Are you a third wheel (or light bulb, as it is known in some cultures)?
For those clueless about what this is, a third wheel is a person who hangs out with a couple—and who can become an awkward addition to a romantic date.
If you’re not sure whether you’ve become a third wheel, here are some hints. You’re a close friend of the couple and spend a lot of time with them. Or, a good friend of yours starts to invite his or her other half to tag along in your regular hangouts. Or, you’re the only one left with a couple after everyone else leaves.
Like it or not, a third wheel is usually unwelcome, and is seen by many as a lonely, single person who has no choice but to play gooseberry (that’s what a third wheel does).
Have you ever wondered why we think this way? Why do we give the third wheel such a bad name?
This question could be answered by an apt analogy I once heard, of a kid learning how to ride a bicycle. Most of us start by riding a tricycle, but once we’re able to handle a bicycle, we can’t wait to get rid of the third wheel.
I’ve been a third wheel on many occasions in the past three years and believe it or not, I’ve come to see the bright side of it.
Here’s some unexpected benefits I’ve received from being a third wheel:
1. You learn to be more sensitive and aware of others’ needs
What do you do when there’re three of you but you’re given a table for four in a restaurant? It’s obvious, isn’t it? You let the couple sit next to each other, while you take the chair opposite. And what do you do when the meal comes to an end? Well, move aside and give the couple some space for their displays of affection.
But what if you notice that the couple are struggling with issues like miscommunication or unmet expectations that they themselves might not even be aware of? You could find the right opportunity to point out these issues (gently), encourage them to talk about them, and point them back to God.
Sure, this is no easy task. But think of it as caring for the needs of your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, which includes to “speak the truth in love” (Eph 4:15) and to “look out for the interest of others” (Philippians 2:4). A word of caution: this should be done with much care and sensitivity, so you don’t come across as judge or arbiter.
Being a third wheel can help you sharpen your awareness of what’s going on around you and teach you to discern what’s best to say or do at any given point. It can help turn you into a more sensitive and considerate person—important traits that will help you relate better to others.
2. You learn the do’s and don’ts of a relationship
When you witness and take note of how a couple relates to each other, you’ll get a realistic picture of what being in a relationship entails.
I learned the importance of affirming each other and knowing when and how to say the right things at the right moment on a recent shopping trip with a couple. Midway through, the boy offended the girl and both of them got into a disagreement. This started a cold war, with me caught in between. After I talked to both sides and tried to play the role of mediator, the boy took the initiative to apologize to the girl—and things went back to normal.
Or, you could just ask the couple for relationship tips and advice directly. You’ll be surprised by how willing most couples are to share about their relationship journey, including their quirks and habits.
Discovering that relationships are not all sugar and spice will go a long way in helping you prepare for your own relationship in future. You will be more aware of the potential pitfalls as well as good habits or practices to adopt.
3. You learn to be satisfied with your own life
Wondering how that’s possible? Well, if you’re a person who is prone to feeling envious of others who are in relationships, being a third wheel can teach you a lot about life and help you see beyond your own little bubble. You have the opportunity to witness and understand the joys and woes of different stages of a relationship and life by observing the couple, without even having to go through them yourself.
If nothing else, you’ll start to see that everyone has different lots in life and that we should learn to be content with what we have. Thank God for where He has placed you presently, and make the most out of the season you’re in.
As third wheels, we can be used by God to benefit others. Let’s heed His call to “be devoted to one another in love” (Romans 12:10) and to “encourage one another and build each another up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
Over time, I believe you’ll come to a greater appreciation of your role as a third wheel—just as I have.