Last year, I started a "serious" book club. Every week, eight members meet (discussion size is limited to encourage participation) based on a prepared schedule. "Pat" arrives late with apologies about not having read the book. Other members look forward to the discussions that Pat is not scheduled to attend. Corrective action is necessary, and the goal is to minimize hard feelings — I encounter Pat at work. I am planning to reduce Pat's scheduled participation (there's a waiting list to join the group) and am considering asking Pat to leave the club altogether. Any insight?
A.G. / Medford
Getting Pat out of the group is clearly a good idea for everyone. If I understand you correctly, the club is a large group, of whom eight at a time meet? That gives you more room to manage Pat out tactfully — and it's a brilliant way of organizing a group. Each meeting is small enough to foster conversation, but you're not stuck seeing the same people or feeling as if you must attend every session. Clever!
Anyway, back to Pat. What's your relationship like? Are you and Pat prickly or fuzzy with each other? You could avoid a breakup talk and ease Pat out with strategic scheduling and vague hand-waving motions when you see each other in the hall. Or, if there is warmth or a tradition of straight talking between you, it may be better to be open about the fact that it isn't working out. (There is no universal rule about these kinds of things, unfortunately; it's a matter of personality more than politeness. One person's tact is another person's passive-aggressive claptrap.)
If you do converse with Pat, remember that Pat's incompatibility with the book club is not a personal failing on Pat's part. (If you are unable to maintain this perspective, do not attempt the conversation.) This club is more like a symposium than a casual box-wine-and-chill group, and it's perfectly OK for a person not to be up for that. Imagine how you'd feel if you went to pursue a casual interest and were expected to perform at some near-professional level. You'd feel relieved to get out, I bet, and Pat probably will, too.
Why do waitstaff feel it is appropriate to bring extra spoons when not everyone at a table orders dessert? Maybe the person ordering dessert doesn't want others sticking spoons in her dessert. Am I the only person who thinks this is wrong? I have never seen anyone get extra forks when ordering a salad.
D.A. / Maynard
That's because no restaurant diner has ever said, "Oh em gee, that kale looks amazing. I've simply got to try a bite."
Servers don't do anything for the express purposes of annoying their customers; they do what they have found works for most of the people most of the time. Bringing extra spoons with a dessert saves waitstaff the inevitable trips back. Don't blame the servers: Blame our whole ridiculous culture around food, morality, and body size. If diners weren't neurotic and jittery about dessert, servers wouldn't have to play these games.
Do your part to create a saner food culture by calmly asserting your right to and desire for your entire slice of cake. When your dessert and extra spoons are brought to your table, say, "I'm planning to finish this myself. It looks great — does anyone else want to order something for themselves before the server leaves?"
Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.
HAVE YOU BEEN LEFT WITH HARD FEELINGS FROM A CLUB OR TEAM? Send your questions to Miss Conduct at firstname.lastname@example.org.