"Come lay down in bed. I got you some Milk and Cookies Ben & Jerry's," said Jon*. I hopped into bed for my favorite flavor. Jon turned on Mad Men as he snuggled next to Kaylie, while I ate a few spoonfuls next to them and quickly fell asleep.
Kaylie and Jon had been together for the past year and a half. I'd known Kaylie for years, and took an instant liking to her boyfriend. I'd come over to hang, cook dinner with them, drink their beer and cuddle up for some TV now and then. But it wasn't polyamorous, and I wasn't really their third wheel. I was their Joey.
For the uninitiated, I'm referring to Joey Tribbiani, the affable, charming and perpetually bed-hopping friend to the entire gang on Friends. But he has a special relationship with Monica and Chandler as a couple. He's their pet, their one-person fan club and their surrogate child, all in one package. He keeps their relationship a secret from the rest of the group, he officiates their wedding and he even gets his own "Joey room" when the couple moves out to the suburbs in the final season of the series. In fact, that's how I knew I was Kaylie and Jon's "Joey."
"Our new house has a Kate room :)," Kaylie texted me.
"What???" I responded.
Sure enough, there in my inbox popped up a photo of a nicely lit room with floral curtains and a full-sized bed, apparently one of four bedrooms in their new house. Yes, it was true: I'd spent enough nights at their apartment in the past that they had jokingly decided to designate one of the rooms "mine." As Chandler tells Joey, "You don't think we'd buy a house and not have a Joey room, do you?"
Being that special third: It may sound awkward or plain weird. But there's something about being the platonic third in a relationship — the Joey — that's comforting, particularly for the couple. A recent study published in Social Psychology Quarterly found that having support for your relationship from friends leads individuals to feel "more love, more committed and more positive about a partner."
Being a Joey was like giving that stamp of approval, but magnified times 10. I root for them as a couple, listen to each of their individual problems ("Jon didn't do the dishes," says Kaylie, while from Jon I hear, "Kaylie didn't want me to go out tonight").
As an uncoupled soul, I also serve as a source of entertainment on a slow Friday night, with Jon and Kaylie playing Tinder tourists as I swipe along. They soak in my bad dates stories, backseat driving single life through my tales.
Learning from the best: But it's not sheer entertainment for them. I benefit deeply, as they also offer insight that I, a longtime singleton not unlike Joey, simply don't have. Being the Joey has given me a front row seat to a working, functional relationship. As Katla McGlynn pointed out at the Huffington Post, a major benefit to being the third part of a couple is that "your couple friends will unintentionally teach you the dos and don'ts of relationships."
"One of my favorite things about hanging out with my couple friends is that I get double the advice. When it comes to job stuff, life decisions, relationship advice and so on, I get two perspectives for the price of one," writer Sarah Lai wrote at Relevant of her Joey status. For me, Kaylie and Jon are a crash course in compromise over financial unbalance in a relationship and the joys of finding someone who supports your weird hobbies.
A surrogate family: But it goes beyond serving as relationship role models, to a connection that feels familial. When pulled in as the Joey, you're part of a family unit.
"I've been involved in my friends' relationship for about five years," Jesse, 32 and also a Joey, told Mic. "When they got married, there was this awkward moment when we realized that me automatically being made best man didn't make sense. For obvious reasons, maid of honor would never have worked."
Jesse claimed that he did end up the best man, but made a note of it in his speech. "I'm not really closer to one or the other," Jesse said. "They're like my siblings. Sometimes, my parents."
There's always room for Joey: Kaylie recently admitted that she and Jon are fully aware of my Joey status.
"Jon and I went out to lunch the other day and he asked me, 'Do you think we talk about Kate too much?'" Kaylie said. I quickly reassured her that they probably didn't, but it made me recognize the inherent value of the "Joey" position. I am a mascot of their success just as much as they rooting for mine — whether it's in the form of a new relationship, a new job or new boots (which, yes, I would text them both about.)
In the meantime, I know they'll always leave a space for me in my special room.
* Names have been changed to allow subjects to speak freely on private matters.