Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Q: My friend Z has been dating a guy, S, for a year. The guy doesn't seem to like our group of friends and shows it by being very sullen and withdrawn when we're all together.
S also won't show a preference for where we go to dinner, what movie we see, etc., but then he's annoyed with whatever the decision is. And when S isn't happy, Z jumps to fix it somehow. They also bicker constantly about very minor things.
Z is the only unmarried one in our group, and I'm worried she's investing a lot into this relationship because she so badly wants to get married and have kids; she seems to think she's out of time and has to make this work, to the point where she has said firmly that she would marry him if he proposed. Is there any way I can approach her with my concerns that won't put her on the defensive? I'm just really worried about how her behavior changes when he's around.
Carolyn: When S expresses annoyance, you respond to him directly. (This column covers ways to do that: http://wapo.st/W4D8Mi.)
When you notice clear behavior changes in Z, you respond to her directly: "I worry about how your behavior has changed — you just did (latest clear example here), where I've never known you to do that." Do not, do not attack S directly, since that will only force her to defend him as a roundabout way of defending herself and her choices. You don't want her invested in proving you wrong.
Everything else you mention, you need not to touch with a 10-foot pole. The idea that she's desperate to join your married-people club is an offensive line of reasoning to pursue, one almost guaranteed to put her on the defensive, even if you happen to be right in this case.
There's also hubris to it because it assumes the paired-off are (a) better off than the unpaired and (b) shall always remain so. It's so much more complicated than that, as you surely already know, so bring that awareness to the conversation with your friend and leave the oversimplified conclusions out of it.
Anonymous: Please say SOMETHING to her about how her behavior changes when she's around him. I dated a guy like this. By about the six-month mark, I noticed problems, and my friends kept telling me how much he cared for me and how great he was, etc. Of course now that we've broken up (quite painfully), they all tell me how they did notice but didn't want to say anything because they thought it wasn't their place to.
Carolyn: Eesh. I can see not saying something, though I don't entirely agree; behavior changes are serious and should be noted, respectfully, once.
But it sounds as if your friends actively lied to you, either before — in telling you he was great — or after — in insisting they noticed problems. What's that about?
Anonymous 2: I think it's important to state you are not looking for a defense. The friend is an adult and doesn't need to justify anything. You just wanted to point out your concerns.
Carolyn: Love this, thanks.