In your dating history, you may have seen someone briefly who acted like a totally different person around their friends, or you could be with that person now. The point is that this is a fairly common problem, which means that most people will brush up against this in the dating world. Why would someone act differently with their friends than with the person they’re dating? Which person is who they really are? And should this issue be a deal breaker?
There are two main reasons why someone will behave differently with you. The first reason relates to anxiety, insecurity, or trying to impress you. These men and women have a deeply rooted fear or insecurity that you may not like them as they are. They feel like they need to act a certain way in order for you to like and approve of them. The second reason, however, is darker and more emotionally dangerous.
Sometimes men and women act one way with you and act another way with their friends, but the reason they act differently with you is because they are trying to hide who they really are. For example, think of the proverbial guy people refer to as a “player.” With his date, he will try very hard to seem kind and honest, emotionally available and committed to you. With his friends, however, he acts like the player he is and jokes about his conquests and flirts like he has limited time left on earth.
When you date someone who acts markedly different with you than with their friends, your job is to figure out whether they act differently out of benign or normal reasons – again, insecurity or anxiety – or whether they are trying to pull the wool over your eyes and trick you into thinking that they are the sweetest, best partner around.
Which side of this person is the real one?
Typically, the person you are with your friends is the real person. With friends, you don’t fear judgment or a breakup like you may when you are in a romantic relationship. Most people relax more with friends than with people they just start dating. The goal, of course, is to strive to show your true self in every situation. Put another way, you should be roughly the same person with a date, a good friend, a coworker, or a stranger.
When you are the one who acts differently with your date…
If you are the one who has this problem, admit it: it’s a lot of work to keep up a facade. Are you sure it’s worth it? Unless you are a psychopath or the angriest, meanest person on earth, you could probably find some people who would like to date you just the way you are. If you feel like you have to keep up an act with your date, it means that you are pretending to be someone else, and pretending is draining. The root of this problem is insecurity, so try using this mantra and repeat it to yourself regularly: I am a package. I have some good qualities and I have some qualities that aren’t so great. But I am no different from everyone else in that way. If someone wants to be with me, they should accept the whole package, because that is who I am. I don’t need to apologize for who I am or try to be someone else.
The takeaway message
Most adults find that they become more secure and they stop worrying about what others think as they get older. Everyone’s television godmother, Oprah Winfrey, has talked about how she reached a point of self-acceptance when she turned 50. But until you reach that point, try to date people who seem consistent across situations and among different groups of people. If you are the one who changes like a chameleon, give yourself a break and stop trying so hard. Your relationships will get better and last longer when you start acting more like you – and stop trying to be someone else.
Dr. Seth is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, Psychology Today blogger, and TV guest expert. He practices in Los Angeles and treats a wide range of issues and disorders and specializes in relationships, parenting, and addiction. He has had extensive training in conducting couples therapy and is the author of Dr. Seth’s Love Prescription: Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome and Find the Love You Deserve.