One of society’s biggest memes about love and relationships is the concept of being a third wheel. Last year for Valentine’s Day, I wrote about how it’s totally fine to be single and how to be content with that fact. This article is a companion to that. Third wheel syndrome, or spare tire syndrome if you find yourself alone with couples, is more common than you think. And despite what it may imply, you’re really not alone.
Whether you feel third wheel syndrome in your family or within your group of friends, you may sometimes notice your single status exacerbated when you are surrounded by couples that are decidedly not single. No matter how much at peace you are with your choice, it’s totally normal to still feel at odds when you are spending time with people in relationships. You and your feelings are not any less valid just because you feel vulnerable without a significant other from time to time. You may be a strong, independent single person, but you’re also human.
When you feel this way, just remember you’re surrounded by people you like who also like you. There’s a reason you choose to spend time with them and vice versa. Engage in conversation and make time for yourself. If you’re really feeling out of it, text another friend or family member you might be missing. Don’t be rude to the point of being on your phone the whole time, but a quick text from another loved one reminds you there are many people who love you.
For example, not many people in my friend group are in relationships of present. However, both of my sisters are. When I spend time with them and their significant others, I am happy they choose to spend time with me, and I’m lucky to also feel comfortable with their significant others. It’s not like they ignore me when we’re all together, but, the fact their significant other is automatically included in every situation and I don’t have someone who they will view in a similar way is sometimes disheartening.
When you see others discussing with their significant other or sharing with them, you’re bound to notice how you do not specifically have anyone to do that with. No matter how uncouple-y a couple may be acting, the sheer presence of their relationship may be enough for you to feel insecure or just uncomfortable. Nothing is wrong with you, and nothing is wrong with the people you love who also happen to be together. They may not realize they are giving respect, such as leaving you out of a conversation. As annoying as this is, you can’t blame them. Just try to redirect some attention back to yourself so you don’t get completely left out. Hopefully, the people you’re with get the hint.
In a similar vein, you’re bound to be in a situation where you’re close with one person in a couple but not their significant other. That makes it dicey to navigate spending time with said couple. Cut your friend or sibling some slack — they have to juggle paying attention to both of you, while you and their significant other try to get along. And if the couple is flaunting their relationship? Whether they normally act like that or not, some good ol’ communication may come in handy here. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with holding hands or a peck on the cheek, but ignoring you or making out is bound to grind anyone’s gears. Use your judgment — sometimes, you’re going to need to stomach the little things, because people are allowed to live their lives, but if you’re really uncomfortable about something, being upfront (but still courteous) about how you feel may alleviate the situation. And if your handsy friends don’t lay off a little or just don’t understand the problem at all, you may have to reconsider spending as much time with them. As drastic as that may seem, if they are not respecting your comfort (within reasonable limits), then you shouldn’t spend so much effort trying to make the situation work.
If anything, change your mindset about third wheeling. Everyone experiences it, and it doesn’t always need to be a drag. As long as you understand that it’s ok to feel left out sometimes, but still are able to enjoy time with your loved ones, then you’re going to be alright.
Hollie Lao is a staff writer and the social media manager for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.