• Being single when everyone around you (especially your friends) seem to be in relationships can be rough.
  • It’s normal to feel self-conscious if it seems like you’re third-wheeling, but being single is a great opportunity to reevaluate yourself, your life goals, and your other relationships, too.
  • And if you plan on being single for a while, it’s totally fine to casually date (or not). Without the pressure of pursuing a serious relationship, you might have more bandwidth to connect with people and understand more of what you truly want in a partner.  

The front door open for the last time that night, my friends standing on the front porch, arm in arm, waving goodbye, their silhouettes shimmering against the half-moon behind them. Just beyond, I see another set of friends (another couple) climb into their car, as the cabin light illuminates the darkness. It’s kind of hard not to sigh as I turn the deadbolt and stare glumly back at my dog, who’s waiting patiently for attention. I thought I loved being single; so why is third-wheeling (sometimes even fifth-wheeling) such a drag sometimes?

3 Ways Being Single Can Make You Question Yourself—and Why That’s a Good Thing

In the long run, being single can offer a more balanced perspective on independence, love, and relationships of all kinds. But it also depends on how you feel about being single, and whether or not you spend all of your time without a significant other trying to find one. Being the third wheel might: 

1. Make you question what you want in life. It doesn’t help that our culture pushes us intensely from a young age to find our special someone, settle down, and live happily ever after. That’s not to say it’s wrong to want those things (I still do), but we need to be realistic—life is not linear, and nothing ever goes according to plan. Being single gives us the opportunity to grow and develop into the adults we have the capability to become. If we get too scared of being alone, then we’re at risk of jumping back into a relationship that we aren’t truly comfortable or satisfied with; and that can cause a world of trouble for ourselves and others. 

2. Make you wonder whether you’re good enough for someone else. Third-wheeling may also dredge up insecurities about our appearance, lifestyle, finances, and more. Negatively comparing ourselves to others isn’t helpful—but taking some time to consider the reasons why our previous relationship ended can be. Doing so could reveal patterns that point to areas that we need to change and address. With a therapist or counselor, we may also learn to I.D. those certain types of people that we are better off avoiding being in romantic relationships with. 

3. Scare you. Like, a lot. When your partner, yourself, or both of you weren’t ready to let go, or if the split was anything but amicable, you might be feeling afraid. These intense emotions of being exposed, uncertain, and unprepared to be alone are normal. But if the feelings seem overpowering, it’s a sign that you may have been codependent or insecure. It might hurt at first, but with some persistence and a willingness to change, you’ll have the opportunity to become stronger—and will be ready for a new, more positive love to come into your life. 

Suggestions for Making the Most Out of Being the Single Friend

If you’re in a similar situation to myself, you’re probably third-wheeling a lot. But that name has some negative connotations—because you’re a complete person on your own. We don’t need a partner in order to find contentment and fulfillment; a relationship can be the cherry on top of everything else and doesn’t need to be our entire life. Some suggestions for coping with being the single friend include:

  • Avoid getting lost in your head when you’re third-wheeling (and maybe stop calling it that). Your coupled friends aren’t spending time with you because they feel bad—they enjoy your company and chances are, they’re not obsessing over how single and lonely you must me. If you create the perception that you’re third-wheeling, your time with friends shifts into a shame-based, self-conscious narrative. If your friends or family tease you too much about being single, it’s okay to express that it makes you uncomfortable. Just like with any other relationship, if you communicate calmly, your boundaries should absolutely be respected. 
  • Actually focusing on making friends—and not just waiting around for another relationship. Something I’ve noticed, especially as I’ve gotten older, is that making friends gets harder. But it doesn’t have to be—I think it may be more of an issue of where we devote our time and energy. If you come across as caring, are a good listener, and show interest in the lives of others, you will make friends and likely receive that affection in return from the right people. 
  • Dating casually if you aren’t ready or don’t want something serious. If anything, it’s a great way to meet new people—just be open with them about your goals. Chances are, they’ll appreciate you telling them you’re not ready for anything long-term. And if you’ve expressed your expectations and goals clearly, and they still give you trouble for not wanting to date seriously—that’s a major red flag and you’re better off without them. On the other hand, it’s not fair to be vague about what you want out of a relationship, or to mislead people to avoid conflict, either.
  • Remember that it’s okay to laugh at yourself and the perks (and setbacks) of the single life. There are days when you may celebrate being single, and other periods when you curse your single existence. But if you can find a way to laugh at the fact that both being single and taken have their ups and downs, then you’ll be better off. No situation or connection will always go 100% the way we want it to; being single can help us keep this in mind and be grateful for what we have, regardless of circumstances.

For myself, I have my dog and my garden to look after. I can’t be chasing girls; I’m too busy chasing possums out of my corn patch. And at 26, I’ve formed some of the best friendships of my life, simply by focusing more on them. And when I’m ready to put myself back out there, I’ll have a better idea of who I am—and what I want out of a relationship.