Ask A 40-something: How To Thrive As a Third Wheel…Make Your Own Wheel


This week, due to travel, different time zone, holiday and a cold to boot, I’m posting some old faves and good reminders. Today reprising one of the top reader questions about being a 3rd wheel…something we often are more aware of during the holidays (or that single wheel at all the family gatherings!) Here my amazing 40-something panel weighs in (and I add my own perspective):

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Dear 40-Somethings: I’m going through “the year of the wedding.” I’m 27 and single. Nearly all of my friends are married, getting married or in serious relationships on the cusp of getting engaged. I have a couple of single pals that I enjoy spending time with, but I sometimes feel like everyone is going down a path without me. And I would like to go down that path one day – after I meet the right guy.

While I’m happy for my friends, when I spend time with them I usually feel like the third, fifth or seventh wheel. All social events are couples-filled (even yoga) and when we go out to dinner each couple picks out their own plates to share and leaves me to myself.  They have no other single friends.  In the last month, all of my couple friends moved to the same neighborhood.  They have their own book club, date nights, etc.  One of the guys (half) jokingly said I could join in the fun if I moved to the neighborhood…So here’s my question: How can I remain friends with couples when spending time with them makes me feel bad about being single?

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Dear 20-Something: Would you rather be home by yourself with your cats– or out   with your friends?

What is more fulfilling? I used to feel like a 3rd wheel but now I appreciate hanging with my married friends. It gives me a good perspective on what married life is like and after the initial glow of being married wears off they are usually eager to spend time with their single friends and it can be quite fun. – 40-something, marketing executive, single, San Francisco

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Dear 20-Something: It depends on how it makes you feel. If it makes you feel more alone, then maybe it’s not the right choice for now.

If it means having more opportunities to get out & do fun things, I’d say go for it. You never know if someone has a single brother or friend. I know it can be tough being the ‘extra”’ wheel (see Bridget Jones – re: being a “singleton”).When I was in graduate school I was still living like a student, while my friends were getting married, buying their first homes & second cars. When they started having kids it widened the gap further. And now in my 40s, married, but w/o children, my husband and I find fewer people to hang out with because most of these friends are caught up in play dates & car pools.  But there are people who can see beyond your relationship or parental status. A true friend will still invite you and want to spend time with you even when your lives aren’t on the same trajectory.

The question I ask myself is: even if I am the “singleton” or haven’t experienced raising kids, do I enjoy the company of these people? In some cases the answer is yes, and we continue. When the answer is no, then that is the answer.  – 40-something, doctor, married, no kids, Los Angeles, CA


Screen Shot 2016-07-30 at 3.06.13 PM Dear 20-Something: I think probably, for a time, it might be more fun to try to hang out with these friends one-on-one.

I can’t imagine that they never do anything without their new spouses. Your friends might really enjoy being able to escape for a coffee or a bike ride with you — it just probably won’t be a one-on-one dinner or a drink at night (at least for a time while they are caught up in the new found couple clanning). Meanwhile, try to carve out more of an evening social life with single friends. Couples can be kind of boring to be around. – author, columnist, Washington DC


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Dear 20-Something: Make new friends and keep the old.

Life is often a cycle of being single and coupled. When a long-term relationship ended at age 35, I realized all my friends had married and moved to the suburbs. Not that I didn’t stay in touch with them but that meant there was no gal pal to grab a spontaneous dinner with, to enjoy a leisurely Sunday brunch or go to that party that you got invited to. Years later after divorcing it was the same thing. You need to go through a new stage of keeping the old friends while finding the new. Whether you have ended a relationship or just find all your friends caught up on their coupledom, it’s a similar situation.

What I have learned is… accept it and work at it. It can take time to break into a new crew of friends, especially as you get older. But it’s also fun to meet new people. Some ideas. Invite people to do interesting things – an art gallery opening, a holiday shopping event, a film screening, a charity event. There are usually a ton of events that are open to the public if you search your local guides, or maybe there is something you have access to through your work that someone else may not.

Enlist your married friends…do they know an interesting single friend? Then be the third wheel on their friend date. Meet someone who likes the same workout as you do? Suggest a bike ride or run. Take a work or networking relationship to the next step when you discover you share a common interest. Have one acquaintance who loves books (movies, plays, museums, cooking)? Suggest starting a book club (insert, cooking night, movie club etc.). Or host a book swap or costume jewelry swap party and tell everyone to bring a friend.

By investing in new single relationships in your life you can bring more into your coupled friends life and instead of talking about whether you are dating someone (that question!) you can share stories and experiences. Plus, you never know who you will meet while exploring new friendships instead of feeling bad about the path your friends are all taking. Like all 40:20 Vision, it often comes down to focusing more on the good things that are happening vs. getting dragged down by the bad. – 4020 Vision

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