Being a Fourth Party: Dealing With Too Much Information at the Meetup

Dear Take Two:

So I found this Meetup group that does fun activities at local places, some of them bars. Around the same time I started showing up, one of the guys in the group started using it as a place to I guess you'd call it "connect" with someone that isn't his girlfriend. This is super-easy for me to spot, but the one woman (and she always wants to talk to me) tells me "Kip" broke it off with his girlfriend, so she's happy to date such a nice guy. Then his girlfriend (they're almost never there at the same time) tells people they're a couple and living together, but having some troubles. It makes me uncomfortable, and I'm thinking of dropping out of the Meetup group for a little while so I don't have to watch him make fools of everybody. Thoughts?

Says Jacki: It sounds like you only have a very casual friendship with Kip's girlfriends. Since you're not close with them, if Kip is a cheating bastard, you're not the right person to break such delicate news to either of them. It may even be the case that both girlfriends already know about each other. Sometimes, people in open relationships prefer not to own up to that publicly. Unfortunately, you're going to have to sit back and let the cat come out of the bag on its own. Spend time in this group only when they're doing their non-bar activities, and try to find a new Meetup group to drink with.

Says Jill: Oh, I feel your pain. I thought all such bar-scene drama would be gone now that I'm in the post-frat party years, but there seems like a lot of it out there in every age group. For me, though, it takes so much effort to get a structured, ongoing social life going, I wouldn't drop out of the Meetup. I would instead quit letting the new girlfriend feed her need for attention by telling you her deal—or "Kip" or the old girlfriend, either, for that matter. Just say, "Oh, I wouldn't know about that" and move along to another group—after all, that's a big part of the enjoyment of Meetups, mingling with people you like to be around. Soon, all parts of the threesome should get the message that you're not the audience they're seeking.

Dear Take Two:

My mother-in-law used to give me my own present (cooking magazine subscriptions or a book, which I loved) at Christmas, but now she's "combined" my husband and I. Last year "we" got stereo speakers, the year before it was video games. (I would tell you the name but then everyone would know this is me!) It hurts my feelings, but I keep getting her a gift from me. Is there any way to go back to the good old days?

—This Year It Might Be Men's Underwear

Says Jill: Your effort would have to be huge; inviting her to a one-on-one gift exchange, maybe over a nice holiday lunch—are you really willing to go to all that trouble just for a gift you could probably buy for yourself? Another idea: try to switch your gift exchanges to your birthdays, or some other holiday that's meaningful to the two of you, when money and creativity are not in such short supply as they sometimes are at Christmastime.

Says Jacki: Unfortunately, I don't think so. You can drop strong hints, talking about how much you looked forward to that cooking magazine subscription or how you sometimes reread that book she got, but there's no polite way to make your feelings more known. Try not to take it personally; she might just be short on cash or time. If it bothers you that you're giving her something and getting nothing in return, consider giving her a joint-gift, from you and your husband. But, if you can find a way to happily give her something thoughtful without expecting something in return, your MIL could give you a great way to truly get into the Christmas spirit.

Take Three from This Year It Might: "I'm such a wimp! I really tried to work up the nerve to drop a hint or take her to a nice lunch where we exchanged gifts (even though my budget's not great), but... I ended up just buying her the same stuff I do every year and it's already wrapped. Bah!"