When single, it may seem like Soul Death to spend time with happy couples, these giggling adorable dummies, suckling mystical energy from the universe’s golden teat. You may look at them and feel spiritually desiccated, the blood coagulating in your veins, hope draining from your orifices. You may have thoughts like, ‘Why was I born hollow?’ or ‘Is this really my life, my only life, one in which I am alone, alone, alone, and then dead?’ You may fixate on the superior physical/personality/intellectual traits of the boyfriend/girlfriend, instilling feelings of obsolescence, your brain eating itself alive like Ouroboros. Well, it’s time to get over these dumb “feelings” and recognize that being the third wheel is actually tons of fun. Hooray!
But how could lurking in the shadows of others’ bliss be a fine and dandy experience? Wouldn’t it be the exact opposite, the aforementioned Soul Death? Here’s a fun fact about couples: they usually go out more often than single people, partaking in exciting activities so as to maintain the relationship’s health, and like a parasitic remora fish, you can latch onto their exciting itineraries and nibble the scraps. No, you can’t worm your way into their steamy date time (anathema), but the less intimate affairs—museums, concerts, state fairs—are prime third wheel fodder. You provide a buffer in these all-day affairs, a variant in the conversation that keeps them from being bored by each other and reduces anxiety.
And what do you get out of this? Often, you can get free tickets to concerts, museums, and state fairs because, if this is a relationship based on traditional gender roles—as they often are—the boyfriend is trying to illustrate his financial fecundity via reckless generosity. Or in an alternative scenario, they recognize the potential burden of third wheel status and are simply bribing you into coming along. Either way, you reap the benefits.
This gender role parasitism extends to meals as well if you manage to latch onto a non-lascivious restaurant excursion. The boyfriend, culturally conditioned to pay the check in full, will pay for your dinner as well as the girlfriend’s simply out of habit, and possibly, on a primal evolutionary level, because he doesn’t want his mate to see him asking another man for money.
You get out your cash, and he swipes the check away with lightning speed. “Don’t worry about it,” he says.
“What?” you say. “But I desperately wanted to pay for this extremely expensive meal rather than buy groceries for a month!”
“Sorry,” he says. “I insist on paying.”
“Oh no! I’m fiscally unscathed!”
And the conservative girlfriend smiles, an ancient region of her brain concerned with breeding partner selection lighting up like a Christmas tree—PROVIDER PROVIDER PROVIDER.
“I’ll take the leftovers if you guys don’t want them,” you say, but you’re already stashing them in your knapsack, eyes wide and moist, Gollum-like.
If you nurture your third wheel relationship with the intended couple, hopefully, you become their Fake Baby, garnering additional benefits. They have long conversations about your welfare in front of you, whether you’re depressed or skinny or not achieving career goals. You sit in the backseat of Fake Dad’s car, staring animatedly out the window, making comments about what you see—“Goodyear, Dairy Queen, Bank of America, Subway, Nail Salon,”—while they whisper sexy things to each other up front. At the mall, you walk between them, and maybe Fake Dad ruffles your hair. When Fake Mom walks away, he sits you down and imparts helpful advice on life and love, which you ruminate deeply upon, for he is your Fake Dad and deserves respect. Then Fake Mom asks if you’d like an ice cream, and yes you do, you do want an ice cream please.
Meanwhile, you bide your time, monitoring their relationship’s deterioration with the cold detachment of the clinical sociopath, carefully positioning yourself for the inevitable dissolution of their love. Align yourself with the girlfriend in a way no one can detect as “slimy,” “exploitative,” or “morally repugnant.” Point out his flaws to her, his insensitive remarks and selfish behaviors. React to her grievances with expressions of sympathy like, “What a jerk!” and “I can’t believe he said that!” Encourage the boyfriend to express his insensitivity in dramatic ways, like “Tell her she’s acting crazy!” When they finally break up, you’re perfectly situated to be the rebound boyfriend/hookup. Though in old age, you’ll look back on your life with revulsion and shame, still, this is all fine, all normal.
Of course, spending time with a couple will also remind you how great it is to be single, unbound to any other living thing. These dummies are stuck with each other while you, on the other hand, have total sovereignty over your life. You don’t have to call someone every day. You don’t need to explain your actions to anyone. You can focus on yourself, your own wants and needs, yes. You are adrift. You are lost. You float through the void, untouched, like a ghost.