There are many cultural characteristics that separate The South from the rest of the United States. Some are of a more generic variety and seem to be almost innate. For instance y’all is part of the regular vernacular, we deep fry more than we should, churches take the place of Walgreens on every street corner and saying, “yes Ma’am” or “yes Sir” is one of the first lessons learned. There is one aspect of southern culture that I was not so privy to until I began stumbling through my twenties, and that is everyone gets married. And they get married young.

In the South, People Marry Young

To give some perspective, I am currently 27 years old and I would say it is a fair estimate that nearly 75% of my close friends are either married or engaged. Hell, it’s probably higher than that. And that percentage is most likely not much higher than it was two or three years ago.

This is by no means a bad thing. And perhaps it is because they are my friends, but despite the divorce statistics, I am confident in saying that the vast majority of these marriages are strong and healthy relationships that are built to last. However, there is one obstacle that I have encountered as my friends have paired off and said their vows, and that is learning to maintain these relationships as a single person.

I have been primarily single for the last few years and while it may sound petty, one of the bigger transitions I have had to make in that time is learning how to adapt to the way my closest friends lives have changed once they get ‘hitched.’

This means it is increasingly difficult to find a buddy to get a beer or shoot pool with on a weeknight, because they are usually spending the night in with their wife. Now, I want to stress again that is not a negative thing, as that should be their answer. It just means that you have to plan more in order to continue to cultivate all the relationships in your life. It also means that as a single person, you have develop one particular skill; being the third wheel.

I Have Mastered the Art of the Third Wheel

It is a running joke among my group of friends that I have mastered the art of the third wheel. While it is not uncommon to still have ‘guy time’ time with my friends, it is far more common to spend time both with them and their significant others. Perhaps it is because me and my particular group of friends are so close and have been since high school or earlier, but third wheel dates are the new normal. Whether it be meeting up for dinner and drinks, a game night, or the time I picked my buddy Joseph and his now wife, Lacy, up and we went to the drive in theater and shared popcorn. We may have even gone to breakfast together the next morning…

Like I said, I’m good at this…

What I’m driving at here is that this “art of third wheeling” has been one of the more beneficial practices in maintaining my relationships with some of my closest friends. Below is just a small fraction of the method behind my madness.

How To Third Wheel Properly

Step 1: Get to Know Your Friend’s Spouse

This is the most important step in the process, as I believe it is the responsibility of the single friend to make these efforts. Why do I think so strongly about this? It is because I often see friendships slowly taper off once one person gets heavily involved with a significant other. Sure, this could be at the fault of the ‘relationship,’ but I think more often than not, the fault lies on the other side. This may be a result of many things; a lack of being able to adapt to change, an awkward shift in dynamics, etc. But no matter the reason, the result is a damn shame.

Just make a conscious and concerted effort to embrace this new addition to your friend’s life and trust me, they both will notice. After all, you trust your friend right? So why should your trust his or her judgement of character? Small, but deliberate efforts in this situation can yield multiple benefits. Not only will you multiply the number of opportunities you get to spend with your friend, but you might even be laying the foundation for a new friendship.

Step 2:  Own Your Singleness like a Loud Hawaiian Shirt

I find this is often the most difficult part in embracing a third wheel relationship (or 5th, 7th, 9th, you get the picture). As a single person, it is easy to be uncomfortable when you are the odd man out, whether it be something like a night out to dinner or a more formal occasion.

Throw any of this hesitancy or discomfort out the window. 

I know it’s easier said than done, but trust me when I say it will make any and all efforts in maintaining these kinds of relationships significantly easier.

Step 3:  Allow Space

Often in late adolescence and even in early adulthood it  is common for a close friend to be the “go to” person in your life. You know, the person you confide in or call when you just need someone for the night or a particular adventure. It’s not to say this has to go away entirely, but when a person takes a long term partner, they are shifting a large portion of that responsibility. That is just part of life and growing up. They may no longer be available on a whim like they were in college and that’s okay. We all get there. Some just get there before others.

If you’re single and find yourself in circumstances similar to myself, this is the prime opportunity to embrace some of that solitude. Use it to really get to know yourself. I have learned more about myself in the time that I have been single than I think I ever have. Use that time and enjoy it, because it won’t be around forever.