Sex & Relationships

How To Get Through Social Distancing When You're The Third Wheel

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When you moved in with your roommate, you probably discussed a cleaning schedule, where to send the rent checks, and how to unclog hair out of your drain. But somehow, how to deal with being stuck at home with your roommate and their partner during a global pandemic never came up. If you're practicing self-isolation, knowing how to establish social distancing boundaries can help you feel a little more at home in your home.

"During periods of isolation and quarantine, you have to be especially specific and tactical with your roommate(s)," Dr. Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., clinical psychologist, tells Bustle.

Rather than making a chore chart or telling your housemate's girlfriend to stop using your body wash (it was expensive), prioritize everyone's safety and emotional well-being by over-communicating. Although you may be tempted to use your sense humor to relieve the tension, Dr. Klapow says downplaying the seriousness of living in quarantine can it harder to create boundaries. "Acknowledge that this may get tough, it may get awkward, and that communication is critical," he says.

If you live in a small space, or your roommate and their partner are "game people," avoiding them (or another round of Monopoly) may feel impossible. If you're this close to losing your sh*t, Dr. Klapow suggests finding moments during the day where you can give yourself a sense of "alone time." From taking a long shower to blocking off the living room for your live-streamed Pilates class, getting through quarantine means being honest and unapologetic about your needs.

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"Let them know that you are in it together," Dr. Klapow says. "And that by creating space for each of you, you will do better in this extended time together."

Establish "quiet hours" as you all work from home, by making a weekly cooking schedule or giving everyone allocated kitchen time. You can also talk to your roommate about limiting the PDA in your presence, which can help everyone feel less like a quarantine third wheel.

If you're feeling completely bored or cooped up in your house, try listening to podcasts, learning all the TikTok dances, rearranging the furniture in your room, watching your favorite movies, or teaching yourself a new skill or hobby. And when your roommate and their partner are hosting a "jam sesh" in your living room, reaching out to friends and family can make you feel sane — even if you're questioning if you'll ever go on a date again.

Before confronting your roommate about dominating your quarantined space, Dr. Klapow suggests expressing your feelings by using "I statements" (ex: I am feeling very anxious about the pillow fort you are building in our 400 square-foot apartment) and then allowing your roommate to share. During times of immense stress and anxiety, being vulnerable and transparent about your emotional state can help everyone practice a little extra empathy.

Additionally, be specific about the actions you'd like your roommate to take moving forward, Dr. Klapow says. If your roommate and their partner aren't taking the social distancing seriously, or are still going out, it's natural to feel completely frustrated. While you may want to yell at them until your voice cracks, calling them into the conversation can be more productive than calling them out for not taking more precautions. Whether you give your roomie and their boo a rundown of the CDC's corona prevention suggestions or talk to them about the ways other countries are handling the outbreak, helping the people you live with stay informed can help them better understand where you're coming from.

As Michael Scott's mother once said, "the third wheel is what makes it a tricycle." So, if you're stuck third wheel quarantining for the foreseeable future, that tricycle might as well be a well-oiled machine.

If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and coughing, call NHS 111 in the UK or visit the CDC website in the U.S. for up-to-date information and resources. You can find all Bustle’s coverage of coronavirus here, and UK-specific updates on coronavirus here.


Dr. Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist