• Keeping Friends

Friendship Calculus: The Problem of Three

Published: March 21, 2011 | Last Updated: November 5, 2021 By | 2 Replies Continue Reading

When it comes to friendship, the problem of three is more common than most people think.


Hi Irene:

Three friends never seem to work. One person always gets excluded in one way or another. I just moved to a new town where my husband grew up in a state different from the one I grew up in and went to school. I am an only child and my parents divorced when I was 3. My mother and I have a very strained relationship.

My neighbor and I initially were very friendly. When our children began kindergarten, I became very friendly with another woman. This second friend didn’t know many people in town as she chose to only associate with those of her religion. She began to talk negatively about other women in the neighborhood almost to see what I would say. I usually just listened.

After school started, a woman my husband knew from high school became friendly. She also would talk about different people. I felt happy that these women felt comfortable enough to talk to me about these other people although I really didn’t say much of anything back. How foolish!

I then introduced the two because both were becoming my good friends. Next thing I knew I was the one being excluded. Cruel things happened and now I am the one without any friends to talk to. My husband is not very interested in all of this and although he attempts to try, is not very supportive. I feel so alone and sad and sorry for myself. Can you offer any suggestions?

Signed Anonymous


Dear Anonymous,

When three people are good friends, it’s not unusual for two of them to become closer to each other over time. I call this “the problem of three.”  In your situation, what made the change especially painful is that you introduced these two women to each other and now they are excluding you.

I’m not sure about the “cruel things” that happened but the first friend sounds pretty judgmental. I say this on the basis of her only hanging around with people of the same religion and her tendency to badmouth mutual acquaintances.

Moving is tough. No doubt, you are lonely because you are in a new place, have no family (except your husband’s, I assume) and, like most of us, depend on friends for support. Given these circumstances, you need to intensify your search for new friends. Join one of the committees in the parent-teacher association at school, see if there are any parents of your child’s friends who would seem like suitable candidates, or join a gym or class in your community.

You need to assess whether these mean women are really people whose friendship you enjoyed, or whether they were the first convenient relationships you made in your new town. Did you lose respect for them? Do you miss them as people or simply miss the idea of companionship? Have they made you so uncomfortable that you no longer want to have anything to do with them?

Unless your answers are yes, if you still like one or both of these women, I wouldn’t totally write off the friendship. Stay in touch and remain acquaintances. I wouldn’t be surprised if the dynamics of their friendship with each other change, too. The problem of three may be short-lived.

Hope this helps.


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Category: Dealing with threesomes and groups of friends

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  1. melinda M Brizendine says:

    Irene you have such thoughtful and sensitive replies!

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