What’s more effective than all your dating apps? As a third wheel

Years ago I went on a date with an aspiring comedian I met each other on Bumble. Halfway through, it was clear that he was only teaming up with girls to test his material. Before he could make his next joke, I wished him well, told him I’d be on the lookout for his next show, and slipped out the door. And then I immediately deleted his profile. Instead of going home and cursing the state of dating in LA, I decided to meet up with my newly engaged girlfriend and her fiance at a nearby bar. I’d always welcomed the distraction of my few friends – entertaining them with tales from the dating ditch and delighting in their brutally honest relationship advice.

The three of us settled into a four-top next to a pool table. Something struck us throughout the evening: our vacant seat served as a revolving door, a welcoming place to sit and start a conversation. Standing out was a 30-year-old who had a cool job at the Natural History Museum and another who coyly shared that he was the first to come to his own birthday party. (We bought him a drink and later made life difficult for his friends.) When I was left without a pool partner, my friends asked the group next to us if any of them would “help their boyfriend lose gracefully.” A sweet, seemingly shy guy volunteered – and later asked for my number.

We lost that night, but after laughing and telling stories, I came home with a winning snack: With the right people, the right place, and the right perspective, a third wheel — aka third wheel — can be a great one Possibility to meet people in Los Angeles. Since then, I’ve perfected my craft: scrolling through my contacts, identifying couples I enjoy hanging out with, and asking if I can crash their date night. “We are on the precipice of a cultural renaissance,” I announced to a friend, as if I’d made a profound discovery. “Being the third wheel is not just the result of unforeseen circumstances; it’s the new frontier.” My social calendar has been fully booked ever since.

You might think this setup doesn’t sound particularly romantic. And yes, it’s hard to shake the term’s negative connotations – the origin of the “third wheel” can be traced back to the later half of the 20th century, referring to the cumbersome third or fifth wheel of a horse-drawn carriage, which lacks function and lacked stability. It became a contemporary catchphrase to mean an additional, usually undesirable, person who serves no useful purpose.

My PSA: The ride may be bumpy, but it’s totally worth it. We are programmed for the fairy tale. (Or the “Razzle-Dazzle” as I like to call it.) In the indeed dating world, Third-Wheeling is an untapped social art form.

Part of the reason it works so well is that couples aren’t just solid wingmen, they’re die-hard hype men. There is a difference. “My husband and I will make every effort to get our third friends together, more so than we did when we were single,” says Avani Sivakumaran, a financial adviser and a Los Angeles native who likes to invite her single friends on her dates. “We’re no longer in the market, which allows us both to have a vested interest in our friends’ love lives.”

I can attest to this: I’ve had couples report guys, ask for their phone number, and then proceed as if I wasn’t right there. “You know she’s running the LA marathon without training?” one couple once gushed. Or my personal favorite: “You two would have beautiful babies – but don’t rush, she’s frozen her balls!” Shameful perhaps, but the moral of the story is that the right couple will unabashedly advocate for you in ways you wouldn’t expect would. (For those wondering, yes, the guy who found out about my iced eggs at a Studio City fertility center called the next day.)

And while there’s a lot to gain as a third wheeler, couples also find value in having a third wheel with them. Samantha Snowden, a Los Angeles-based mindfulness coach, says adding a third wheel to dates helps her discover new sides to her partner while reducing what she calls “attention load.”

“Seeing my significant other as his own person, interacting with our mutual friends, increases the banter and keeps things fresh,” says Snowden. “It takes away the burden of having to be each other’s only audience. Also, I don’t have to laugh at my husband’s dad jokes all the time.”

Sivakumaran agrees. “We’re looking for someone who can easily contribute, if not lead, to the conversation,” she says. “My husband and I are both naturally introverted. So when our single friends are so open about the ups and downs of dating, we feel like we can be less self-conscious as well.”

Ready to start third wheel? Here are a few tips.

Choose the right pair

Some couples are better equipped to add a third person into the mix than others, so choose your two wheels carefully. First, the couple should enjoy spending time together. This may sound obvious, but believe me – I’ve gone from third-party cyclist to couples therapist real company.

Also, make sure the couple has been together for at least three months. Once a friend who was in a situation with a dapper graduate student for two weeks texted me: “Want to ride the third wheel with me and Dapper Doc?” I was over at the restaurant in an LA minute (read: half an hour) . But as I sat down, I realized that this was the first time he had met one of her friends. He was nervous and the evening was a blur of banter and too much bourbon.

Date the City founder Neal Hruby loves it when he gets to know the couple well, and explains that a sense of intimacy and comfort “adds an invaluable dimension.” As the third wheel on dates, he says, “I sit in the middle and keep each of them company during bathroom breaks, bouncing back and forth between guy stuff and the emo essentials. It’s a win-win-win situation.”

Choose the right date activity

Trina Hendry, who puts together day trips for couples and singles, says Los Angeles is an excellent city for third parties because there are so many different date ideas that aren’t wrapped in romance. “Whether connected or not, people find solace in exploring new places in a group, and LA has so many laid-back outdoor activities — like hiking at Escondido Falls or Will Rogers State Park — so it’s not a huge commitment for one of the parties,” says Hendry. (I can attest to that — I met someone once on a couples camping trip.)

My third-party LA go-to spots: lively rooftops with happy hours (Perch, Desert 5 Spot, Elephante), buzzing bars and restaurants with seating that extends onto the sidewalk so you can mingle with passers-by (Capri Club, Idle Hour) and neighborhood bars offering trivia, live music, or stand-up comedy (Angel City Brewery, Harvelle’s, Blind Barber).

Think “our date” not “their date”

Above all, the buy-in of all three people is important, especially you. If you’re feeling insecure, everyone’s going to be awkward on the date: “The way you think is paramount,” says Hruby. “Position it as ‘our’ date as opposed to ‘her’ date. If you’re confident and open to new experiences, chances are someone with the same attitude will notice.”

When you’re single, it’s easy for cuffing season and the many end-of-year gatherings to turn you into a holiday grinch. But I see this time as a welcome opportunity. (Q4 hits candy to win!) Wear your Wheeler status with pride, meet your pair of friends for a date this season and leave the chair next to you open to new possibilities. Maybe there Ice enough razzle-dazzle to go around. This is LA after all.

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