Joining a three-person friend group? Oy. Joining a French three-person friend group? Double oy.

Am I that far off-base? I don’t think so. I’ve always thought that three-person friend groups are stupidly tricky. Tricky because the dynamic is so easily bent out of shape when two people start hanging out without the third person, and stupidly so because why is something that’s meant to be as simple and natural as a friend group this difficult to keep together? But, I like to think that turning three into four actually makes things simpler for everyone; although, it will take some effort, and it won’t always go smoothly.

The best example I can think of is from my freshman year in college. It’s something I watched happen, not something that happened to me.

The girls who lived next to me had quite the power trio going; let’s call them Hannah, Joanna, and Fontana. The three of them were always together, and if two of them went somewhere by themselves, they wouldn’t be without the third person for long. And it worked. Or, at least, it really seemed to. They never seemed to run into any of the typical three-person-group drama, and I really admired it.

Then, a fourth person started to move into the group. Let’s call her Leanna (boy, am I sticking to a theme). Leanna shared at least one class with both Hannah and Fontana, but none with Joanna, so her entrance to the group was from two sides, not just one. It took a while before her presence in the group became more of a normal thing, and she seemed to be very strategic about it. She started eating dinner with them, and because she lived across the hall from them, she started hanging out in their room more — using the homework from the classes she shared with them not only as a conversation starter but also as an invitation to spend more time with them. Slowly, three started to become four, but a clear divide also began to show in the group. Because Leanna had more of a foundation with Hannah and Fontana, the three of them had more to talk about together, and it started to leave Joanna on the sidelines.

Now, don’t get me wrong; Joanna’s a super level-headed person, so she didn’t lose her mind or anything. She noticed it was happening and didn’t try to fight it or be passive-aggressive about it, and she figured that they would have to be the ones to decide whether or not they wanted to spend time with her. And as tough as that may sound, that’s actually a good strategy to have with people and with friend groups in general. I don’t think I’ll forget how calm she was about it. One evening, I ate dinner with this group. They usually ate right when dinner started, like me. This particular evening, I sat with HFL, and about twenty minutes into dinner, Joanna came to the dining hall and sat with us. She’d been working out at the gym without the other three, who had been in the library. At this point, I didn’t know that there had been any problems in the group, but this immediately put up a little warning sign in my head.

So, we ate, and HFL didn’t really talk to Joanna, so I started talking to her. And, because she’d come to dinner later when the lines were longer, she’d only taken a couple bites of her pasta before HFL left to go back to the library or go do whatever it was they were doing. This also put up a flag in my head since they would usually wait for the whole group to finish before going anywhere. I stayed and kept talking to Joanna, and after a few minutes, I hesitantly asked if everything in the group was okay. She shrugged a little, twirling a forkful of spaghetti, and said no. She pointed out how she’d become somewhat estranged from the others, even though one of them was her roommate, and this was clearly evident from the way they’d left a few minutes before — pretty much everything I just explained to you. But then she shrugged again and said that only time would tell if the group would stay that way, split 75/25, or join back up again into an even 100.

Thankfully, a couple weeks later, the latter happened, and Joanna rejoined the group. HFL became HFLJ, the most derpy keysmash known to man. They ended the year as close as can be, and I’m pretty sure no one was damaged by the three-to-four transition in the end. So, the question is: If HFLJ can pull this off, can you?

Don’t overthink it.

Joining a three-person friend group can be very intimidating, but do not let your insecurities get to you. If you’re making new friends, they’ll want to test the waters as much as you do, so don’t expect them to invite you to everything right away. And when they do invite you, try to talk to every person in the group, instead of just one, so that the trio knows that you want to be friends with all of them, not just one or two.

Try not to exclude.

As you start to really become a part of the group, make an effort to include all three people, and I don’t just mean in conversation. Include them in plans, even if it’s just a quick run to the grocery store or a DQ drive-by, and even if they’re busy. They’ll know that you thought of them and that you consider them as part of the group even when they can’t be there. And, if someone new is trying to join your friend group, don’t close them out, unless there’s a really good reason to.

Respect what the other members of your group have to say and how they feel.

Not everyone is going to be best friends in thirty seconds. Take time to get to know the newcomer, and if you’re the newcomer, take time to get to know the vets. Don’t judge people too harshly. Wanting to join a friend group doesn’t make you desperate, and feeling iffy about another person joining your group doesn’t make you mean.

If you start being the odd-one-out, employ the rubber band theory.

Letting people go makes them want to spring right back. And, breaking away from the routine of your friend group might actually be a good thing, allowing you to see possibilities and people that you might not have before.

Try not to do the bad-mouthing thing, especially with another person in the group.

During one of my brief stints in a three-person friend group (this was in fifth grade), most of our hiccups came from miscommunication or no communication at all. One memorable moment was when one girl, who is more artistically inclined (even at that age), told the other girl, who’s less artistically inclined, in a moment of blinding honesty, that her drawing wasn’t very good. The results were… messy, but even more so because the second girl was so passive-aggressive in the moment and for days afterwards, doing the thing of clearly being upset but refusing to say why. I wasn’t there when this altercation occurred, but I had to hear about it from each party (individually) and then had to try and fumble my way through being a mediator of sorts. I mean, we were ten, and this wasn’t exactly the worst thing that could’ve happened, but it proves a point: Saying that everything is fine and then going and talking behind someone’s back about it is the textbook definition of not fine. If you’ve got a problem with someone, talk about it with them. I sure don’t want to hear about it.

And honestly, just chill the crap out.

I think part of the reason why the HFLJ situation resolved itself so well was because Joanna didn’t freak out about it, and instead she trusted in time and in the friendships she had built with Hannah and Fontana before Leanna joined in. If things start to go south for you, don’t say or do anything drastic because you’ll probably end up regretting it later.


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