Social situations and events after losing your person can be tricky to navigate, either because you simply don’t want to go (which is a perfectly acceptable reason), or you imagine you’re going to be a third wheel, feeling like you don’t belong. What I want to offer to you today is going to consist of a little bit of tough love and I have a feeling I may lose some of you, but I invite you to hear me out because I promise, it’ll be worth it.
Widowhood is a hard enough experience as it is, without adding on thoughts that lead to us feeling more isolated and disconnected when all we truly want in that moment is to feel connected to those we love. So this week, I’m sharing 3 ways believing you’re the third wheel is simply not useful, and 3 suggestions for how to deal with a situation like this.
Welcome to The Widowed Mom Podcast, episode 106, Being the Third Wheel.
Welcome to The Widowed Mom Podcast, the only podcast that offers a proven process to help you work through your grief, to grow, evolve, and create a future you can truly look forward to. Here’s your host, Master Certified life coach, grief expert, widow, and mom, Krista St-Germain.
Hey there. Welcome to another episode of the podcast. So I sent out an email about this. I just got back from Las Vegas and took the boyfriend out there. Hadn’t been in six years and the last time I was there was with my late husband Hugo.
So if you’re on my email list, you probably know this already. If you’re not on my email list, get on my email list. Then you won’t have to wait weeks to find these things out because I record the podcast several weeks in advance typically.
But anyway, decided to go to Las Vegas as soon as I realized I could get the COVID vaccine and feel comfortable traveling. Then we booked a trip to get out of town. And so I knew going into this trip that there would be some awkward moments.
I knew that I had a lot of memories in Las Vegas with Hugo, and I knew that I would see those memories in the streets and in the sights and in the sounds. And I decided to go anyway. I’m not going to let memories that I have with someone I loved who’s no longer living ruin my opportunities to make memories with someone who is living that I also love.
But I knew it would be awkward. And I was fully prepared for that, but y’all, you can’t make this stuff up. You really can’t. I totally just recorded before I left town the episode on grief grenades, which by now you’ve probably already heard.
But I was not expecting to have a grief grenade in the dang airport. So if you know my story and if you’ve listened to the podcast, you know that my late husband was hit by a drunk driver while he was trying to change the tire in my car.
And more specifically, I drove a silver Toyota Camry and I had a flat tire on it, and Hugo pulled up in his Dodge Durango behind my car and when the accident happened, he was actually getting in my trunk, trying to get access to the spare tire. And the other driver hit the back of Hugo’s Durango, and that trapped him in between his Durango and my Camry.
And I was standing on the side of the road. So naturally, I have a lot of very unpleasant memories from that day of course. Wouldn’t you know it that the Uber that picks us up at the Las Vegas airport drives a silver Camry. And wouldn’t you know it that the first part of my Las Vegas trip is putting my luggage in the back of the trunk of a silver Toyota Camry.
So thankfully I had just recorded that podcast episode, thankfully this is not my first nor will it be my last grief grenade, and I’m getting better at this. So I did what I told you all to do in that podcast episode, which is I loved myself through the whole thing.
I didn’t tell myself it shouldn’t be happening, I didn’t tell myself that there was something wrong with me, I didn’t tell myself that I couldn’t handle it. I loved myself through the whole thing. I took very deep breaths and I let myself have the feelings that I was having. I noticed my heart rate racing, and I loved myself through it.
So the rest of the trip was much easier, and I guess the reason I’m telling you this story is because I know that it’s so easy to judge yourself. I also think sometimes it’s easy and unrealistic to decide that at some point you’re going to be past grief grenades.
And I don’t think that’s useful because I’m going on five years since Hugo died and if I were to tell myself that I should be past the grief grenades, then what’s left when one comes my way? Then I have to tell myself that there’s something wrong with me, and there’s nothing wrong with me. This is just grief. This is just the way of it.
So I hope the grief grenades episode was useful to you. It was unexpectedly useful to me. Las Vegas was lovely. Lots of old memories that popped into my mind, lots of new memories made, and I’m really glad I went. And so I hope that that story helps you and I hope that that episode helps you.
And I hope today’s episode is going to help you, so that’s the one I want to get to. Being the third wheel. And listen, this one’s going to be a little bit of tough love. Maybe we’ll call it insistent love, because I love you. And I don’t want to see you making life harder on yourself than it already has been.
So being the third wheel, see if this sounds familiar. Someone invites you to a social function and you either A, don’t want to go because you imagine you’ll be the third wheel, or B, are already at the function and struggling to enjoy yourself because you’re feeling like you don’t belong.
Does this sound familiar? I bet it does. If you’re a newer widow and it hasn’t happened yet, it probably will, so I hope you’ll keep listening. I also want to offer you a little out here, which is to say that you are never under any obligation to go to any event ever, ever, ever. And you don’t owe anyone an explanation or an apology.
“I won’t be attending but thanks for inviting me” is a perfectly acceptable response to any invitation. And yes, other people might have thoughts and feelings about you not attending and we can just let them. I remember many times when I was not up for it. Even at the very last minute you can change your mind and you don’t have to feel guilty about it.
I want you to allow yourself to know what’s best for you and allow other people not to understand. Agreed? So in this episode, I’m talking about events you actually want to go to. So being the third wheel. I’m going to offer you my perspective and then I’m going to offer you three ways that you can deal with a situation like this and we’ll talk it through.
So first, this is where I’m worried I’m going to lose most of you, but please stay with me. You can’t actually be a third wheel. It’s a nice metaphor for believing that we aren’t useful or believing that we don’t belong. But it isn’t really a thing.
When we go to an event, there are people there but no wheels. There’s no wheels. You are one of the people at the event. So being a third wheel is not really a thing. It’s not a real thing. And if you just gave me the squinty side eye, I hear you, and I’m not trying to invalidate your experience or blow smoke or encourage you to think magically.
I just want you to stay with me and give me a few more minutes. So that’s my first point. There really isn’t such a thing as a third wheel at a party. There’s people at parties. No wheels.
Secondly, telling yourself that you’re a third wheel or that you don’t belong, which is really kind of the same thing makes things harder for you. Because what’s happening when you tell yourself that you’re the third wheel is that you’re essentially asking your brain to look for evidence of how you don’t belong instead of how you do.
I’m going to repeat that. When you tell yourself you’re the third wheel, you’re asking your brain to look for evidence of how you don’t belong instead of how you do. And yes, it is different now in that your person isn’t standing by your side at the event. And yes, you may have never been in this situation before.
And yes, other people may be standing next to their person and they may not be currently mourning a loss or having ever even had a loss that comes close to the one that you’re working through. We can find the truth in all of that. But remember, our brain will always show us evidence of our thinking.
And so deciding that we’re the third wheel is literally asking our brain to show us how we don’t belong and block any data, any other evidence that suggests we do belong. And of course, this thought probably feels very true. I bet we could poll all the widows and the majority would agree that this is a thing, that this is true, that we are the third wheel.
We could all find evidence for how it’s true. But if we ask it to, the human brain can find truth in any thought. It can find evidence for any thought we’re thinking. So of course this thought probably feels very true to many of you listening right now. It used to feel true to me.
But here’s what I want to offer you; just because a thought feels true does not mean it’s in service of the life that you want to create. Just because a thought feels true doesn’t mean it’s useful to you. And just because a thought shows up in your brain, and perhaps is very well rehearsed and the neural pathways for it are well established, even then, it doesn’t mean that you have to listen to that thought.
You always get to choose what thoughts you want to listen to because you are not your thoughts. You are the awareness, the consciousness behind your thoughts, the observer of your thoughts.
Number three, when you tell yourself that you’re the third wheel or that you don’t belong, I want you to ask yourself how you feel. If you’ve listened to the podcast for a while, you know that I’ve taught you in other episodes that the way that we think creates the way that we feel.
And this answer might be slightly different for everyone because different thoughts feel differently to different people. But ask yourself when you think the thought, “I’m a third wheel, or I don’t belong here,” how do you feel? Lonely, inadequate, sad, maybe isolated?
How we feel matters. It matters. Because human behavior is fueled by emotion. We think something, we feel something, we do something. And think about how you behave at that social event that you want to be at when you’re feeling lonely or isolated or sad or inadequate.
Most humans, when those emotions are fueling our behavior, we shrink. We go inward. We hold back. We withdraw. Maybe we’re polite, but we’re probably not being as authentic or as honest as we would otherwise be. We start behaving as though we don’t belong.
So now, with this third wheel thought, we’ve created a situation where our brain is looking for evidence of how we don’t belong, blocking out evidence of how we could potentially belong and what we have in common with those other people who are there, and we start behaving because feelings fuel behavior, as though we don’t belong.
So hopefully you’re starting to see why even though this thought feels so true to most of us, it takes us in the opposite direction of the connection that most of us want to feel in our lives. We don’t go to social events to feel isolated and disconnected most of us.
We want to feel connected. We want to feel part of something. We want to believe we belong and find evidence for how that’s true. But this thought, this idea that there’s such a thing as a third wheel and that we don’t belong literally creates the opposite experience for us and we don’t even know that we’re doing it.
So there’s no such thing as a third wheel. Telling yourself that you are a third wheel or that you don’t belong just makes things harder, just asks your brain to find evidence of how it’s true, and blocks evidence of how it’s not, and makes you feel terrible, which changes the way you behave and literally brings into your life something that you don’t want, you want less of.
So what to do instead? I have three suggestions for you. My first suggestion is that you acknowledge that the social setting you’re in without your partner, that this experience of being in a social situation without them is new for you. That you don’t try to fake it and you don’t try to act like you’re comfortable when you’re not.
I’m not saying fake it or be phony or pretend. If you’ve decided to go to an event, you get to be you there and you don’t have to act like this is easy for you if that’s not the way you’re experiencing it. So that’s my first suggestion. Just acknowledge. This is awkward and new and foreign.
My second suggestion is that if you’re feeling awkward and you want to be in that social setting, decide that awkward can’t hurt you. Decide that you’re willing to hang out with awkward at that event. Honestly, what is it anyway? What is awkward anyway?
It’s an emotion caused by our thoughts. We think a thought, some chemicals get released, and we experience something in our body and we call it awkward. We call it awkwardness. This is how emotions are. We just experience some sort of something in our body somewhere.
So what is awkwardness for you? It can’t hurt you. It doesn’t have any power over you. You can let it pass through you. You can let it be with you. You’re more powerful than any feeling. Do you know what it is? Where do you notice it when you feel awkward?
Is it like a fuzzy buzzy feeling in your throat? Maybe like a hollow pulsing in your belly? I want you to find the answer to that question for yourself. I want you to consider, what is it like for me when I notice the emotion of awkwardness? Where is it in my body?
And then consider whether the actual experience of allowing that emotion to be there is as terrible as your mind makes it out to be. Because most of us have never really experienced awkwardness in and of itself as a feeling. Most of us have experienced resisting awkwardness, judging awkwardness, trying to get away from awkwardness.
We’ve never actually had a clean experience where we’re there and it’s there and it’s not a problem. And I promise you, if you think of it that way and you can go back to the episode of the podcast called How to Feel Better Now and learn a little bit more about this process, then you can loosen up a little bit and awkwardness becomes less of a problem, that emotion that you’re feeling.
And maybe you’re not labeling it awkward, maybe I’m labeling it awkward, whatever you’re going to label it, whatever emotion you might feel, it’s a whole different experience when you just let it be with you and decide it’s not a problem.
So number one, acknowledge that this is new for you and don’t act like you’re comfortable with it if you’re not. Number two, if you’re feeling awkward and you want to be there, just decide that awkward can’t hurt you and that you’re willing to let it hang out with you.
And then number three, and this I think is – this is big. Ask your brain to look for evidence of how you do belong. Ask your brain to look for evidence of what you have in common with the people at that event. I remember after Hugo died, I just kept thinking nobody gets me, nobody understands what this is like.
I couldn’t see anyone in my immediate social circle that got it. And I really got attached to that story that I was the only one and it made it feel even more sad and even more isolated and even more lonely. And it didn’t help me. It just made me feel more disconnected to the people that I most wanted to feel connected to.
So ask your brain to look for evidence of how you do belong, of what you do have in common with people. You’re a people. They’re people, you’re people, you have emotions, they have emotions. You’ve known pain, they’ve known pain.
Maybe you don’t know about their pain, but it doesn’t mean that their pain wasn’t very, very real for them. They probably invited you there or maybe you invited them to you. You probably love them, they probably love you. I’m sure you have some shared interests, some shared people, some shared values, something’s bringing you together.
You probably have so much more in common than not. Yes, maybe no one there has lost their person. But that is not the totality of the human experience. That is a part of the human experience. And if you don’t want to have your brain showing you all the ways that they don’t get you, then you have to ask it to look for evidence of what you actually want to see.
Because the brain will find what we ask it to focus on. So how is it true that you do belong with these people? One little caveat because maybe someone listening is thinking, “I don’t know if this is a problem for me. When I think I’m the third wheel, it’s like no big deal.”
And if that’s you, that’s awesome, that’s okay. Sometimes when we’re thinking a thought, “I’m the third wheel, I don’t belong here,” and the subtext of that thought is, “And that’s okay,” so maybe it’s not a problem for you. So if I’m in a room full of people who are doing something that goes against my values and my thought is I don’t belong here, then it’s probably a useful thought for me.
I don’t want to belong in a room full of people who are doing drugs or plotting a bank robbery, I don’t know. It’s not the thought that’s universally good or bad. The way to check is to tune into your body and figure out how do you feel when you think that thought.
Because thoughts are kind of like clothes. What feels good to one person might not be what feels good to another, and that’s totally okay. But just like clothes, we also can try on thoughts. And we can see, how does that thought feel to me?
And if you like the way a thought feels, you keep the thought. If you don’t like the way a thought feels, you get to tell your brain what to think, and you get to talk to yourself more than you listen to yourself. Because the brain has a lot of unuseful thoughts on autopilot. And just because they’re there doesn’t mean we have to listen.
So if you’ve ever had the thought that I’m the third wheel, if you’ve ever told yourself I don’t belong here, I give you full permission if you want – not because it’s good or bad or right or wrong or morally superior, but just because it’s your life and I want you to love it, give you permission to just put that thought down, to ask your brain to find evidence of something else that you actually do want. Find evidence to create connection.
Because this widowed walk, it’s hard enough without our brains spinning us unuseful stories and us buying into them. Listen, I love you and I mean that. And wherever you are and whatever you’re going through this week, you really do have this. Take care everybody and I will see you next week.
If you like what you’ve been hearing on this podcast and want to create a future you can truly get excited about, even after the loss of your spouse, I invite you to join my Mom Goes On coaching program. It’s small group coaching just for widowed moms like you where I’ll help you figure out what’s holding you back and give you the tools and support you need so you can move forward with confidence.
Please don’t settle for a new normal that’s less than what you deserve. Go to coachingwithkrista.com and click Work With Me for details and next steps. I can’t wait to meet you.