DEAR MISS MANNERS: Over the years, I have been at a dinner table when the person on my right is speaking with the person on their right; the person on my left is speaking with the person on their left; and the people across from me are engaged in their own conversation.
I don't consider that anyone is being rude; it is just happenstance.
I do not know what I should do in this circumstance. I put a pleasant to mildly happy look on my face and attend to my dinner, but feel I either look foolish to those sitting at other areas of the table who see my situation and wonder why I have that strange look on my face, or just plain seem pathetic. In other words, I am very uncomfortable. Any recommendations you have for these situations would be greatly appreciated.
GENTLE READER: Yes, but no one would listen. There is an etiquette rule specifically designed to prevent this awkwardness, but it was laughed at, dismissed as being "artificial" and, by now, probably forgotten.
The rule is that every other person at the table begins by talking to the person on his or her right. Halfway through the meal, the hostess is supposed to "turn the table," signaling that it is time for every second person to turn left.
Ignoring the rule, expressly intended to correct the problem of "happenstance," did not solve it, as you have discovered. So the best you can do is to lean in one direction, hoping to catch a few words so that you can enter the conversation, or to concentrate on chasing your peas around your plate.
Miss Manners is pleased to know that you maintain the properly cheerful expression. Should anyone stare at you, you should shrug your shoulders to signify coping with a situation with which they are probably only too familiar.