Wednesday, May 9, 2012

How to Steer the Third Wheel

How to Handle Being That Awkward Third Person in a Dynamic Duo

There are moments in life when you rely on your best friend for everything. Writer Jenna Blackburn describes her experience during the formation of an awkward, three wheeled group. It can be difficult to get used to the fact that spending time with your best friend will no longer be the same. But after finding the potholes and irritants of the situation, Jenna realizes how smooth the ride can be.

            The first question you always end up asking yourself is “where should I look.” Should you stare at the ceiling, or would that be too obvious? How long can you pull off looking out the window before they start to think that you’re going into a trance? And there’s always the question of whether or not they’ll notice that you’re in the room at all, let alone noticing that you’re desperately trying to find a safe place to point your face while they cuddle and kiss and engage in all manners of coupledom. Then you discover your phone, as if for the first time, and before you know it you’re racking up scores on Words With Friends that you’d never even dreamed of attaining, and the classic novels that you downloaded because they were free start to look like the most captivating sources of entertainment on earth. Congratulations, you’ve just solved the first of your problems as a long-term third wheel. But there are many truths yet to be discovered.

In the beginning, you’re more alone when you’re with the two of them than you are when you’re actually alone. 
Welcome to college, where you’ve been lucky enough to score a room with your best friend. You feel as if every night is going to be like a sleepover, and finally there will be someone in the room to tell when you suddenly wake up from a dream involving you and Zac Efron and a hot tub and a plate full of German chocolate cake bites. What you didn’t think of, though, was that your new roommate has no need of such dreams, because she’s brought her boyfriend to college with her. Suddenly you feel the need to take walks around campus and run errands outside that don’t exist, because, when you’re genuinely alone, it makes sense for no one to talk to you. Also, you don’t have to smile and nod at the air and trees and pretend to get their inside jokes with one another, or wonder how long Mr. Tree plans on staying that night because you really want to change into your pajamas and you don’t want to walk all the way to the bathroom to do it. 

EVERYTHING annoys you. 
Eventually, the newness of your situation wears off and you begin to fall into a routine. Unfortunately, so do they. The repetition of small, meaningless couple-y acts begins to grate on you the way listening to someone hum off-key does: sometimes you can forget it’s happening, but when you notice it, you really notice it. You find yourself dissatisfied with campus dining when they go out for sushi in the evening, and yet you also find yourself crowded when they join you for dinner in the cafeteria. It irritates when they bicker, it irritates when they get along, it irks when they ignore you and yet it irks still when they attempt to include you in conversation. This might be because you’re always wondering if they feel sorry for you, which is the worst possible conclusion you can come to, and so you decide instead that they just wholeheartedly desire your daily wisdom and that is all there is to it. You discover that the very most annoying instances occur when he comes over to visit, and yet all he does is read a book that has some tacky title like Fighting Robot Rats in Space or Time Traveling Cyborgs in Space or Psychic Solar-Powered Mutant Bio-Android Warriors in Space while she plunks around on the computer. They don’t speak a word. You decide three things: One, there is no point of him being there. Two, this can’t be doing anything for their relationship. And three, you will never pick up a work of science fiction again. To compensate for such blatant pointlessness, you buy yourself a nice squirt bottle—the kind people use on misbehaving cats. Cold, white fear prevents you from using it on your roommate, but you feel at liberty to unleash its watery wrath on her boyfriend whenever he says or does something that remotely gets on your nerves. You take pictures of them when they aren't looking and post them to Facebook with captions that sing to the tune of “woe is me” and “this is what I am forced to behold, oh the pain” and whatnot. You contemplate switching their glasses while they’re asleep so that they wake up to a world of chaotic, incorrect prescription. These things might seem petty and childish. That’s because they are petty and childish. But the important thing is that they make you feel better.

Welcome to backseat-land, where everything is made up and the points don’t matter. Though it may take time, you do calm down and get used to your life as a third wheel. You begin to not feel so timid about pushing your presence on the couple and inserting your opinions into conversations, whether they want to hear them or not. Miraculously, you find that you are finally comfortable around the two of them, but there are still a few unspoken rules that remain firmly in place.
1.      If you are riding in his car, then she will always ride shotgun. This is both fair and reasonable. It’s also safer, considering that he has the vision of an aging fruit bat and the reflexes of a beached starfish. You actually find this seat quite fun, and your car rides take on the atmosphere of a game show—they try to figure out where to go while you distract them by shouting cleverly immature interjections from behind them.
2.      If you don’t eat your leftovers after a day, then they become his leftovers.
3.      You do not call to check up on your roommate when she is with him until it’s at least past midnight.
Also, you discover when it is and is not appropriate to accompany them when they’re going out. Are they going to his house? Then no. Are they going shopping? Then yes. Are they running errands? If you also have errands, then yes. If not, then no. Are they getting food? Then yes. Always yes. Once you have these small, polite notions memorized, then the road upon which a third wheel rolls becomes a little smoother.

You stumble upon the potholes. 
Like any other road, you discover that the highway upon which a third wheel rolls has potholes designed specifically for you. Many of these are holidays. Christmas comes, and you find yourself struggling with presents. If you don’t get your roommate’s boyfriend anything, will it be taken as a sign that you aren’t supportive of the relationship and have grown bitter toward the two of them? On the other hand, if you get him something too pricey or too personal, will they suspect you of crushing in a very off-limits kind of way? The solution to this is almost impossible in its simplicity: a humorous card and a $20 bill. Done.

You suddenly discover what’s in it for you.
One day, your computer starts acting up. This is when you immediately realize that your roommate’s boyfriend is good with technology, and before you know it the laptop is fixed, plus newly installed with Google Chrome, anti-spyware, and all sorts of other things that are cool to have but you will probably never use. Also, the fact that you don’t have cable in the dorm is no longer a problem because it is now quite easy to obtain TV shows from his vast digital library of downloaded whatnots. In addition to live-in tech support, you find that you can trade meal plan transfers with him in exchange for real food, as well as bum rides for various necessary off-campus trips. Once you find that you can use your roommate’s romantic life for your own selfish personal gain, then living with the side effects becomes easier than you ever imagined.

You can become friends with your best friend’s boyfriend. 
One day, you are suddenly overcome by the sensation that you have not only gotten used to your new way of life, but you have come to enjoy the moments that come with it. Despite the awkward instances, the rough beginnings, and the stumbling blocks, you have somehow maneuvered your way into the fold as a kind of daughter/sister/uncannily involved aunt type figure. You realize that with the right attitude, a good deal of flexibility, and a reliable squirt bottle, the group becomes less of an awkwardly moving three-wheeled cart and more of a small, slightly dysfunctional, motley little family. And you can’t quite remember the last time that you truly felt alone. 

Author Bio:

Jenna Blackburn is currently studying Literature at Northern Arizona University. She's spent her life writing a number of short stories, poems, and narratives, known for their wit, and their humorous themes. 


  1. I LOVE this post, probably because I roomed with my best friend for 3 years in college and we've both been the dreaded 3rd wheel before. Awesome, I am definitely going to send her to this post to read.

    XO Kelley

  2. hahaha. this is all so true


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