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How to Get Rid of a Third Wheel

We’ve all been in that awkward situation in which you want some privacy with your significant other, and one of your friends just hasn’t picked up on your hints. How do you get rid of a third wheel in that situation? You get rid of one as delicately and as smoothly as possible. The art lies in the delivery and follow-up, but we’ll get to that in a moment. Here is a step-by-step guide to adding some well-earned privacy to your date.

1. Prepare an exit strategy.

If you still have time to plan the date or hangout that the unwanted wheel will attend, let it be known that the two of you won’t be able to stay for the whole event. Try hanging out with a group so that the wheel has people to socialize with him or her when you leave. Everyone has friends that feel awkward or left out with groups comprised of couples, so make sure that some people invited are single. This isn’t even to set them up (if you think they’re compatible) so much as it is to make everyone feel better about being there with your circle of friends.

2. Quietly take the person aside.

Do this if the third wheel is your friend and not his or hers. If it’s a guy, quietly ask if he would be OK with you and your new squeeze being alone for a bit. Men commonly believe that a part of their image and reputation rests on emotional indifference, so we’re playing on the guy’s need for social acceptance to get rid of him in this situation. He’ll put his image before his desire to cling to you.

If the wheel isn’t your friend, you need to take your date aside and delicately inquire. Feign concern for the third wheel’s well being to your date, who can then try to arrange something with his or her friend. For example, try “Is he alright? It looks like we might be boring him.” Alternatively, “Should we let him off the hook? She looks unhappy.”

Don’t deny or try to hide the fact that you’d appreciate time alone; the trick is to appear like you care just as much for the third wheel’s situation as you do for your own (we call this empathy – use it often!). It’s not wrong to want privacy on a date, but appearing to think about the other person will help your case substantially.

If you are the unwanted party cramping somebody else’s date, then tell your friends about the benefits of always having a third wheel.

3. Try setting them up with someone else.

Public spaces are public because of the many people they contain! Try diverting your third wheel’s attention toward products on display or other interesting people. If you’re at a restaurant, keep bugging your friend to do try to get someone else’s number. It’s actually a fun way to pass the time until the wheel pursues some form of action. In the best-case scenario, the wheel gets a phone number from that interesting person. In the worst-case scenario, the wheel wants to leave earlier due to some misplaced embarrassment.

4. Transition the third wheel, don’t dismiss them.

Unwanted wheels often stick around because they’re dealing with their own problems. These problems can include break-ups, poor grades (for the achievers), clinical depression, missed job opportunity or firing, cancelled vacation, and so on. These things all suck, so don’t give them a hard time for something like that. Sober up an inebriated friend with coffee, or offer to drive a friend home if he or she is depressed over a breakup. Don’t just ask the person to leave—make a transition that feels more natural.

Tell the person that you and your date are thinking of moving somewhere more private or romantic in a little while to give the person time to figure out where he or she will go next. You can do this at any public space. If you’re at a café, bar, or similar lounge space, you can still hang out or finish your beverage before parting ways. Give that person the time to contact his or her other friends to see if they’re available, or at least the chance to check bus schedules to get home.

5. Follow up to hang out later.

You wanted privacy with your date and that is one hundred per cent reasonable. The third wheel might not see it that way, so convince him or her that you will hang out in the near future. You aren’t bargaining with them to leave your presence in exchange for future face time (if only the world worked like that!), so make a suggestion to catch up over a drink, see a movie, or just hang out somewhere soon. Throw the suggestion out there in an off-hand manner to make it seem more sincere. You don’t want to anger your own friends over your relationship time, and you really don’t want to anger your date’s friends.

If intelligent, the person will leave you and your date alone without feeling unwanted or shunned. This won’t be so hard to do in your 20s, 30s, or 40s, but teenagers don’t always have the option to just drive somewhere else on the drop of a dime. They often need to ride the bus or in a family or friend’s vehicle to get from one point to another. If you or your friends are in that situation then you’ve probably planned for this ahead of time.

6. Make an excuse to leave early.

If in doubt, make an excuse to leave! You can be full, sleepy, and no longer up for a hangout after a meal and/or a drink. You can get a headache from weather changes, a sudden migraine from working hard all week, or the onset of a common cold if you really need to leave. Perhaps you forgot to do something important, or a sibling needs an emergency pickup because your dad’s having car troubles.

Regardless of the strategy you use, make it natural and graceful. Authenticity and preserving the other person’s feelings is always the best way to get rid of a third wheel. After all, this is likely one of your friends (in most cases), so be sure to adopt whichever strategy will work best for all parties involved.

About the author

Nicole Harding

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