The Bermuda Triangle: The Pitfalls of Three-Way Friendships

First of all, get your mind out of the gutter!  I’m not talking about menage-a-trois scenarios.  I’m talking about a group of friends that involves three people.  Some famous trios if you will:

Monica, Rachel & Phoebe - Friends

Brenda, Kelly & Donna - Beverly Hills, 90210 (The Original, duh)

Cristina, Meredith, & Izzie - Grey's Anatomy

I have been in my fair share of trifecta friendships.  In fact, I’d argue that I have been in more than most.  I’m not sure if I have some naturally affinity towards trios or if things have naturally fallen into place that way.  However, I am sure of the fact that successfully functioning in a triangular relationship is a daily battle. Here’s why:

1.)  One Friend is always the one that brought the group together.

Me, Mrs. B, & Mrs. K2 at Mrs. B's Wedding on NYE 2008

I would say that in almost all trios there is one person that brought the group together.  I call this person the Common Denominator.  In the B-K-Me trifecta, Mrs. K2 was my little in ye ole sorority so we were very good friends.  Mrs. K2 was also very good friends with Mrs. B from high school.  (I also knew Mrs. B from high school but she thought I was mean… Don’t hold it against her, common misconception.)  One glorious summer, the three of us trekked to the Texas Hill Country to be camp counselors together.  And our trio was born.

There was however an incident.  It was rather intense.  Mrs. B and I had LOADS in common and happened to have the same free periods in our teaching schedules so we spent A LOT of spare time together at camp.  Mrs. K2 had different free periods.  (Can you see where this is going yet?)  There was an altercation. It was not pretty. I will spare you the gory tear-filled details.  The ultimate issue was — Mrs. K2 introduced Mrs. B and I and she felt that Mrs. B was her friend and I was her friend and at the time that she was being pushed out.  Which sort of leads me to the next issue…

2.)  One friend always feels left out.

Miss PoliSci, Miss H, & Me Circa August 2009

Feeling left out seems to be a common problem among groups of friends of any size.  But let me tell you, when there are only 3 of you, it is worse.  Much, much worse.  If for whatever reason, friends 1 and 2 are doing something without friend 3, you can guarantee that 3 is chock full of anxiety about what she’s missing and what they’re saying about her when she isn’t there.  (Get real, we all do it and don’t even try to lie about it.  Venting is a normal part of friendship and as long as no truly hateful things are said or felt, no harm, no foul, IMO.)

Imagine, if you can, the true difficulties of LIVING in a trio.  Don’t get me wrong, I adore Miss PoliSci and Miss H, but I am also confident that they would both tell you that there are times when trying to function in a trio is crazy hard, especially when it comes to including everyone all the time.  Perfect example — making plans.  Say Miss H and Miss PoliSci talk about going to see a movie but haven’t asked me about it yet.  As soon as it comes up in my presence I am bound to pop off something snarky about not yet having been asked.   And it isn’t just me.  I think there are times when they’ve also felt left out of the plan making process or some event or night out or whatever.  There are times when we can’t all be together and that’s okay, but that can also produce some feelings of exclusion and resentment.

3.)  It is almost inevitable that one or more friends feels closer to one member of the trio than the other.

Mrs. V, Mrs. Preppy, & Me at Law School Graduation May 2008

In law school, my closest friends were Mrs. Preppy and Mrs. V.  Mrs. Preppy and I were friends from about the third day of class (She told me she liked my skirt and asked if I wanted to car pool to happy hour. It was love.)  We became friends with Mrs. V later.  But there were times when I felt closer to Mrs. Preppy because of our mutual singleness on-and-off in law school and there were times when I felt closer to Mrs. V because of our generally dark and twisty propensities and the fact that we had every class together 2L year.  I am sure they felt closer to each other in the summer time because I always found a reason to not live in Norman.

I think feeling closer to one friend is probably natural and common but there were times when it made me feel uncomfortable/guilty/lonely/left out/irritable.  It played into the other issues related to the Bermuda triangle.  Maybe the reason I felt closer to one than the other sometimes had something to do with what wave length we were all on and how different we all really are.  I still feel this way in some of my other trifecta friendships.

4.)  If there is a falling out between two friends, the third friend is completely stuck in the middle.

Me, Miss PoliSci, & Miss Rose tailgatin' in 2008

I have been friends with Miss PoliSci and Miss Rose since 1995.  Literally.  We’ve been through varying stages of our relationships and our lives together.  Needless to say, when you’ve been friends for that long, fights happen. Big ones.  In 2008, I started the granddaddy (it was ugly) of them all with Miss Rose and poor Miss PoliSci was stranded in the middle.  To make matters worse, I was preparing to move in with Miss PoliSci and Miss H.  Miss Rose and I weren’t speaking.  It was uncomfortable on ten different levels for everyone.  And Miss PoliSci had to endure tirades and tears from both sides while maintaining her neutrality.  Fortunately, Miss Rose, being the fiercely loyal friend that she is, got me to talk things out, move forward and we are now much better for it.  I have been in the middle of a friend feud before too so I know how torn and frustrated Miss PoliSci must have felt.  Being caught in the middle is a total nightmare.  It is almost impossible not to pick sides and no matter what happens, someone always gets hurt.

Navigating three-person friendships is an emotional mine field.  What have I learned about managing them? Um, well…kind of hard to say. Here are three things that help me:

1) Toughen up — Your friends love you (duh) and would never intentionally exclude you (and if they would they aren’t your friends.)

2) Speak up — Being passive aggressive is lame in general but in a trifecta, you will never survive as Queen of the land of Passive Aggressiva (2 pts for anyone who knows where that expression came from!) .  If your feelings are hurt, tell your friends.  Keeping it inside will only hurt you and making passive aggressive comments makes you look like a total biotch.

3) Lighten up — Try to enjoy the fact that the three of you have so much in common and have such a great time together.  The rest is just crap.  (FYI, I am so not good at this.)

Are you in any triangle friendships?  How do you deal with their intricacies?  Or do they function the same as the rest of your friendships?

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4 Comments

Filed under Friendships

4 responses to “The Bermuda Triangle: The Pitfalls of Three-Way Friendships

  1. Chelsea Tibbs

    Mine is horrible…I am the one who followed my “best friend” into the triangle, to find out that the third member was her true best friend. Yeah, resentment, hurt, and anxiety are just some of the things I face on the daily. And now they want me to live with them. Forget that!

  2. Tasha

    This is great, I know this article is old, but it has helped me a lot today. Thank you for writing it. I am in the midst of dealing with somethiing similar, but I know it’s trivial and dumb. Thanks again!

  3. mid-life crisis

    It really, really helped to me read this–thanks so much for posting. I’ve had a very, very close friend for 19 years, and in the past year, she has suddenly become extremely close to another friend–someone I was slowly getting to know, and then while I was away for a few weeks, the two of them discovered that they really, REALLY hit it off. Since then, I’ve continued to try to get to know the other girl, but it’s been beyond difficult, since the two of them have certain personality qualities that just click–which are very different from the ones that I “click” with. It’s been one of the most painful things I’ve ever experienced and thought I was going crazy, thinking I’d turned some strange green-eyed monster, something I have NEVER struggled with in my life. Thanks for helping me realize I’m not insane or a monster. These are just normal struggles for a three-way friendship… Going to hang on for the long haul–don’t want to lose my oldest and best friend if I can somehow figure out how to gain another.

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