The art of the third wheel
Owen Wilson, left, plays a permanent house guest named Dupree, to a couple played by Kate Hudson, centre, and Matt Dillon in the 2006 film "You, Me and Dupree." (Universal Studios photo)
Pitied by couples and dreaded by singletons everywhere, the concept of the third wheel has been given a bum rap for years - a phenomenon that likely began when someone walked into a cave, saw their coupled best friends enjoying an intimate fire-side dinner of mammoth steak and suddenly felt super awkward.
It’s understandable. No one wants to be “Dupree”- the annoying, anti-social, freeloading singleton who wreaks havoc on their friend’s relationships - like Owen Wilson’s character did in the film You, Me and Dupree. After all, as the movie’s tagline states, “two’s company, Dupree’s a crowd!” But hanging out with your coupled friends doesn’t have to be an experience rife with socially awkward timebombs like Hollywood makes it out to be.
When done right, being the third wheel can be the best time of your life.
I should know. I’ve spent more summers single than not. Also, I like to think I make a pretty great third wheel to my coupled friends.
A few years ago, my best friend married a really wonderful man. In the time that they’ve been together, I’ve truly enjoyed spending time with both of them (the same can be said of my other girlfriends and their partners.) We’ve even taken a few trips together. While I’ve heard plenty of horror stories from people who have travelled with their coupled friends - from loud sex when they thought their single friend was “asleep” to being ditched in the middle of a foreign country - the experiences I’ve had with my friend and her husband have always been positive. In exchange for getting to live vicariously through my ridiculous dating stories, they’ve shown me first hand what a healthy relationship looks like in real life.
That’s why I was shocked when a former male co-worker told me he was “dreading spending the summer single,” because he’d either be alone or spending time with couples which is why he “needed to find a girlfriend immediately” - statements that resulted in me giving this man some serious side-eye. Clearly this man had not mastered the art of being a great third wheel.
Whether you’re spending the summer single for the first time or the twenty-third time, alone or with your coupled friends, here’s a few tips on how to make it the best one yet.
1. Choose the couples you spend time with wisely.
One of the reasons I get along so well with my bestfriend and her husband is that they never make me feel like I’m the third-wheel. In turn, I do my best to respect their boundaries as a couple. When we’re travelling, I don’t bring random guys back to our hotel room and I try my best not to accidentally set the place on fire. If a couple makes you feel bad about your single status or triggers your gag reflex with their over-the-top displays of PDA, you might just be spending time with the wrong people.
2. Stop complaining about being single.
As Allison Graham, author of the new book Married My Mom, Birthed a Dog: How to Be Resilient When Life Sucks! points out, “your friends know you’re single, your social media friends know you’re single, that empty bottle of wine knows you’re single; and what good has come of you announcing your single-ready-to-mingle status? NOTHING. Other than the eye-rolling, cliché, throat-punch-inducing advice of “It’ll happen when you’re not looking.”
3. Don’t cling.
Your coupled friends do not exist to be your security blanket, so don’t treat them as such. Instead of waiting around to piggyback on their plans, embrace your independence. As Graham shares, “you have freedom to do whatever you want, whenever you want to, with whomever you want. You want to head to the beach? Go Dancing? Hit a music festival? Go for it!” This could even be as simple as relishing in a cocktail for one by the pool while your coupled bff’s enjoy a couples massage.
“Being alone isn’t the same as being lonely. Entertain yourself and try new adventures. Get out of your house, go rock climbing, check out an art exhibit, eat your way through a farmer’s market, or even just sit at a café with a good book. This is your chance to make friends with yourself – after all, you are the longest relationship of your life,” says Graham. Remember, you’re a bad-ass single person first, a legendary third wheel second.