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The Subtle Art of Being the Third Wheel

With a little confidence, the odd one out can have the best time

By now, if you care at all about celebrities — admit it, you do! — you’ve seen the photos of Kate Beckinsale and Pete Davidson sucking face at a hockey game. The reaction to this was a bit priggish, in my opinion; really, it’s not like the New York Rangers demand one’s full attention. But much of the social media chatter focused on Antoni Porowski of the Netflix Queer Eye reboot, seated just to the right of the paparazzi-magnet couple.

In the popular interpretation, Porowski was relatably distressed by the hetero PDA happening next to him. Maybe so! However, I see something different: a man exercising his right to zone the fuck out during a sporting event that may or may not interest him and letting the horny duo next to him do their thing. It’s called being a third wheel, and it’s a way better gig than people realize — because the pressure is mostly off you.

Sure, if you’re unlucky in love, it may sting to be this close to folks who can’t keep their hands off each other. Consider the upside, though: in these trios, you have a privileged role. Sometimes you’re the center of attention, because couples already spend lots of time together and are probably bored of listening to each other. Instead, they want to hear about every little thing that’s happening in your world, so you get to regale them with anecdotes about your annoying coworkers or the new pottery class you’re taking!

Meanwhile, your obligation level is fairly low. You’re not trying to impress a date or keep a conversation going. Like Porowski, you can mentally drift away whenever you like and not worry about offending someone. You’re also free to bail at any moment or indulge almost any whim: no negotiations with a partner as to when it’s time to head home or whether you should be ordering your fries with extra cheese. In the eyes of the couple, who are trying to find a compromise on everything they do, this is a kind of superpower. You control your own destiny! You’re spontaneous and fun, the X-factor of the group!

Pretty much the only thing you might do wrong as a third wheel is complain and mope that you’re the third wheel. Sorry, but nobody wants a sad third wheel. Your job is to keep things chill and defuse the tension when the lovebirds start getting snippy with one another. Alternatively, you can just fade into the background and scroll through your phone. Up to you. The point is, a person who rises to this role and lets their paired-off friends participate vicariously in their Tinder experience will always be in high demand.

So yeah, go out there and attach yourself to people who shamelessly make out in public while you’re sitting four inches away. Contrary to Antoni’s face at that hockey game, it’s a decent, easy, low-stakes way to socialize and, apparently, get turned into an amusing meme. Over time, maybe you can even level up to fifth wheel. That’s true swagger.