“My best friend and my mom can't stand my boyfriend of six months. He is so good to me, though—buys me flowers, takes me on beautiful dates, constantly plans surprises. They think he's snobbish and standoffish, making very little effort with them; I see him show up to things, but should I be looking for other forms of effort? Am I too blind to see something's wrong?”
This is a tricky question, because it’s so easy to miss signs of a toxic partner if you’re in love with said partner. But I would definitely want to get to the bottom of what your best friend and mom see that you don’t.
Although it’s possible your boyfriend is bad news, it’s also possible that he doesn’t meet the criteria your mom and friend had in their head for you. Especially if you come from a certain background or culture, and your boyfriend does not, it’s possible your mom and friend have your best interests at heart, misguided though they may be.
So, how do you determine this? The strategy is pretty simple.
Step 1: Observe his behaviors outside of your direct relationship.
It’s great that your boyfriend showers you with attention and shows up with nice gestures. But take in how he treats everyone but you. Look for consistencies in his stories and behaviors. Why? Because everything he does for you—like flowers, a spontaneous trip—has a direct positive effect for him, because you fall deeper in love with him. What he does for others, and while you’re not watching, is a sign of good character. Here’s what this looks like in action:
- When he meets your mom and best friend, does he ask them thoughtful questions? Does he try to engage when spoken to?
- When you’re at the grocery store checkout or grabbing takeout, does he treat employees with dignity and respect?
- Does he speak down to anyone when they are not present? Does he minimize others? Talk ill of them behind their back?
- What do his friends say about him? Do they make jokes about his arrogance? Anything else that is a red flag?
- Do his stories add up when you ask him where he’s been? Who he’s seen?
Step 2: Go back to your mom and best friend (separately) and ask them what they don’t like and why.
Try your best to be an objective listener. Take it in. Do they say he’s unkind to wait staff? Do they think he’s arrogant? What gives them such an impression? Or...are their observations, like his background and his tendency to tap his foot a little much kind of ridiculous and judgmental? Compare their notes to your notes.
I once had a friend whose boyfriend claimed to save up all his kind gestures for her, and, well, not many others. Shouldn’t we be trying to spread kindness all around? That was my thought. (They didn’t last.) If your boyfriend is the kind of person who is only kind if it benefits him, you want to know. If your mom and best friend are out of line in their judgment, you also want to have that information and set boundaries around your relationship. At the end of the day, the sooner you figure out who’s in the wrong, the better.
Jenna Birch is a journalist and author of The Love Gap: A Radical Plan to Win in Life and Love, a relationship-building guide for modern women, as well as a dating coach (currently accepting new clients). To ask her a question, which she may answer in a forthcoming PureWow column, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.