Your two friends have decided they want to take their relationship to the next level. They just broke the news to you that they’ve secretly been doing the dirty and it’s the best thing in the world! Love is in the air and it’s cool, man. There’s sunshine, rainbows, three-seated bicycles, and that one Schoolhouse Rock song about how three is the magic number, and–
Hold on a hot second. You guys are doing what?
It’s cool, right? Wrong. I mean, at least not for you it isn’t. This newly budded love could mess up the whole dynamic that is your trio of perfect friendship. You promised them things wouldn’t get weird when they asked, “Are things going to get weird?” as they sat you down intervention-style at a Chipotle and bribed you with a burrito. You answered with a high-pitched, “No, of course not!” even though in the back of your mind all you could think was, “This is weird, this is SO weird–but at least this burrito is awesome.” You probably remained in a daze of disbelief until you realized you were in the self checkout aisle of Walmart hours later just staring at the smudged touchscreen. You only came out of it because the lady wearing house shoes in line tapped you repeatedly and told you that your five tubs of self-pity ice cream were starting to drip on the scanner. Clearly, you’re having a third wheel breakdown.
We’ve all been there at some point, in situations that place us in the awkward position that is the third wheel. It may not have been in the midst of two friends–we all can’t be that unfortunate–but you’ve been there in some fashion. In college, you probably thought it couldn’t get any worse. Then you realized that being the third wheel took an extreme jump from the land of lonely self-awareness to the land of postgrad lonely self-awareness, which is much worse.
Before, being the third wheel carried a lot less pressure. Now, add friends who are married–or even worse, friends who are married with kids–into the mix and the new definition of “third wheel” goes to a completely different level.
1. Third wheeling with married couples is more common.
After a certain age, people start signing their single lives away to spend an eternity with the only person they want to have sex with ever again–I mean the person they want to build a life with. Before, you may have gone third wheeling with couples who were dating or just “talking,” but playing the same role with a married couple can open up a whole other bag of regrets that begs you to ask yourself why the hell you decided to tag along in the first place. You know you can’t say no to hanging out with your married friends alone just because they took their relationship to the next level, so you suck it up and suffer through listening to the details of their wedding, their plans for children, how their mortgage is actually pretty reasonable, and a bunch of other stuff you couldn’t care less about.
2. You are probably going to witness a few conversations that take a serious turn.
There’s always a 50 percent chance you could end up being Dr. Phil for the night. We have a lot of stress going on in our lives. We have student loans we’ve considered paying back by selling our organs on the black market. We have the pressure to know exactly where we’re going in life professionally when we still hesitate to decide whether or not we would “like cheese with that.” Some of this is bound to come up when you’re trying to have a good time with your couple friends. They consider you as someone with fresh ears, and they can lay those issues on you. They also may consider you to be the non-biased opinion giver who better spit out some good advice or else. The pressure is higher than ever, so you drink until everything sounds like good advice and hope they’re on your level, too.
3. You could end up being an accidental third wheel because someone bails halfway through.
So you decide to invite another friend to come hang out with you and the happy couple. This way, you can cut the weirdness down by a notch or two even though you don’t know this new person too well. You all go out and everyone has a great time, but 11 p.m. rolls around and the fourth wheel decides it’s time to turn in because he or she has a “long day” tomorrow. Your two friends still want to catch that midnight movie and they really want you to see it with them. You stay and tell your friend thanks for coming. You really want to say thanks for giving you a front row seat to dark theatre fondling and tongue wrestling, compliments of your two buddies, but that’s life now. Postgrad responsibilities are all too real, and turning in at a reasonable time in order to prepare for work the next day is one of them. This isn’t college, and you can’t just stay out until 2 a.m. anymore. But sometimes you have to because you tried to cheat being third wheel, and part of you knows your friends totally knew what you were trying to do.
4. There’s a good chance they’ll secretly set you up once or twice.
After going through the fourth wheel bail, your friends may get the sense that you are tired of being the third wheel. They think they’re doing you a favor by inviting a fourth person to the party the next time you go out with them. Sometimes this is a win-win situation. They could invite a fourth to hang out, you two could hit it off, and the third wheel issue would no longer be a problem. On the other hand, this could be the icing on top of the shit cake that is being set up secretly by friends who may not be completely aware of what you consider to be your type. When you go on a regular blind date and it doesn’t work out, it’s not like you have to make the effort to see each other again. Add in a very enthusiastic couple who made the whole thing happen to the mix and you might find yourself explaining over and over again to them that this thing just isn’t going to work. But they don’t take no for an answer, and you end up replacing your third wheel hangouts with blind double dates from hell.
5. Instead of going out to a club or a bar, it’s probably going to be a restaurant or a coffee shop.
At least with clubs or bars there is the potential to separate yourself from the couple by talking someone up at the bar, or by backing it up on someone on the dance floor. However, part of being the third wheel these days is going out to more sophisticated and age-appropriate venues like restaurants or coffee shops where there are little to no distractions or escapes. While they’re whispering about whether or not they should share a plate because the portion sizes are just too large at the restaurant, you can give S.O.S. signals to the next table where another poor soul is playing the third wheel. Maybe you guys can save each other afterwards by hooking up and eliminating the possibility of having to do this shit ever again.