“Why Does He Act Like A Jerk Around Them?”

If your boyfriend's behavior seems inauthentic in front of certain people, maybe it's time to confront him about it. But first, figure out if you're trying to mold him into someone he's not to suit your needs.

By Dave Singleton

ashingtonian Jenny, 32, is quick to point out the definition of the term "two-faced" to me: "It's when a guy acts a certain way in one setting with you, but then acts differently in another," she explains. And she should know; Jenny's ex, John, was the embodiment of a two-faced boyfriend. "He was such a prince when we were alone — sweet, sensitive, and attentive. But around his friends, he ignored me
My new boyfriend sees different parts of my personality at different times.
and made these unkind and unflattering remarks about me under the guise of humor," she recalls. "I had to end it." The fact that it took three months of dating John before Jenny came to her conclusion isn't that uncommon. "It wasn't an easy decision. At first, I wondered: Which is the real John?" she says. "'Nice John' was terrific. 'Mean John' was the jerk who didn't want to change, even after I tried to get him to see how his bad behavior around a few [of his] macho friends was unacceptable."

Different folks need different strokes
Is it a crime if your date treats you differently in various social settings? Of course not! Otherwise, we'd all be guilty. The real question is how to discern which behavior changes are deal-breakers and which are perfectly acceptable. Jenny's situation was extreme, and no one should stay with someone who's cruel in front of others. But what about that usually smart and strong guy that, much like the character of Chandler Bing on Friends, turns into a joke-cracking, insecure buffoon while in the presence of his boss? Or the sexy, suave guy who starts acting like a little boy again in front of his parents? Don't they deserve a pass, too?

"We all act differently around different people, so why should I expect him to be different?" asks Marylander Marcie, 30, referring to her boyfriend of three months. "When I act different around my work colleagues, pals, or family, it's not as if I'm deceiving him by being more raucous with my girlfriends or demure with my mom. My new boyfriend sees different parts of my personality at different times. It's not even 'acting differently,' to be honest. I learned to look at my boyfriend's behavior changes as [different] aspects of his personality [that are] enhanced by specific people and social settings." But if you're troubled by certain behavior changes in your guy, look a little bit closer at both your date and yourself to make sure you're not missing any warning signs that could negatively impact your relationship down the road. From adjusting your expectations and attitude to asking him for some reasonable behavioral modifications, several psychologists weigh in here on how to best approach a new boyfriend whose personality changes might be cause for alarm.

Understand what your motivations are before confronting him
Before looking too closely at the guy in question, take a good look at yourself and your motivations first. Are there things about you that predispose you either overreacting to your date's changing personality, or not reacting at all? "Women can be prone to being more sensitive to (and bothered by) changes in a date's behavior," says Dr. Belisa Vranich (, clinical psychologist and coauthor of He's Got Potential: A Field Guide to Shy Guys, Bad Boys, Intellectuals, Cheaters and Everything in Between. "In general, women tend to be more sensitive to group dynamics, details and overall [social] temperature. They also may be more conscious of those three [issues], too."

Awareness is a good thing, but "many women tend to be more verbal about what they dislike about a date's behavior, particularly after they get to know the person and have more invested," says Dr. Dan Neuharth, marriage and family therapist and author of If You Had Controlling Parents: How to Make Peace with Your Past and Take Your Place in the World. Not that you shouldn't say something if it bothers you, but timing is everything — and maybe your comment can wait until you're somewhere more private.

Also, be careful of trying to change him just for the sake of doing so. "Women are typically nurturers in relationships, so they can often put a positive spin on a behavior change if they see it as helping their partner to become a better person," says Dr. Ish Major, psychiatrist and author of Little White Whys: A Woman's Guide through the Lies Men Tell and Why. Women have a long history of trying to change men to suit their needs, and it's best to be aware of that when you're tempted to ask him to make some kind of change — even if you think you're doing it for the right reason. As his date, that's not your job.

When to let his behavioral changes slide
There are times when behavior modifications in certain settings should be expected, so maybe you need to reset your expectations. "When we are in certain settings — like around our families, bosses, or at company functions — some behavior changes are to be expected," says Dr. Neuharth. "Even if your date regresses into teenage behavior around his or her parents or siblings, it can simply reflect some unfinished business from his the family of origin.
A lot of people transition so seamlessly between [these] roles.
And virtually all of us have some of that, so lend him a compassionate ear." If you're having a hard time accepting him as-is based on your preconceived notions of what box he should fit in to be a good boyfriend, maybe it's time to loosen your parameters up a little.

"Assuming he didn't do anything egregious, it's up to you to re-evaluate your cookie-cutter image," says Dr. Gilda Carle (, relationship expert and author of Don't Bet on the Prince! How to Have the Man You Want by Betting on Yourself. "Maybe you're a woman who likes power and [thinking], how dare a man you're dating show [his] vulnerability? That's not a very realistic approach. Or maybe he's being a little [sycophantic] and obsequious with his boss at dinner and you see him in a different light. Guess what? Mad Men's sexy and always-powerful Don Draper only lives on the small screen. Don't let yourself be limited by preconceptions."

It's also important to ask yourself why you're truly with this man. "The tough part about relationships is that we can't pick and choose which parts of a person we'd like to keep and which parts to leave out," says Dr. Major. "To be with someone — truly with someone — you have to accept the totality of who he is [as a person], and if you're having a tough time accepting someone in all phases, it may be a red flag that larger incompatibility issues are looming."

Don't be afraid to bring up your concerns
"It's interesting that most people say they have a 'public self' that is completely different from their 'private self,'" says Dr. Major. "A lot of people transition so seamlessly between [these] roles, they don't even realize they're doing it anymore. A good way to bring this to [someone's] attention is to point out how it makes you feel when you're present. Say something like, 'Gee, I feel like I have to be two or three different people with you sometimes depending on where we go.' This should trigger a little self-observation on [the other person's] part. If it doesn't, you've got some more explaining to do!" And that's why raising your concerns in a non-threatening way is key. "If you are lucky, the reaction you will get is surprise and a little embarrassment," says Dr. Vranich. "You don't so much want embarrassment that then turns into shame and anger."

Dr Neuharth says that "some men will be open and receptive to addressing a partner's concerns, particularly if the issue is raised respectfully and non-judgmentally." But don't be surprised by a stiff-armed response, he warns: "Other men may just refuse to change their behavior, essentially saying, 'That's me — take it or leave it.'"

If there are obvious red flags, be prepared to cut your losses
In some cases, there's no need for discussion. "Most of us adapt our behavior slightly depending on the setting; that's part of being human," says Dr. Neuharth. "But some behavior changes are indeed red flags or potential deal-breakers. If your date puts you down in front of others or makes jokes at your expense, run — don't walk — for the nearest exit. Ditto if your date makes intolerant or racist remarks, or becomes intimidating or abusive," he explains. "Also, watch for behavior changes if your date's drinking. Alcohol lowers [people's] inhibitions, and who your date becomes when drunk may open a window into his dark side — which you ignore at your own peril."

Bottom line: Everything has to do with how he's treating you and how it makes you feel. Sure, your boyfriend might behave a little differently when he's with different people, "but you want a constant to occur with his being emotionally available to you," says Dr. Carle. "He needs to be in your corner and have your back even if he's out with his old high school friends, acting like an ass." Possibly the best advice for women who are unsure about whether a new guy is worth investing time and energy into is to put your budding relationship to the test. Resist the urge to cocoon for too long in the early stages of dating — even if you are blissfully happy together. "Don't say 'I love you' until you see this person in different settings," says Dr. Carle.

For the other side of the story, read "I Hate How She Treats Me Around Her Friends."

Dave Singleton, an award-winning writer and columnist for since 2003, is the author of two books on dating and relationships. Send your dating questions and comments to him at
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