Dating Don’ts: The Case For Being The Third Wheel

Third Wheel Dating

I am the only person in my friend group not in a relationship, a swinging single floating in the midst of the happily coupled. Nights out are often curtailed early. Someone’s boyfriend is tired, someone else’s boyfriend has the stomach flu. One couple stayed out too late and now has to go home to rest their eyes and watch DVR’ed episodes of “Orphan Black,” together, natch.

Hanging out with couples used to make me uncomfortable. I never knew what to do when their tiny domestic disputes were laid bare in front of me at the bar. One of the most uncomfortable brunches I have ever encountered was before Christmas, with my best friend and his boyfriend. I pushed a pile of Eggs Benedict around my plate as they exchanged carefully shrouded barbs about present exchanges and quality time before the holidays. I left them standing quietly on the street in front of the restaurant, speaking in hushed tones about what to do next.

“Who else is coming?” I’d ask after establishing plans. If the night was going to be just a couple and myself, I could already envision how it would play out. We’d go to a bar, we’d have a couple of drinks, and then the couple would pack up and go home to their little love den, falling asleep on the couch under a blanket while watching “House Hunters International.”  This entire process would take an hour, two hours tops. It got to a point where I felt the effort expended wasn’t worth the return. Why put in my contacts, get dressed, and leave the house if I was just going to be quietly returning home in an hour? I could be enjoying the same television programs from the comfort of my own home, without having to make small talk and spend money first.

For a while, this worked. I would see my friends on their own time, without their significant others, and all would be well. We’d go out, and it would be as our friendships have always been, easygoing with a comfortable familiarity bred out of years of friendship. I have a small group of friends by choice. I enjoy spending time alone, but when I chose to go out, I like to see the people that I care about the most, in their most natural and comfortable state. Hanging out solo with my friends who are booed up is something I cherish these days, because it is so very rare.

As their relationships developed, the presence of these boyfriends became a non-negotiable, an assumption rather than a suggestion. I found myself tagging along to what would’ve been perfectly lovely double dates, holding court at a table of couples, drinking my beers faster than the rest of them, and surreptitiously texting under the table. I wasn’t uncomfortable per se, but the situation would throw my chosen singlehood into stark relief. They were doing things that I guess I should be doing, like binge-watching “House of Cards” together and jetting off on family vacations. I, on the other hand, was doing the same kind of shit I always did — watching television, reading books, cooking way too much food for one person, and plucking my eyebrows while watching old “So You Think You Can Dance” routines on YouTube. When catalogued, these rituals paled in comparison to the things my coupled friends were doing. They were forging meaningful relationships and traveling the world while I participated in sketchy at-home grooming routines and occasionally had string cheese and a handful of chips for dinner.

This bothered me at first, in a very muddled, deep way that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. The thing about being the only single person in your group of friends is that your alone-ness is on constant display. At dinner, the natural place for you to sit is at the head of the table, presiding over the others attendees like some sort of weird mother figure or visiting dignitary, entertaining questions and providing comic relief. At first, that was the thing about hanging out with my coupled friends that bummed me out — the pressure to paste a smile on my face and provide charming anecdotes about my life as an untethered woman could be tiresome. But after a while? I just embraced it.

There’s not much out there about the benefits of being single, but the one that rings the truest for everyone is complete and total autonomy. As someone who is not in a committed relationship by choice, I am capable of steering this ship through the night however I see fit.I don’t have to tend to the needs of someone else, and I don’t have to worry about whether or not the person I’ve hitched my wagon to wants to leave the rooftop barbecue that we’re at. I can stay or go, entirely on my whim. I can decide not to come out, and have the strength to blame it on no one else but myself. I never need to make excuses for anyone.  I’m happy with my life as it is. Being single right now is a definite choice, but as summer begins in earnest, the urge to start dating again begins anew, like it does every few months or so. Something about warm nights raises the whisper to a shout.

This summer, I’m going to wait.

[Photo of three fingers via Shutterstock]

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