Three’s a Crowd: The Dilemma of the Third Wheel

Romance 101

| Romance Columnist

A couple weeks ago, I received a phone call from my buddy Anna at Dartmouth. I was a little surprised by the call—I expected her to greet me with her normally cheerful and upbeat voice. Instead, she screeched into the phone, “I’m going to kill Brian!”

After I got her to calm down a bit, I got the full story. Anna’s boyfriend of two months had asked her to come skiing with his family over Christmas—but she hadn’t been the only one invited. Brian’s roommate, Kyle (the one who crashed their movie dates, sat between them when they went to bars and never paid for the food he “shared’ with them) had been invited as well. “All I wanted was a little peace and quiet when I meet his parents,” Anna moaned. “Why does Kyle have to be there?”

We all have good friends: the people who have been with us through thick and thin, who were our wingmen (or women) when we were single, and who stayed up for all the late nights with a pint (of beer or Ben & Jerry’s). When we get into relationships, friendships become a delicate balancing act—for every X number of hours we spend with our boyfriend/girlfriend, we need to spend Y hours with our friends. One way to balance friends and significant others is to bring the two together, maybe by going on a group trip to the bar or a double date out to dinner. This kind of compromise helps blend these two otherwise unrelated worlds.

But what if one party doesn’t understand that there needs to be a balance? What if there is one weight that continually tips the scale and just won’t take the hint that “We’re going to watch a movie” means “Get out so we can have some alone time”? And what if the person you’re dating is too nice or too oblivious to say no?

It’s one of the more frustrating problems one faces in a relationship because it requires some of the most understanding. It’s easy to hate that friend who just doesn’t get it, but consider what that friend has recently gone through. While he or she makes bad jokes or insists on joining in on your evening activities, your friend is really just mourning the loss of a wingman, a confidante, a best friend.

This isn’t to say that you need to spend every waking moment with a third wheel. If you respect what he or she is going through, then your friend needs to respect your relationship. It’s OK to be upset about the constant third party, and it’s important to be honest with your partner. After Anna stopped wanting to punch her boyfriend, she was able to admit that she was nervous about meeting his parents, and convinced him that Kyle would have a fun Christmas at home with his own family. Sure, Kyle crashed one of their dinner dates during finals week instead, but it was a compromise she was willing to make.

To make life easier, try setting up your partner’s annoying friend with a friend of yours. Then the annoying friend (in this case, Kyle) is less likely to crash your movie nights, because he has his own lover to tend to and his own movies to watch.