How Do I Stop Being The Third Wheel?

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Dear Miriam,

A close friend of mine wants to get together and hang out with me on a repeated basis, which is great, but as of late, every time he shows up, he’s with his boyfriend in tow. I don’t dislike the boyfriend, but often I just want to have some one-on-one time with my friend. Is there a way to arrange this without making it seem like I don’t like my friend’s significant other?


Unwilling Third Wheel


Dear Unwilling, 

During any new relationship, there’s a period of adjustment: How much time does the couple spend together, how much time do they spend together with their respective friend groups, and how much time do they spend apart doing their own things with their own friends. There’s no standard answer, and for a new couple, navigating these questions is part of getting to know each other. That navigation, however, doesn’t necessarily take the friends and their needs into account.

If you haven’t had a conversation with your friend yet, I think it’s time. You can say, “I’m so happy to see you happy with your boyfriend. I also miss the time we used to spend together.” You can stop there and wait for him to respond, assuming he’ll get the hint of what you’re looking for, or you could also continue: “I wonder if there’s a good time for just the two of us to get together sometime.” Maybe you can suggest an activity you’ve often enjoyed together, or you can leave it more open-ended. Prepare for the answer to be no, or for your friend to be surprised or maybe even a little offended, but I still think it’s all worth saying. 

I also wonder what it would take for you to start to see the boyfriend as a friend as well. Do you feel like there are things you can’t say in front of him, or like you can’t fully be yourself because you don’t know each other? Maybe you can try to treat these three-person get-togethers more like your two-person hang-outs used to be. If the boyfriend is coming along, then treat him like part of the deal and don’t hold back suggesting activities or sharing parts of yourself you typically reserve for closer friends. 

Two final things: First, I wonder if you’re putting in the effort to get to know the boyfriend so that maybe you could consider him a friend, too. Make sure you’re including him in the conversation, asking him questions, and being personable towards him and not just his significant other. The fact that your friend wants to spend time with the two of you together means he probably thinks you’ll get along, so try to give that option a bigger role in your interactions. Second, I encourage you to make sure your friend group includes lots of people, single and coupled, so that you’re not too reliant on any one person and their relationship status. None of this is easy, and your feelings about the situation are absolutely justified, but you’re also not powerless or without agency to express your needs and make the best of your friendship as it is now. 

Be well,