My Life as a Third Wheel

December 9, 2010 at 10:44 pm (Uncategorized)

Things I’ve Learned from Other People’s Relationships

I sit in the back seat of the car while my friend and his/her significant other navigate up front.  Sometimes they fight over directions, sometimes they kiss at the red light, often they roll their eyes…I am silent as a child witnessing her or his parents’ marriage.  It can be a little awkward at times, but as an only child it’s oddly familiar being the odd wheel.

In the past few years, I have been on vacation with couples, shared a hotel room, enjoyed long dinners and drives, popped out of the back seat to wish a “Happy Anniversary Guys!” from time-to-time…I’ve even helped pick out the wedding cake.  I am either a hopeless case or really lucky to genuinely enjoy the company of my peers and their life partners.  My amazing friends never make the third wheel feel insignificant to the conversation.

Third Wheel

Contrary to popular belief there are some benefits to third wheeldom.   I’ve learned a few life lessons from my front row back seat.

  1. Pay Attention! The hardest things are always the most obvious.  People often tell you what they feel if you really pay attention.  It’s so hard when you are emotionally involved, when you have so much history, but from the outside, without bias or personal agenda it’s clear.  Paying attention could be the easiest way to avoid half of the petty disagreements that clutter quotidian life.
  2. Power is Fungible, Don’t take Advantage! While I hope for a truly equal partnership, other people’s relationships have proved that power is fungible.  The give and the take, the ebb and flow, and hopefully it all comes out in the wash.  Some people are more natural givers, others are natural takers, one month you’re up and the next you’re penny-less, insurance-less, and crying in a public park.   It takes mental strength and love not to take advantage of the other’s inclination or luck.
  3. Find Someone Who is on Your Team! When you are dating it is easy to be attracted to various opposite dynamics–the competitor, the cheerleader, the fan, the coach…each in its own way has an interesting, exciting, flattering, or comforting proposition.  But, ideally, in the long-term, we need someone who is an active player on our team.
  4. Just Say Congratulations. When an former love tells you s/he is engaged the appropriate response is “Congratulations.”  Congratulations Period. Not Congratulations Exclamation Point!
  5. Everyone Has Their Thing! Gambling, smoking, chocolate, Taco Bell, casual clothing, tucking/not tucking their shirt, religion, talking too much, drinking, pets, in-laws, no presents rule during the holidays, an obnoxiously loud laugh, time management issues, video games, constant High Five-ing, immigration status, an ex that will never go away…everyone has their thing.  I don’t know if it’s important to keep the “thing” in check or to let it slide every once in a while, but it’s good to know before the next relationship comes along that everyone will have their thing.  It just needs to compliment my thing.

Lastly, contrary to popular 70s film belief (that may or may not have been based on the now defunct Al and Tipper Gore love story…) love does mean having to say you are sorry.

Of course these lessons will only matter if they are put into practice in the heat of the moment when it counts.  Easier said than done.  The third or fifth wheel is by definition an odd character, but with years of amassing knowledge and advice from good friends it can one day get even.

Or call shotgun.


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