Woman As The Third Party
( Originally Published 1892 )
The most difficult position in life to occupy gracefully and without causing friction on either side is that of the third person.
The world is full of wrecked loves and friendships caused by this third party.
Not through designing malice, but through tactless blundering a stubborn unelasticity, is the disaster brought about in nine cases out of ten.
The people who have successfully played the role in life's drama are exceedingly rare.
A greater array of unusual qualities are required for this position than almost any other calling in life demands.
Innumerable illustrations of the strength and durability of friendship between two women have come under my observation, but I have found women especially unfortunate in their efforts to form trios of friendship.
Men, naturally less exacting in their relations with one another, and more frank and outspoken in their methods, render such comradeships possible now and then.
But the qualities which make the woman friend, seem inadequate to meet the exigencies of the third party's position.
I have seen a woman insist upon leaving her comfortable home to act as nurse or domestic for a friend who was in trouble, quite against that friend's desire. She performed her tasks with delight, and seemed disturbed by any expression of thanks.
Yet when the same friend introduced a life-long, valued acquaintance into the household, the heretofore devoted and self-sacrificing woman refused to make herself agreeable or useful.
The woman who loves to talk, and the woman who loves to listen, find each other's society enjoyable year after year.
Let the talkative woman's friend appear upon the scene, however, and we find the unusually good listener distrait in manner and bored in expression. Or let the listener introduce her friend, and the talkative woman becomes straightway dull and silent.
The ingenuity of woman in devising ways in which to be the disagreeable third party is infinite.
The woman of the softest nature and the sweetest disposition, whom you have found unvarying in her amiability, will suddenly develop the quills of a porcupine at the introduction of a friend whom you have long desired her to meet. You have described her as the essence of amiability, and she reveals herself a monument of aggressiveness or frigidity.
Again, the friend who has ever been the incarnation of cheerfulness and good sense, and whose quick responsive nature has been your delight, develops an obtrusive humility when she is called upon to play the third party. She makes herself conspicuous by her absence from accustomed places, and obliges you to send for her, and in reply to your questioning says: "Oh, I felt I would be in the way. You did not need me. I would be detrop," rendering you and your friend inexpressibly uncomfortable.
The woman who has always seemed to view the world through rose colored spectacles, and whose mantle of charity has been large enough to cover the sins of a multitude, will become the severest and most relentless of critics when she attempts to be the third person. She will call your attention to flaws in the appearance and manners of your friends which yon had never previously observed, and she will unearth hidden faults of character or disposition never before noticed by you.
Sometimes she does this openly, and with no attempt at concealing her critical spirit.
Again she will sugar-coat her remarks, leaving the impression at first that she has complimented your friend, until a later analysis of her words undeceives you.
"What a very pretty smile your friend has!" she will say. "I never saw a woman with such ugly teeth whose smile was so agreeable." Or: "What a very fine appearance she makes for such a slovenly person! After all, I think such people get along quite as well and receive as much admiration as those who take more pride in being neat and orderly."
Of course you are never able to think of your friend again save as slovenly and the possessor of ugly teeth—two points which had previously escaped your observation.
Then there is the woman you have always found ready to anticipate your slightest wish and thought when alone with her, who becomes curiously obtuse in the role of third party.
She never thinks to leave you alone with the newcomer now and then, who may have sorrows or joys to confide to you alone, and you dare not suggest this to her lest she imagine you mean to talk about her or that you are shutting her from your confidence.
And if you talk to her about your friend, she listens with a distrait, uninterested expression, which tells you plainer than words that she would prefer some other topic for conversation.
" You have no idea of the depth of my affection for you," said one woman to another in my hearing once upon a time. " I would be perfectly happy to relinquish all personal aims could I be near you, and your slightest annoyance is a sharp pain to me."
Yet scarcely a week later she made herself inexpressibly disagreeable in occult ways to her friend's friend. Her affection may have been deep, but its waters were not wide enough to permit the passage of two voyagers. A broader love, if less profound, would have been more practically useful.
Difficult and strewn with hardships as is the role of the third person, I have seen one or two woman who made it an illustrious success.
In each case they were women of extreme unselfishness, infinite tact and great delicacy of mind.
They were, too, women of good balance and practical sense, and with a broad view of life and friendship.
They knew when to be absent, and when to be present, when to listen and when to talk, how to speak of each friend to the other without arousing enmity or jealousy, and they were women who felt secure in their own worth, and in their power to keep their places in the hearts of their friends.
The woman who is the faithful and tried friend is worthy of respect and praise, but the woman who can be the third party is worthy of still greater admiration, since the successful third party must be also the good friend.
The most sublime devotion of friendship brings its own reward; but the sacrifice and forbearance of the successful third party are seemingly without recompense. Yet their omission is the source of unlimited misery and trouble.
In this kaleidoscopic life of constant surprising changes, the friendship which demands a monopoly is of practically little use. It is the friendship which will bear the occasional strain of intrusion, and which proves itself elastic enough to cover the position of third party without becoming threadbare which we need.