DEAR MISS MANNERS: A lot of entertaining at people's homes involves potluck dinners where everyone brings a dish. I love cooking, and put a considerable amount of time and energy into preparing a dish that guests will enjoy, as do many others in my circle. Often, these dinners are some of the best food you will find in our town.
But there are some who bring the cheapest and least time-consuming thing they can think of: a bag of chips, guacamole, deli potato salad, etc. Someone once actually brought a cheap takeout pizza.
I find this infuriating. Most of the time, these non-contributors just don't feel like doing anything, so they don't. That doesn't stop them from eating what others have spent time making. I think it's incredibly selfish and self-centered, as most of these folks have both the time and the money to contribute. These are the same people who bring the cheapest wine they can find.
I had one party at my home, and I will never do it again, as I found myself scrambling around in my kitchen trying to find something to put out to eat in the absence of any real contributions.
Any ideas on how to handle this diplomatically, short of narrowing my social circle? This is a SMALL town where everybody knows everybody else.
GENTLE READER: Telling people to bring their own food and then quibbling with the results is unfair and counter-productive. If you don't like what's being offered, there is a simple solution. It's called a dinner party. Miss Manners assures you that even one on a grand scale is possible.
However, even if you declare it so ("No need to bring anything, this time we just want to give it ourselves"), your friends will still bring cheap wine and store-bought chips, which you can put aside or toss. But at least they will have been forewarned -- and the main dishes will have been suitably prepared in advance.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I'm in an exclusive relationship with a man I love. We are in our 50s and have had a rocky five years together. I have a problem with his friendship with another woman he has known since childhood, who recently became separated from her husband because she was unfaithful.
My man and I don't live together anymore, and she seems to always be around when I visit. They laugh and carry on like teenagers, and I feel like an outsider. I have asked him to stop, but he thinks I'm being silly.
What are the rules of etiquette for these situations? He's way too old for a chaperone, if that even exists anymore!
GENTLE READER: Rarely prone to jealousy or hasty conclusions herself, Miss Manners is nevertheless afraid that this situation does not look good. At least for you. He is entitled to have friends, but not to exclude you from their giggling.
She suggests that you reassess what "exclusive" means to all parties, and perhaps give your gentleman friend some time to figure it out. If he decides that it means spending more time with his old friend, then you may want to reconsider the relationship. Your efforts will be far better spent finding another suitable middle-aged man than in attempting to employ a chaperone for the current one.
Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, email@example.com; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.