THE DATING GAME: Caught in the crossfire among friends and exes

So I am on the phone with my friend Katie, setting up the final details of an outing when she finishes the conversation by saying, "Oh - don't mention Doug when we all get together. We're not seeing each other anymore"

"OK," I responded.

Inside I was screaming: "What? When did this happen?"

As I hung up the phone, I realized that with this breakup, the sticky web of relationships that had been spun over the past six months was over. For now at least, none of my comrades would be caught in friendly fire again.

Now I am not talking about the friendly fire tragically associated with news from a war. We're caught in this friendly fire when our friends date each other, break up, and then start dating new friends who become your friends by association.

Being caught in friendly fire is always a tricky maneuver. You want to be like Switzerland, neutral to all parties, but it's hard when planning outings and considering who to invite. If it's left to me, I prefer to invite everyone in the sticky web, grab a combat helmet and duck through the drama. It can make for some great stories down the line.

Confused? Let's see if this helps.

I first met Doug at a wine tasting party, along with his longtime girlfriend Jessica. One month later, I heard they had broken up. They had dated for nearly two years, so Doug had some tough times through the breakup.

A month later, I met Hector, a doctor at a local hospital and a colleague of Doug's, and Hector's girlfriend Erica, who worked at the same hospital. We got together at concerts and clubs and enjoyed each other's company.

During that time, I introduced Doug to Katie, a friend I had met online. Katie and I had stayed friends, but never moved beyond that, and she and Doug started to click.

So on occasion Hector and Erica and Doug and Katie would all be out with my group of friends and things were going well. So it seemed.

Then Hector and Erica started having some typical dating troubles. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that they worked in the same place, so they were in each other's business a lot.

Doug, who plays in a band, hosted a show at a local Elks lodge. Katie attended, and Jessica - Doug's ex - was the opening act (she sang Janis Joplin's "Piece of My Heart." Ouch!)

A couple of weeks later we planned a trip to Key West, and Katie went solo. Doug was out of town. Hector showed up in time for a sunset cruise, but he brought - you guessed it - Jessica. So now Doug's ex and future ex were on the same boat for three hours.

I thought for sure I would need some extra protection when that scenario developed. But I have to hand it to both ladies - they kept everything civil. I never heard details of their conversation, but figured it must have been fine since the boat was a pirate-themed sailboat, and neither one walked the plank!

In the end, Erica found out about Hector's Key West companion and called things off. Hector moved to California, Jessica to Pennsylvania, both for new jobs. Erica remains in Miami, as do Katie and Doug, but they're not together.

And my combat helmet will get a break until I find myself in the next sticky web.