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Perfecting the Art of the Third Wheel

A single girl’s tips for surviving in a world run by couples.


A couple of years ago, a group of my high school friends wanted to get together at the mall.

It had been a long time since I’d seen most of these people and I was more than excited to catch up with everyone and trade college stories. Group texting chaos ensued, and in the end, about seven of us were able to make it. The mall ended up being the perfect place to catch up, as it’s essentially the nicest place in my hometown, and I needed new pants.

However, I showed up and within seconds my inner monologue (shortly followed by my inappropriate out-loud voice) sounded a lot like this: “Oh for fuck’s sake, you’ve got to be fucking kidding me. Are there no other single people left on this planet? Am I destined to forever be a fucking seventh-wheel??”

Three couples and little old me. Little old single as fuck me.

Perfecting the Art of the Third Wheel

Of course, none of the couples had planned for my single ass to end up in a couple’s shopping escape, and everyone felt bad about it, but I’ve essentially gotten used to being a third wheel. Adding two other couples to the mix was just a bit below the belt for my taste.

Now, being a third wheel is not a new thing, or even an individual thing. I’m sure thousands of people experience third wheeling every day, and, being one of them, I have developed a few tips and tricks to getting through any third wheel experience.

Whenever I hang out with a friend, or even my sister (whose love life is tragically much more active than mine) and their significant other for any long period of time, a vision of Harry Potter, the seven-year third wheel comes to me, speaking words of wisdom: fuck their sibling.

I’ve never actually followed that advice, but I do think that there a few ways to deal with being a perpetual third wheel, perfecting the art of it, you could say. If Harry Potter can do it for seven years, you and I can do it for a couple of dates.

Here are some of my tried and true methods of dealing with the horrors of third wheeling.

1. Find a Single Buddy

This person, regardless of gender, will essentially be your makeshift “date” for the outing, someone you can talk to while the couples are all doing their coupley romantic shit.

To clarify, this isn’t a date.

If it was a date you wouldn’t be having the third wheel problem. Your single buddy is a platonic safety net, and, trust me, you’re serving as theirs as well.

Nobody wants to be singled out as, well, single, in a group of couples, so your single buddy is essential. They are your assurance that you won’t be alone in this endeavor.

2. Exercise Strategic Group Placement

If you stand along the outside of the group, the first thing onlookers will notice is the obvious singleness of your aura. Walk between the two lovebirds, because not only does that make it ambiguous to onlookers as to who the real third wheel is, it reminds your friends that you exist on this godforsaken romantic excursion they’ve asked you to accompany them on.

If there’s more than one couple, place yourself between them, that way you just look liked a big group. Pick the most innocuous couple you can, that way you can blend in better than you would with the couple that might start making out at any moment.

3. Hijack the Romance

This one is a bit of a dick move and should be reserved for when you really don’t like your friend’s SO. Essentially, you’ll treat this like a platonic date between you and your friend, pushing the third wheel feeling onto the significant other instead. By transferring the title, you’re no longer the one being ignored/invading on the couple’s time together, but as I said, it’s a dick move.

Stealing your friend is a lot easier to do if you’ve hung out rather recently and developed a new inside joke, that way you have stories and jokes that can rival whatever the SO does. I’m a bit of a dick, so I’ve used this one before, though afterwards I did feel pretty bad about it. At least until they broke up. (Sorry, Nikki!)

4. Say No to the Date

This isn’t always an option, as third wheeling is not usually a planned activity, more like something that is thrust upon us poor single souls at the last minute. But, if you’re given the opportunity to bail and not feel like a terrible person, take it.

Perfecting the Art of the Third WheelIf your friend and their SO seem like they’d rather be on their own, or if you’re just tired of playing the awkward spare (remember, Voldemort wanted to kill the spare), get the fuck out of there.

You aren’t required to hang out with these people if you don’t want to, and while it’s wonderful to be included, sometimes being the only single friend in a group of couples can be a bit disheartening.

5. Fake Polyamory

If leaving isn’t something you want to do, because, hey, hanging out with your friends is fun, this method is my favorite one. If the couple you’re with is holding hands, (which, let’s face it, they probably are, the disgusting heathens) pick whoever’s hand is the least sweaty and hold it. Preferably it’s the member of the couple that you’re closest to and won’t object to you suddenly holding their hand, but in a pinch either will do.

Looking like a threesome is better than looking like the only single in your group, and despite the previous concerns about how it looks to other people, fuck strangers’ opinions. Platonic handholding should be a thing; can we please make that a socially acceptable thing?

To be honest, the best strategy for removing the stigma of singularity and surviving as a perpetual third wheel is to simply stop caring what other people think. Yeah, it can suck to be alone, but the very fact that your friends in relationships are inviting you along on dates means that you aren’t alone.

In fact, they’re inviting you along either a) because both your friend and their SO get along with you well enough to want you around or b) because you’re their safety net in the scary world of dating and they’d feel better if you were there by their side through part of it.

Cheesy uplifting metaphor time: third wheels offer stability. Check out tricycles and slingshots, they need third wheels. And when the couple is ready to become a bicycle and do their thing along, you can become a wonderful unicycle. I may have taken that metaphor too far, but you know what I mean.

And someday, if you’re into romantic coupling, you’ll find somebody. But until then, your friends have your back. You can keep hanging out with them and flaunting single as fuck beautiful you. At least until you get a significant other and make your friends third wheel on your dates.

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