At first, the narrator depicts Joe as simple-minded and agreeable, but as Surfacing progresses, Joe’s personality undergoes changes. Where once he seemed content, he becomes irritable and sullen when the narrator refuses his marriage proposal. Also, Joe’s actions become less predictable. His proposal is unexpected, and the narrator becomes less able to discern Joe’s intentions. When David asks Anna to be filmed naked and Joe defends her, the narrator has trouble discerning whether Joe is helping a friend or seeking a way to become sexually aroused. The narrator shows herself to be unreliable in depicting Joe objectively. For example, she keeps bracing herself for a hit from Joe that never comes.

As her impressions of Joe fluctuate, the narrator’s impression of their love also shifts. Initially, the narrator downplays Joe’s love for her. She believes that Joe wants to marry her out of a conceptual ideal and not out of affection. The narrator also downplays her love for Joe, claiming she only enjoys Joe for his physical qualities. However, Surfacing ends with legitimate love between the two, and Joe displays his sincere affection for the narrator when he searches for her on the island. Despite this love, the narrator filters Joe’s actions through her own biases, making his true character unknowable.