“Thank god you’re here! You can help Rich and me solve a small dispute we are having,” my friend Sally called out to me the minute I walked in the door. Uh-oh, I thought. Trouble. Trouble in the shape of a big, fat triangle.
Triangulation is the process whereby a person who has an issue with someone else uses a third person to validate her feelings. This is more commonly known as Getting Sucked Into a Fight. It doesn’t always manifest as an actual argument; it can be more passive than that--such as when a husband flirts with you in front of his wife, or a wife makes jokes about her husband in front of you.
Threesomes in social life are always potentially unwieldy. In fact, being “a third wheel” is not so much about being unnecessary or unwanted as it is about causing instability. With three people the psychological balance is always shifting--however slightly--between one pair and another. But when you are asked point blank to side with one person against the other, no good can come of it.
At the first sign of triangulation, proceed with extreme caution. Change the subject or, if you can, leave the house to go get a paper. If you are not able to sidestep the landmine, pretend to mediate. Listen carefully to both sides, then claim you are unable to decide on the matter. Other triangulation diffusers? Try “Don’t ask me--I’m the proverbial disinterested third party,” or “I refuse to answer on the grounds that it may incriminate me.”
What Sally wanted me to weigh in on was whether or not she and her husband should invite Sally’s sister to come with them on their Spring vacation. I just smiled and said, “I can’t say what you should do; I make enough bad decisions about my own life.”