Being ‘the last single girl’ can be a dream, not a nightmare.

I am about to tell you a crazy fact about me that you may not believe is true: Two summers ago I went on a road trip from New York to Maine for Labor Day weekend with three couples—and me. I was the literal seventh wheel for an entire long weekend. Now, I love each and every person present on that trip dearly, but I would rather spend the rest of my life in line at the post office than endure such a “vacation” again.

I say this not to scare you but to reassure you: If I can return from a trip like that relatively unscathed, you can survive your status as “the single one” in your group of friends. In fact, you can thrive.

Though I let a lot of things go unsaid over the course of that weekend, I’ve learned that as a serious relationship continues to elude me, I don’t have to let my single status bring me down when it comes to spending time with my happily coupled friends.

01. Don’t be afraid to speak up when you feel alienated.

The fastest and most direct route to Bittertown, USA, is to keep your feelings of exclusion, alienation, or anger inside you to fester. If your coupled-up friends make you feel left out or not quite a part of the conversation when you get together, you either need to speak up or stop spending time with them.

I’m not suggesting you pick a fight or demand a pity party. Take one of your girlfriends out to coffee and casually, rationally explain to them that it’s hard to hang with the group when talk revolves around husbands, couples trips, and everyone’s babies. It’s easy to let the common ground of the majority rule the conversation, but it’s also extremely rude to leave you feeling cast out with nothing to contribute. Most likely your friends will be super-understanding (and feel really bad), so one quick aside should be enough to remedy the situation. If not, I again say, stop spending so much time with these people and maybe use Bumble BFF to make some new friends.

02. Keep your alcohol consumption in check at parties.

Here’s something that’s true: We are usually a very amplified version of our true selves when we consume a lot of alcohol. That means if you’re harboring issues with your coupled-up friends or feeling insecure, it’s much more likely to come bubbling up when you’ve had one too many.

Unfortunately, lots of us tend to overindulge when we’re put in social situations that make us uncomfortable. I would argue, however, that it’s much more uncomfortable to have to explain your emotional outbursts, ugly crying, fight-picking, and/or conspicuous gossiping than it is to just limit yourself to a drink or two and go home.

03. Simply explain less.

Sometimes it feels like married people suffer from complete amnesia when it comes to their single lives pre-wedding, doesn’t it? Suddenly they can’t even imagine going on a first date or dealing with texting ambiguity. Listen to me: Yes, these people are your friends, but you are not there to be their entertainment for the evening. You are under no obligation whatsoever to let them “live vicariously” through you.

People will ask and ask, I know. And if it doesn’t bother you to share the highs and lows of your dating life, go for it. But if you feel like your friends (or family!) are judging you or taking advantage of your novelty status within the group—just stop. You don’t have to justify, defend, or talk up your single life to make it seem better or worse than it is. My favorite way to deflect the near-constant “Are you seeing anyone?” or “Do you have any dating stories for me?” is the simple yet effective “When I do, you’ll be the first to know,” followed by moving right along to another topic.

04. Remember that the ‘grass is always greener’ trope exists for a reason.

Everyone who is not content with their current relationship status has a reason to think that life on the other side is better. We look at what we don’t have—freedom, companionship, romantic love, radical independence—and long for it, even if what we do have is pretty great. We can’t help ourselves. So when you start to ache for a relationship in a way that fosters bitterness and envy toward your coupled-up friends, remember a few things.

First, relationships are not without their challenges, and the most insecure people in them will often posture the most. The ones who tease you, who make you feel like a freak or a show pony—they’re usually the most unhappy. Second, it’s OK to desire marriage—it is a really awesome thing! But remember that in a lot of ways, coupled people are just like you. They overly promote the good stuff (on social media and in conversation) and play down literally everything else. Enjoy the perks of singlehood now, knowing that there will definitely be things you will miss when you are coupled up later (no matter how perfect your happily coupled friends’ lives seem).

05. Embrace the ‘Third Wheel Hang.’ (No, seriously.)

And finally, some slightly unconventional advice. Getting together with a big group of couples can be overwhelming and is usually what leads to all of the above scenarios. (Like my seventh-wheel long-weekend trip.) However, I found it to be absolutely delightful, on occasion, to make plans with one set of my favorite couples at a time. I have a few pairs that I absolutely adore hanging with as a unit and find that their company can be both comforting and inspiring.

As the third wheel, you can become the center of conversation in a good way. Your couple friends will be glad for a break from the routine of talking to each other and engage you in a thoughtful, earnest way. I like to present dating scenarios to the guy in the couple to get his perspective and then see how his spouse reacts and what different perspective she may have. In this environment, these conversations are constructive, not condescending.

Being “the last single girl” doesn’t have to be a nightmare from which there is no escape. Your friends don’t have license to put you in a box just because they’re checking a different one on their tax return. And even though they surely love you, they may forget how to behave sometimes. Stand up for yourself, be kind to yourself, and remember that altering social situations and conversations in small ways can make a big difference.