Three is a nervous number. It’s not part of a pair nor is it part of two couples. Three is that in-between number sitting at the table twiddling its thumbs awkwardly while trying not to feel the odd man out.
Three makes everyone around a little uneasy. Sometimes it’s a good uneasy but in my life I see three with a bit of trepidation. For instance, my two youngest daughters and I each have the same make and model car (three of the same type of automobile). In the past year, major and minor things have gone wrong with each of our vehicles. Occasionally we’ll conference and see who has the most reliable car of the moment when one of us needs a trustworthy mode of transportation other than bicycle, foot or hoof.
A trio of bank robbers is scarier than a pair. On the flip side, a trio of policemen rescuing you from a trio of bank robbers is more comforting than just two officers. Your odds of getting out alive go up with more than a pair of heroes.
Lunching with friends can be awkward when you have to divide your attention between two instead of having a conversation one-on-one. In the back of your mind you’re constantly weighing how much attention you give to each friend.
The same thing applies when you have three children. I live that life and strive to equally parent my three girls. Of course, the running joke between the three now-adults is that one of them is, and has always been, my favorite. Which one depends on who is talking at the time. I let them have that illusion since we all know the cats are really my favorites.
When I write, three eventually has to be changed to more or less. I can’t have a trio of heroes or a trio of villains. Can you imagine the in-fighting with three John Waynes or three Hannibal Lecters? Hannibal One: “If you don’t let me talk succinctly, I’ll fry your brain with a little cilantro.” Hannibal Two: “Cilantro? With brain? Or you mad? Brain requires thyme and rosemary to bring out the flavor.” Hannibal Three: “You idiots are crazy. I’ll deep-fry you both.”
On the other hand, three is not the loneliest number. One has that distinction. Three can be a party or a terror. At the age of three, it’s definitely a terror – ask any parent. Three friends hiking in the Smokies is better than two when chased by a bear – you have two more chances to get away rather than only one.
Most of my characters are loners. Even when they pair up, eventually they will be unpaired. Trios in my writing are infrequent because of the awkwardness and because of my own neuorsis about treating everyone fairly. Although I can do that in real life with my family, I can’t do it with three characters vying for the same amount of attention on paper.
Awkward Three. How I avoid thee. I’d rather deal with Superstitious Six.
Current enthusiasm is sharpening intangible knives and co-authoring at Rubicon Ranch