The art of third wheeling: a guide on how to do it well

It’s not a predicament anyone likes to be in. When you’re having the time of your life with that good ‘ol friend of yours (carpe diem! As your favorite elementary school teacher used to say), the cloud of uncomfortable silences and averting your eyes from the most horrid game of tonsil tennis, looms ahead.

How a person gets stuck in the awkward abyss between a couple is troubling, whether it be nowhere to go when the significant other shows up, or an overwhelming sense of patronizing pity to leave you alone. There’s really no better option. A lovely friend of mine once said: “A third wheel on a bike makes a tricycle, something that’s safe for kids to be left alone with,” which I believe is also the mindset of many parents around this stage. Either way, you’re stuck here a while, so you might as well make the best of it. If it’s any consolation, a third-wheeler is often most knowledgeable about what and what not to do in a relationship — and that includes excessive PDA.

If the three of you are good friends, congratulations, you’ve possibly dodged the bullet this time. For the rest of you, you’re not as lucky.

Rule number one: avoid being alone with a couple in the honeymoon stage.

What is your purpose as a third wheeler? How you approach this question will determine how much fun you have for the next few hours.

Watching a new couple interact for the first time is one of the most heartwarming, albeit creepy, things a person can witness. It’s also one of the funniest. As a third-wheeler, observing your new couple fidgeting and blushing gives you an almost intoxicating sense of power, as the sheer possibility of either making or breaking their future together is almost too much to handle. You can act as a catalyst, urging your friend to make decisions and take risks they otherwise might not be willing to take. Or, when you’re all sipping at your iced drinks in an uncomfortable silence, perhaps you decide it’s the best time to reveal your friend’s dedication to the emo lifestyle in middle school. However, of course, your sense of power is ultimately imaginary, as in this beginning stage, there is little possibility that any story or fun fact will destroy the brewing bond between the newfound couple. And even though this technically allows you to share anything to your own discretion, I, a human only concerned for your well-being, would advise against it.

Rule number two: know when to dip, and be okay with being alone.

After the honeymoon stage, however, third wheeling often isn’t as prevalent. Because a seasoned couple is easier to be around, and because by this stage your good friend’s significant other will be your acquaintance at the very least, if not also a good friend. They, as a seasoned couple, will know what is and isn’t acceptable in front of company and you, as a seasoned third party, will know when it is okay to hang out as friends and when to leave discreetly when things intensify.

After you become a third wheeling veteran, you’ll find that the best course of action might just be mundanely buying bread at Safeway while the couple smells the roses.

At the end of the day, there is no good way to be a third wheeler. There is no purpose to being a third wheeler. A third wheeler, by default, is infringing upon a fundamental for any relationship: privacy. An element of courtesy and public decorum is added in a relationship that has most likely gone far beyond such manners. So for the sake of your own sanity, my dear reader, do not dig yourself a hole being a good friend. Do not let yourself become a third wheeler.