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People's Brutal Stories of Living as the Third Wheel with Couples

I had my headphones on, but I still heard my sister's boyfriend ask, "Wanna have sex?"

by Tim Noble
May 29 2016, 12:00am

This article originally appeared on VICE UK

As you'll know from sitcoms and Ben Stiller films, sleepless nights spent listening to the rhythmic thumping of a bedpost against the wall are a hilarious part of sharing a living space. It's just a part of being the third-wheel housemate living with a couple, at least on TV. But is it really as bad, or as fraught with cliche, IRL?

Earlier this month, I asked a bunch of people about their experience of hooking up with their flatmates at university. This time, I spoke to people about the other side of the story, when you're the one navigating hearing other people's orgasms and constantly encountering that moment when couples are looking each at other right up close before they kiss. Here are three people's stories.

Daniel
29 years old
Account Manager

VICE: Can you give me a bit of background to your third-wheel housemate experience?
Daniel: I rented a room in a mortgaged house in Stoke Newington for about a year and a half, after responding to a Gumtree ad. I'm from Australia and was pretty desperate to move out of my flat on Brick Lane, and after viewing the house and being offered the room I accepted it—anywhere was better than where I was living at the time—and ended up staying for a while.

Did it ever get weird?
It was mostly OK, but there was a bit of an age gap between me and the couple. I was 26 and they were in their early 30s, so they were doing early 30s things like baking and having dinner parties, which I felt obliged to attend. They once hosted a dinner party where we were making shots for each other, and I mixed a shot for a guy who ended up spewing all over the kitchen and smashing a window with his fist before he had to go to the hospital. That was pretty awkward for me. I found out the next day the guy had a history of anger problems.

When I was drunk, I brought girls home a few times, and I'm pretty sure [my roommates] could hear us banging since our bedrooms were right next to each other. I could hear them too sometimes, but I just put my headphones on.

How aware were you of their relationship on a daily basis?
It was openly known, they made me aware of it before I moved in. They didn't really show it publicly in the house, besides maybe cuddling on the couch. I didn't really mind.

How did it end?
My visa expired and I had to move back to Australia, but it was pretty over it by that point anyway. If I'd stayed in London, I would have probably moved out. They refused to give me my deposit back until the room was inspected, but I just didn't pay rent that month and left.

Looking back, what do you make of it now?
I think it was probably more beneficial for them than it was for me. I was helping them pay the mortgage, I didn't really cause any trouble and kept it pretty tidy. To be honest, it wasn't really the cool east London houseshare I was looking for, though it was a clean enough house, which is hard to find.

A casual third-wheel walk in the park. Photo by Valerie Everett via

Emma*
32 years old
Works in communications

VICE: How did you end up as a third wheel in your own home?
Emma: I was living with a good friend of mine for about a year when he started seeing a girl. She effectively moved in pretty quickly: there most nights, lots of her stuff everywhere, using all my expensive hair stuff and replacing it with some cheap shit from the supermarket (yes, I know that's shallow, but I don't care). Our living situation became official about six months later.

Then what happened?
I lived with them as a couple for about three months. It started out friendly enough—I never really liked her but put up with her because she never did anything specifically awful that I could point to. The longer she was with him, the more territorial she got, and she made it clear she didn't want me around. I ended up spending almost no time at home, and when I was in the flat I'd hide in my room to avoid them. They made it very clear it was their house—and left their stuff absolutely everywhere (the house was a pigsty)—so I would have to climb over piles of their crap to use anything.

How did things develop?
It was a slow degradation into psychological warfare. I got told off like a petulant child for using the bathroom for ten minutes in the morning 'when [they] wanted it,' and for putting food in the (enormous, half-empty) fridge.

I guess one funny thing was when I started seeing a guy, it challenged their position as the exciting, edgy new couple that they saw themselves as, and they'd have really loud sex only when the guy I was with stayed over. It was not uncomfortable or weird or hard to explain at all.

What about PDA? How did they navigate that with you around?
They were completely open and made it known... Not so much displays of affection as 'hey everyone, look how in love we are [tongue noises].' They were one of those sickening couples that flaunt their relationship to everyone around them. Endless posts on Facebook with hashtags like #bae #perfectboyfriend #couple #fun #inlove. Back when we were speaking, they'd stand in the kitchen while I was trying to make dinner, stroking each other's faces.

How did it all end?
When my flatmate told me that his girlfriend was moving in, it was implied that I would move out. Things were still relatively pleasant at this stage, and they told me to take my time to find somewhere decent. That ended up taking around two months, London being London. By the time I left, we were only communicating through terse WhatsApps. I've not spoken to either of them since I moved out, bar a couple of admin conversations about bills.

Doesn't sound like the healthiest relationship for all of you.
I was very damaging to my relationship with the guy; we had been super close before, and we now don't speak at all. The house was awful to be in, which I didn't notice until I realized I wasn't dreading going home at the end of the day. No idea how healthy it was for them—they're a very 'us against the world' type, so if anything it's probably made them a #stronger #couple.

Michael*
29 years old
Works in PR

VICE: Hi Michael, you mentioned you ended up living with your little sister and her boyfriend.
Michael: When my girlfriend got into her dream school abroad, I stayed in our apartment and she moved out. I tried finding friends who could move in, but it didn't work out, so my younger sister and her boyfriend ended up moving in. They were 20 and I was 27 at the time. I moved into the small bedroom, they moved into the large one with the double bed.

How was that?
It got weird at times. My sister and her boyfriend didn't drink at all. I felt bad for waking them up or being annoyingly talkative every time I got home, reeking of booze. I also got robbed on my way home one time, which made them super worried. They led a much more quiet life.

I worked as a freelance journalist and would often sit in the living room in the evenings with my headphones on, writing articles while listening to music. One evening, I had my headphones on while I actually wasn't listening to music. They naturally thought I couldn't hear them, and my sister's boyfriend said, "Wanna have sex?" and my sister awkwardly replied, "Sure..." They headed to the bedroom and closed the door. It's bad enough to hear this from your roommates in the first place, but even more awkward and weird when it's your little sister.

Do you think it was a good thing for the two of you, ultimately?
Because we had very different lifestyles, my sister and her boyfriend weren't the perfect match for me. I could never throw parties at home any more because I knew how they felt about drinking, for one thing. In a way, I felt that I finally got to know my sister better. It had been ten years since we'd last lived under the same roof and talked to each other on a daily basis. During these six months I felt like we got closer.

But now, I feel like we're less close than ever before. We don't communicate much at all. I talk to the rest of my family online more than I talk to her. I think spending so much time together for six months wasn't healthy, we probably grew tired of each other. Or at least she grew tired of me. Witnessing the "wanna have sex" line was also extremely awkward. I'm glad she still doesn't know that I overheard that line. Hope she never will (and how would she?).

*Some names have been changed because people felt weird.

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Yes, there's definitely room for all three of you. Photo by Maria Ly via