Lessons on fifth-wheel-ishness

Chloe, one of my grand-dogs, is a Brussels Griffon. She doesn’t know what it means to be a fifth wheel because she assumes everyone wants to play with her.



Chloe, on left, teaching her lumbering friend, Noah, how to be a little more playful


Son Jeremy and DIL Denise flew me to SoCal last week. There’s a dog park in their neighborhood divided into two areas by dog size. After Chloe works the small-dog side, she wants to run with the big dogs.

She has this non-arrogant confidence that everyone should like her. Because what’s not to like?

Here’s what I learned about fifth-wheelishness from Chloe this past week:

Assume everyone wants to play with us. I’ve written this thought before, but it bears repeating: There’s an empty space in the shape of that loved one at the monthly Scrabble tourney, holiday dinners at Aunt Minnie’s, the annual cabin-on-the-lake weekend. And these friends, these family members don’t want two empty spaces.

One of my brothers-in-law once said to me, “You were such an extension of Gary that when you’re here, it almost seems like he’s here, too.” Wow. Had never thought of that before.

The dog park wouldn’t be the same without us. That retirement party, Caribbean cruise, family reunion wouldn’t be as much fun, as memorable, as hilarious, as (fill in the blank) … without us.

We have too much to share — our humor, our wisdom, our encouraging words, our memories. Hubby never got to meet his newest grandsons—three adopted Ugandan brothers—but every time I visit, they want to watch the video of their grandpa on my laptop — the one SIL Josh created for Hubby’s Celebration of Life service. And we don’t just watch it; the boys want to stop it  and look more intently at photos; and I tell remembrances of their grandpa and we all laugh. And sometimes I wonder if the boys truly believe they know their grandfather. I hope so.

Being alone at events can help fine-tune our vision. When we’re part of a couple at an event, we probably don’t notice the lonely people there; when we’re a single person at an event, our vision can be sharpened to see people we wouldn’t normally speak to. Chloe never enters the dog park without first meeting everyone and inviting them to chase her. Some dogs don’t take her up on the invitation; but many do.

* * *

There is no such thing as a fifth wheel. It’s all imagined; it exists only in the minds of those who feel fifth-wheel-ish. And here’s how we know that to be a true statement: Stop and think about a special couple in our life — grandparents; an aunt and uncle; our best friend and her husband who were also maid of honor and best man at our wedding. Think about losing one of them. Would we want to lose the other, as well? To fifth-wheel-ish-ness? Of course we wouldn’t.

Are you single again after being a couple? And not on purpose? Have you withdrawn because you know your friends and family members are just being polite — they don’t really want you along?

Practice repeating after me: Yes.

“Yes, I’d love to go with the group on an Alaskan cruise.”

“Yes, I’ll be there for Thanksgiving.”

“Seriously? You have tickets to the Oregon Ducks this weekend? Yes!”

* * *

Side note: I’ve heard that Steven Spielberg got his inspiration for Ewoks from this breed of dog. While I don’t know if that’s true, still, when people ask what breed Chloe is, and if I can’t remember Brussels Griffon, I say she’s an Ewok.



P.S. If you found this post inspiring, or if you know someone who could use an Ewok in their life, please share, tweet or pin!


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  1. Fawn Pratt

    Good morning Marley, yes to no 5th wheelish! I had a dear friend that lost out on so many happy times because of this. I love how you share your thoughts. Bravo, Fawn

    • I’m sorry to hear about your friend who lost out on so many happy times, Fawn … and I pray we don’t fall into that same place. Thank you for your comment.

  2. Sonja Muster

    So well written. Beautiful.

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