Any instance where at least one other character is hanging around a couple and some form of social awkwardness results. He/she can either be
A) a nuisance to the couple and they consistently tell him/her to leave them alone,
B) a character who doesn't want to spend time with the couple but they drag him/her along, or
C) a character who is pulled into being with a couple due to circumstance and no parties necessarily have ill will toward each other, but awkwardness may ensue anyway.
Usually does not translate into a relationship between a couple and a third party who genuinely like to spend time together in a friendly way, since that would imply little to no awkwardness.
See also Friend Versus Lover
and Moment Killer
. Contrast One True Threesome
, where all three are in a relationship with each other.
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Anime and Manga
- There's a Type A example in the Boys Love manga Challengers. The foreign transfer student Rick quickly becomes a nuisance after he starts following the main couple around in the hope of getting with Uke and Horrible Judge of Character Tomoe before Kurokawa, who has more morals when it comes to relationships, upgrades their relationship from Just Friends to Official Couple. Even after they become lovers he still hang round with them just in case.
- A type C occurs in Ao Haru Ride with Touma, Uchimiya, and Shun, except for the fact that Touma and Uchimiya are the ones with girlfriends. Therefore, whenever the three run into Futaba and her friends, Touma and Uchimiya end up making plans with their girlfriends and leaving out Shun.
- In The Adventures of Milo and Otis, main characters Milo the cat and Otis the dog spend most of the film trying to reunite, but when Milo falls in love with another cat, Otis becomes this for a little while. Otis is mostly a case of type C.
- Both Sherlock Holmes films are ripe with this trope. Holmes is a third wheel to Watson and Mary, or if Mary is a third wheel to Holmes and Watson; Heterosexual Life-Partners or Ho Yay, your choice.
- Harry Potter - When considering the idea of his two best friends getting together, one of Harry's concerns is that it'll be impossible for the three of them to hang out like they used to. Luckily, they spend too much time snarking at each other to turn into Sickeningly Sweethearts.
- While staying at Grimmauld Place in the seventh book, Harry notices Ron and Hermione fell asleep together holding hands and it admittedly made him feel rather lonely.
- Mansfield Park - Type C: Henry Crawford visits Fanny Price in Portsmouth and tries to get her on her own, but finds Fanny's 15-year-old sister Susan a hindrance.
Live Action TV
- A Mr. Show sketch is about this: a couple's friend joins them on their honeymoon. The wife is type A but the husband is type C. Said third wheel breaks into a song about this every time the words "third wheel" is said.
- In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, "Manhunt", Troi's mother, Lwaxana, tries to trick Captain Picard to spend a romantic dinner alone with her. Picard, seeing through her motives, asks Lt. Commander Data to join them. Data spends the entire meal giving long detailed lectures on his work.
Picard: Data, you will never know how much I owe you for that.
Data: Indeed, Captain? I know many more interesting anecdotes, sir. For example...
Data: Yes, sir.
- Timon and Pumbaa of The Lion King certainly become third wheels once Simba and Nala meet up again. It definitely is mostly type C, but Simba kind of politely lets Timon know that the two of them aren't wanted, making it somewhat type A.
- In "Dan Vs. The Fancy Restaurant" Dan accompanies Chris and Elise on their anniversary dinner.
Dan: Why is having a third wheel a bad thing? Third wheels provide stability, that's just physics.
- In the Futurama episode, "Put Your Head on my Shoulders" Fry starts to worry that his relationship with Amy is going too fast, so he intentionally invites a third wheel on their date.
Amy: So, ready for a secluded picnic with just you and me?
Fry: Hey, you know who loves secluded picnics with just you and me? (looks over at Leela who shakes her head.) Uh, Dr. Zoidberg.
Zoidberg: Did someone say something about a free hot meal?
- The Mickey Mouse short, "Third Wheel" has Goofy inviting himself on Mickey and Minnie's date.