Graphic by Rachel Hawley
Third-wheeling with a couple never turns out well. It’s something you figure out almost immediately after being put in that situation.
It doesn’t matter if you’re friends with one or the other or both. I promise it won’t work out for you.
First comes the touching. The space between skin, empty and stagnant, never seemed important before. There used to be a lot of it, as if each of you had filed a restraining order on the other. And when the order was broken, there was always a reason.
But there doesn’t have to be a reason anymore, and there isn’t one. The space between them contracts until it’s minute, miniscule, unmeasurable with even the most precise of instruments. Fingers interlacing, arms brushing up against each other, hands tucked in the crook of elbows, heads always slightly inclined toward each other.
Even in the sparse moments of disconnection, the air pulses with their attraction. You think they must be opposite poles of magnets, north and south, succumbing to a force they cannot repress. Because even when they remember that you’re there, that they can’t get too close (that you’re preventing them from getting too close), and they shy away just a little, they always seem to find their way back to each other.
You never understood the sanctity of personal space before. But the “bubble” of personal space that seems to be a universal joke means something now, because, more than anything, you wish that they would respect it around you.
Because as soon as the gap closes, the spark of contact is ignited, and it becomes “you” and “them”. Your little group becomes a cheap two-for-one deal – one that you didn’t willingly or knowingly buy into.
But far worse than any physical discomfort are the emotional side effects of overdosing on a relationship that is not your own. You see, third-wheeling necessarily spawns a desperate longing.
While you’re admiring the mystical shrinking of space around the pair, you may notice the distinct abundance of space radiating from your sole being. Even if it never bothered you before, I guarantee it will bother you once your life becomes filled with couples (because couples, unfortunately, attract other couples like love bugs to a flame).
Suddenly your life becomes a series of odd numbers. Reservations for three, movie tickets for five, a car made to fit seven. It’s you, the odd one out, who changes the sweet, content even pairings into a lonesome, depressed odd sum.
The worst part might be that no one admits it’s you. It becomes the world’s worst kept secret; that you are, in fact, alone, tagging along as what seems to be an extraneous extremity.
When you’re with unpaired friends, or even alone, you realize that you don’t need another half – that you never needed another half. After all, it’s the idea that appeals to you much more than any physical person ever has. No, your happiness would not increase with the addition of a significant other.
But these internal revelations don’t matter when your external world is ruled by couples. You find yourself wishing for a mythical being to take shape and round out your odd number.
It never does.