What's the ideal number when socialising with friends? For the most congenial meetup, I think three is pretty much perfect. Thanks to Freud's most infamous idea, though, that's a controversial opinion.
You know the old saying, "Two's company but three's a crowd"? Internet research seems to suggest there's truth in this. Posts in online psychology magazines, forums and blogs all talk about threes in terms of one member being sidelined.
From these reports you'd be forgiven for thinking that going out in a trio inevitably leads to feelings of jealousy and social isolation for one member of the group.
Quite the contrary, I say: socialising with friends is best done in threes. When you really stop and think about it, the advantages are clear.
A group of three is small enough to have a decent conversation, but without the intensity you get in a duo. There's no pressure to be 'on' all the time, so you can just relax and enjoy the banter when it suits you.
You don't have to make an effort to circulate so you can talk to everyone, which is necessary in big groups, but tricky in a crowded pub or restaurant.
Three is a great number for small plate restaurants, because you can order more dishes. And you'll never have to try and make three meatballs feed eight people (have you noticed how those small plate dishes always contain three portions?).
Groups of three are also good for pub rounds. You don't have to drink at a sickening pace to keep up with a growing queue of pints－as in a larger group－nor does your round tend to arrive too soon.
With three, it's not inevitable that one person will be left alone during loo or cigarette breaks.
Meetups in a group of three are much easier to organise than for groups of any other size. This is partly because they're still quite small, but mostly because you have a third person to endorse or veto your suggestions of what to do. It has the overall effect of making your night out more likely to happen.
One thing I particularly like about groups of three is that you don't have to know everybody in the group to have a good time. Three is a hospitable number when one of you wants to invite a friend from outside your usual social milieu.
So why do trios get such a bad press? I believe our downer on threes is rooted in the influence of Freud's idea of the Oedipus Complex.
Granted, the original Greek myth is a memorable tale: in a nutshell, Oedipus was a jealous son who killed his father so he could marry his mother. The myth inspired Freud to speculate that in our deep unconscious minds, we prefer to relate to one another in groups of two.
Psychoanalysts working after Freud reimagined the Oedipus Complex. For them, it's not only relevant to our relationship with our parents, but something which drives any competition for the attention of a significant other. 'Resolving' the Oedipus Complex is how we learn to share attention.
To these psychoanalysts, the person who frets that they're being given the cold shoulder in a group of three would be seen as suffering from unresolved Oedipal issues. But I'm not so sure. Evidence for the Oedipus Complex appears to be almost nonexistent, even though the idea lingers on.
Defenders of Freud could be right about one thing, though: if we feel jealous in a trio, the cause of our discomfort may well lie in our past. Perhaps we didn't get enough attention growing up, or perhaps we never really learned to share.
Psychology aside, I believe our preference for socialising with friends in pairs is largely a matter of habit. If we feel uncomfortable in threes, a bit of practice will soon help us get used to the experience.
Still sceptical? Just take a look at that list of seven advantages again, and tell me you're not tempted to at least experiment with unleashing the power of three on your social life.
Daniel Lewis is founder of Loose Ends App.Suggest a correction