How to Be a Third Wheel

Being a third wheel is never easy, but it is manageable. Here are Modern Manners Guy's savvy tips for making the best out of your third wheel situation.

Richie Frieman
5-minute read
Episode #324

I don’t care how popular you are, when you’re a third wheel, it’s a true test of your social survival skills.

Sadly, most often when we are in the position of third wheel, we don’t realize it until it’s too late. And at that point leaving may no longer be an option - and might even be interpreted as rudeness..

So how do you handle being a third wheel when escape is simply not an option? Well, every situation is different and each calls for a unique technique to adopt for survival. So here are my top three (but I know there’s many more) settings showing how to properly handle being a third wheel:

Tip #1: The Romantic Third Wheel

By far the most common – and most uncomfortable - situation of being the third wheel is when it's in romantic circumstances.  Take Reed, a Modern Manners Guy Facebook friend who recently entered Third Wheelville. Reed's roommate Troy brought a girl he was interested in along for drinks (unannounced). From the get-go, it was as if Reed was invisible, while Suzy was the only thing in his roommate’s eyes. His frustration was not from jealousy (Reed found Suzy annoying and is happily engaged) but he was now stuck watching Troy and Suzy reenact a “one on one date” from The Bachelor.

When you become a third wheel in a romantic setting, the best way to handle it is to pretend you don’t realize how awkward it really is.

I know that sounds counterintuitive, but just hear me out.

When you’re a third wheel to a flirting couple, what would be more awkward – acting as if it’s no big deal, or acting like you want to join them? (Not in a freaky, 3am Cinemax movie kind of way, but in a regular hanging out kind of way).

So even though I don’t condone surfing on your phone in social situations, if you’re a third wheel to two people making googly eyes at each other, you're allowed a bit of leeway. Simply distance yourself from the two of them, but don’t isolate yourself. Kind of bob and weave into the conversation as if you don’t really notice that they're pretty close to jumping on each other like a pair of horny otters.

At the end of the day, the fact is that they don’t want you there and this stinks. So you don’t owe it to them to stick around. Finish your meal, have your drink, be social enough, but do not feel obligated to make it an all nighter. When you have a good opening, like the check comes, or you’re “feeling tired,” gracefully thank them and then the awkward zone.

Tip #2: The Third Wheel Kid

I was one of the first of my friends to have children. And as such, my wife and I would often bring the kids out with us when we met our single or child-free friends for meals.

Granted, my friends are my friends for a reason - they're super cool and understanding when it comes to the quirks and needs of small kids. But everyone has their limits (especially if they're not in the same boat in terms of parenting). It can easily go from “Oh, they’re so sweet!” to, “Wait, why is he crying bloody murder and throwing tortellini on the floor?”

When parents are out with their children, the kids are the primary responsibility. A hot meal or a friend is a distant second (a very distant). Oftentimes, simple uninterrupted conversation with the third wheel is something dreams are made of for parents of youngsters. So what do you do when you’re that third wheel to parents and a toddler? Embrace it, my mannerly friends. It’s the only answer.

Here's how.....