Third wheels get around campus

The third wheel has long been regarded as the awkward appendage of tolerating couples. Upon doing some research, however, we discovered that the third wheel is an important – perhaps even indispensable – component of most relationships at the College. As many know, the Williams dating culture is woefully complex, involving all sort of romantic relationships that range from the casual DFMO (dance floor make-out) to the serious, dating couple.  Third wheels help lost singles navigate through this often frustrating world. Behind the scenes, these underappreciated sidekicks toil away to help bridge the gap between “just friends” and dating.
Because their own roles are often hazy and undefined, third wheels adapt to the situation in a variety of ways. Many on campus proudly proclaim themselves as third wheels. Far from being the tag-along friend, they play a central role in a relationship. These essential components are often thought of as gardeners who tend to the fragile beginnings of relationships: The plants would never bloom and flourish without them. Some liken the third wheel role to the big wheel of a tricycle, guiding the relationship along.
One example is Katherine ‘Peanut’ Belk ’13, a self-proclaimed third wheel. “I am the ultimate third wheel,” she said. Belk takes a different approach, realizing that she does not fulfill the main role but an important one nonetheless. She describes the third wheel as an “implement” in the initial stages of a relationship, when hanging out one- on-one can be tricky. There is always an enigmatic stage at the beginning of a relationship when the parties are wary of crossing into the “dating” territory. The third wheel eases this tension by providing an extra party, so that the developing couple can flirt in a relaxed setting.
Belk has been on numerous three-man dates. She has found herself as a “tool” in relationships, and her purpose is perhaps a numerical one: Simply by adding a third person, she transforms a potentially awkward date into a casual hangout. Belk also helps hesitant couples cut to the chase. In the past, she has imposed physical force to literally bring the couple together. While Belk thrives as a third wheel for budding relationships, some prefer to work amid older relationships, fearing the dependency that can arise as a third wheel for young couples.
Another third wheel you may see around campus is Matt Cranshaw ‘11, who finds that five of six of his close friends are in long-term relationships.
“I definitely third wheel a lot here at Williams,” he said. “But I like it because it is casual.”
Cranshaw brings humor to the mix and lightens the situation. “My role is often to embarrass one party as much as possible,” he said. If you’re looking to see if you and your mate have a strong enough bond, Cranshaw offers a chance to test the fortitude of your relationship: “I am the ultimate test for a relationship. If you can take me, the relationship has a future,” he said.
Like Belk, Cranshaw finds that his work improves relationships. Cranshaw’s third-wheeling is actually a selfless act.
“The positive result for the relationship is that you have to be more honest,” he said. “I know people who act one way with their girlfriend and one way with their friends, and I think a third wheel is a nice way to bridge that gap.”
What is often not known about third-wheeling is how territorial it can become. In this underground world, jealousy runs rampant. If you think it’s tough to find a significant other, imagine how hard it is to find a decent couple to third-wheel with. Belk has a strong attachment to her couples and proclaims she “made” them.
For aspiring third wheels out there, Belk and Cranshaw offer invaluable advice that needs to be considered for your third-wheeling (and the relationship you are third-wheeling) to be a success. But be warned, it’s not all fun and games in this position: Fights are an inevitable part of relationships and may prove uncomfortable for a well-intentioned third wheel. It is better not to get involved, since it could cause a problematic triangle situation, and let’s face it: Not all of the relationship involves the third wheel. In the event that you are in a fight with one of the members of the couple, you will most likely have the lower hand. “The couple will always align with each other – they will never align with you, so you’re on your own if you’re in a fight with either of them,” Belk said from personal experience. When fights end in break-ups, the third wheel is often overlooked. For a third wheel that has been there from the beginning, a break-up can prove devastating. It may seem like this large chapter of your life has abruptly come to a close, and you did not even have a say in the matter. Such are the tradeoffs of third-wheeling.
So if you find yourself cuddling with your significant other as your third wheel sits awkwardly by, remember the pivotal role that seemingly unnecessary addition has played in your relationship. The third wheel is, after all, the foundation of love – and such people don’t appreciate their efforts going unnoticed. “I will start charging for third-wheeling,” Belk warned.

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