My Biggest Struggle Has Been Always Feeling Like a Third Wheel

six different Tetris pieces
Image by Diego Rivers / CC BY

Just about every time I’m about to leave to go somewhere, I stop and think, or say aloud if there’s someone there next to me, “I should pee one more time just in case.”

It doesn’t matter if I just went 20 minutes ago. I’ll go again. Sometimes I’ll do it multiple times, a double or triple pee, just to be sure, asking myself Are we sure we got everything? 

Do I need to pee again? Might as well go make sure. 

This is because I have a tiny bladder, and I was always the one on family car trips who had to pee. And of course no one was stopping the car.

So I’d sit there in the car, doing a little pee pee dance in my seat, trying to play Tetris on my Game Boy. Cranking the level difficulty as high as I could to distract my mind. Squeezing my thighs together. Trying to remember old song lyrics in my head. Listening to my breath. Anything to not pee all over myself. Or to complain.

In the house I grew up in, complaining was almost as bad as peeing your pants. So was crying. They were both forms of emotional incontinence, so to speak.

They were both things you did in private, where you wouldn’t make a mess.

And if somehow you lost control for any reason, if you cried or complained, then you were in trouble.

In some ways, it was less of a big deal to pee your pants. That was somehow more understandable. Messier, sure. But easier to lose control of.

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It’s funny how this shaped me as a person. I’m fine with other people crying around me. To me, it means they trust me. That they feel safe doing so.

But I’m mortified if and when I do it in front of them.

And forget about complaining. I grew into an adult that tends to try to work around other people instead of expecting them to do anything for me.

I expected certain issues to crop up when I entered polyamory: I had concerns about sexual health. And like most people, I worried about how to deal with jealousy.

Both of those issues turned out to be easier to deal with in practice than in theory, at least with time.

There was one I’ve found much more difficult to deal with that I never anticipated:

Feeling like I was in the way. Especially if my partner was hanging out with a metamour (their other partner) who I wasn’t involved with myself. The dreaded “third wheel” feeling.

I’d feel guilty if I had more time with our shared partner than my metamour. Or if I happened to need all or part of our shared residence on a night that would have been helpful for my partner and metamour to have a private date. (Although, workarounds like “sexile” have been helpful.)

Even when I went on to have a metamour who was both a dear friend and liked hanging out socially with me and our shared partner, it took a lot of convincing (by those close to me and my repeating it mentally to myself over and over again) to get it through my head: I wasn’t in the way.

My presence was wanted. I wasn’t an obstacle.

Does that mean I’m never in the way? That I’m never annoying to people? No. It doesn’t. Even the most cherished people can inconvenience others from time to time. We’re all capable of being a pain in the butt. All of us.

You don’t even have to be doing anything sometimes. It’s the same way you can stub your toe on the giant genuine wood wardrobe that’s a family heirloom. It happens.

But just because I’m in the way from time to time, that doesn’t make me primarily an obstacle.

It’s taken decades of active work, but I think I’m starting to understand this.

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Books by Page Turner:

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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