Dear Sensible Midwesterner,
I was at a dinner where my wife was seated to my left and a lady to my right at the end of the table. (There was no one to her left). I must admit I spent more time time talking with her than I probably should have. The gentleman sitting to the left of my wife did not spend much time talking to her, so she then became quite angry with me for leaving her alone.
Stuck in the Middle (of the Table)
When in doubt, talk to your wife.
That’s just a sensible catch-all.
Without knowing the parties and specifics involved, it’s tricky to say whether your wife is being overly sensitive or you were being a thoughtless clod. The sensible guess would be somewhere in the middle of those two.
In this case, it would have been just as rude to ignore the stranger (perhaps a bit more so, since the picture you’ve drawn places the woman to your right having no one else she could talk to, at the section of the table known around my house as Siberia), but without nearly the same risk of an unpleasant drive home afterwards.
Had your wife written in, a sensible Midwesterner may have advised her to address the problem in the moment, by creating her own conversation with those next to or across from her, poking her husband and getting his attention if things were, indeed, that dire. Alas, she has not written.
Ideally, you would have picked up on your wife’s lack of company and had a three-way. Side-by-side seating can make this a challenge, but if the person seated in the center pushes back from the table a bit, it’s manageable, and the physical awkwardness is well worth it so you, your wife, and the woman to your right are all satisfied in your dinner conversation (what did you think?).
Sensible people of any regional background want everyone at the dinner (or party) to enjoy themselves; it’s simply decent and human. Making that desire a reality isn’t all that tricky, it simply means remembering that the very essence of social situations is thinking about those around you. (That is, perhaps, why some find social situations so terribly taxing; if you do it right, it’s exhausting!)
Any sensible person also hopes that you weren’t so animated or uncharacteristically charming in your conversation with the woman to your right that you were wittingly or unwittingly courting jealousy.