. Also so many appetizers come with three pieces, have you noticed?
Third Wheels have mystery. Third Wheels have intrigue. Third Wheels mean there’s going to be one empty seat at the four-top which is the perfect place for everyone to put their coats and bags. You’re welcome.
Sometimes being a Third Wheel can highlight our own alone-ness. It’s a pretty quick way to feel like “something’s missing,” honestly. But just like the word “single,” the term “Third Wheel” just needs a reframing in our minds. We need to be able to see it for its good qualities, the qualities that were always there the whole time. And I don’t even think our friends need to reframe it for themselves, really. It’s not like they’re making plans with their one single friend because they hate the idea of hanging out with her. If they don’t like hanging out in a three, they won’t. I think in a lot of ways single people mind being a Third Wheel more than couples mind having one. At least that’s been my experience.
We’re doing a service, us Third Wheels. We’re bringing in a whole new human being with a whole new list of things to discuss when the question, “what’s new?” is posed. I mean think about it, when’s the last time you asked your partner, “what’s new?” You know everything as soon as it's new! Third Wheels have mystery. Third Wheels have intrigue. Third Wheels mean there’s going to be one empty seat at the four-top which is the perfect place for everyone to put their coats and bags. You’re welcome.
Be a proud Third Wheel. Cast off its negative connotations. That front tricycle wheel is both steadying and adorable, we’re the best. When our friends partner up, we can feel discarded, left out, or incomplete — but only if we choose to. I choose to never shy away from hanging out with the couples I’m friends with, because we’re friends, and because it’s possible for a couple to be friends with a single woman and for that to be an awesome, normal thing. When you hang out with a pair of lovers, and you find yourself feeling awkward, or lonely, or just less welcome than you might feel if you were in a couple, I get it — believe me. But I’ve also reinvented the wheel for myself, and you can, too.