DEAR MISS MANNERS: My sister invited me to join her, her husband and another couple for brunch. We would be a group of five, as I am single.
When I arrived, the four of them had already been seated and their four chairs were clustered together around three quarters of a circular table. My chair was comparatively removed from the other four in the middle of the remaining quarter of the circle. I was seated between my sister and brother-in-law with their friends directly opposite me.
As the meal progressed, I felt increasingly isolated as I frequently found both my sister and brother-in-law simultaneously engaged in one-on-one conversations with the wife and husband opposite me. I would sit in silence, not sure where to look.
My relative distance from them and their proximity to each other effectively compounded the effect, by impacting my ability to hear what was being said in a noisy restaurant. Additionally, often both my sister and brother-in-law physically turned their bodies away from me as they engaged with their neighbor on the opposite side.
Throughout the meal, all I really wanted to do was get up and leave. The one thing that prevented me from doing so was fear of my actions being considered histrionics. Consequently, I finished the meal in relative silence until my sister finally sought to engage me in conversation following dessert.
How would you have handled the situation? Is there a way to politely take your leave of a meal without causing a scene in such a situation? As it happened, I said nothing, and later sent an email explaining how I was hurt by what had happened.
GENTLE READER: Call in the authorities.
Miss Manners is not suggesting histrionics in the form of police assistance, but to call in those with even greater power: the ones in charge of restaurant seating. When you sized up the situation, you could have asked if there were smaller tables so that you all could better hear one another. Even if none were available, this would alert your lunch companions to the awkward placement of your chair -- and encouraged them to be aware of it, and converse accordingly.