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

When you're out with friends and their child, do not expect to have the opportunity for an in-depth discussion about the shifting geopolitical forces in Eastern Europe. Do not assume you can even finish your sentence or take a bite of your burger without interruptions. It is what it is, folks. 

So embrace your third-wheelness by joining in the chaos. Jump in to help out your frazzled friends. Play with the kids. Laugh along. Assist in feeding, too. Talk when you can, but prepare for cleaning up spills and running around pretending to be a monster. Your friends will thank you deeply for helping out and not complaining about it. Plus, this is the best part of being the super cool kinda-sorta uncle or aunt.

Tip #3: The Corporate Third Wheel  

Samantha just started a new job at a finance company when her new boss and a Senior VP invited her for lunch. Her boss and the VP spent the entire meal laughing at inside jokes and discussing an upcoming meeting, using acronyms she hadn’t learned yet. Samantha nodded and laughed when they did – as if she knew what they were talking about - all the while watching the clock tick away at a glacial pace. 

This is the ultimate corporate third wheel situation. I mean here she is at a new job, invited to lunch – which is by definition an act that suggests communal conversation – and is now stuck wondering if they’d even notice if she walked away and didn’t return. For the record, that’s never a good idea.

Whether you’re a newbie like Samantha, or a seasoned vet just unsure about your place at this particular table, there is always a chance to join in the conversation. You just have to take it. No one – not even the CEO – wants to talk about work all the time. It may be what they enjoy discussing most, but there is always room for new topics.  A key trait of any successful person is their ability to blend in and network whenever possible. If you sit there like a lump the whole time waiting to be invited into the conversation, you will have wasted a great opportunity to connect.And to do this, you don’t have to even talk shop. 

See also: Small Talk Etiquette


Listen for an opening in the conversation and chime in when you can. If they talk about traveling, offer an interesting tip like, “I’ve found that by downloading the airline’s app, it gets me better deals and quicker alerts. Plus, I save tons of time.” Or even the weather, “Yes the cold is rough now, but the good news is that I get to dust off the skis. Do either of you ski?” Boom! New topic, brought to you by the newbie. 

Being the third wheel is never easy, but having the social savvy to maneuver the situation to your advantage is key. Plus, it will make the experience much less unnerving and even score you some points.

As always, if you have another manners question, I look forward to hearing from you at manners@quickanddirtytips.com. Follow me on Twitter @MannersQDT, and of course, check back next week for more Modern Manners Guy tips for a more polite life.

Do you have any recent graduates in your circle, or perhaps someone who is looking to start a new career? If so, check out my book, Reply All…And Other Ways to Tank Your Career for great tips and advice on job success. It's available now!

Third wheel image courtesy of Shutterstock.