About a third of the “fan mail” I get from this blog revolves around breakups. Women and men alike send me messages of heartache, problems, and miscommunications.
- “Did I do something wrong? I thought things were going great, but he hasn’t messaged me in two weeks!”
- “I thought things were perfect. I just met her sister. That’s huge, right? So why doesn’t she want to go on dates anymore?”
- “We went out twice, I thought it was fun… but now he always seems to be ‘busy’ when I call him.”
- “Is she just not that into me?”
The list goes on and on.
For a real window into married life of a Japanese man with a foreign wife (from newlyweds to couples on their 25th anniversary), I recommend the anthology of stories from Wendy Tokunaga’s book, Marriage in Translation: Foreign Wife, Japanese Husband
Why I don’t understand Japanese breakups:
Break-ups in Japan, I’ve noticed, are less like a break-up and more like a gradual fading away.
My American assumption on breakups is that it should be a singular decision, made over lunch, by text message, or in a nasty break-up letter (but really, if you have any humanity, you wouldn’t dump someone over text).
My Japanese friends don’t see breakups the same way. Face-to-face confrontation is uncomfortable, they tell me. Why go through that if you can just ignore them until they dump you?
Break-ups in Japan typically involve one party gradually pulling away. The trigger can be anything, a bad date, a fight, some individual soul-searching, or making a bad impression on their friends. Most people never figure out what they did “wrong.”
And, when you’re getting dumped, it can take a while to notice it.
Suddenly, the person who stayed up late chatting with you on Facebook is taking longer and longer to reply to text messages and emails. They don’t return your calls very often- if at all. They stop “liking” all your status updates on Facebook. When you ask to meet, they say they are too busy. They’re always “too busy.” If you ask “is anything wrong?” they will usually say no.
The more you push, the further way they pull.
[For more, check out: Asian Male White Female (AMWF) Relationships: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly]
Why I REALLY don’t understand Japanese breakups:
This has happened too many times to count. It happened to me, back in high school when I lived in Hokkaido. I was really into this guy. We went out a couple times. He stopped replying to messages. I gave up – it was more embarrassing than anything else. Three months later, at the airport, I sent him a “farewell” text, and he sent a several-page message back apologizing for being so busy, that he always liked me, and how he hopes I will return to Japan one day.
I sent him an email when I got back to the states. He sent a short message back. I sent another message. He never responded. I gave up.
A similar story happened to my friend. She met a guy, things were going great, and then he just got “busy.” He just stopped replying… and eventually she gave up.
Foreign women seem to have the most problems with this Japanese breakup method, I’ve noticed. The more we want to talk about their feelings, how to fix the relationship, or new date ideas, the more the man pulls back.
Why I kind of DO understand the Japanese breakup method:
I don’t date often. When I do date, I’m usually the one to end it. I’m very picky and (sadly) have lots of experience dumping.
Breakups are awkward. They are confrontational, uncomfortable, and always make me cry. I feel horrifically guilty… so I kind of get the want for a breakup without that guilty feeling. Anyone who has ever dumped someone knows what I’m talking about.
When I’m unhappy, I initiate the breakup because I feel obligated to the person I was dating to set them free and let them find someone who will actually, you know, appreciate them. (Added with the fact that by the time we break up, I probably hate them)
Japan doesn’t have that social obligation. So they can just ignore the person until the message becomes clear.
[For more, check out an interview I did with 4 Japanese men on whether they would date/marry a foreign woman]
What to do when you sense a break-up
Take a step back.
Break-ups are break-ups. However, if you really like the man or woman, give them space. If you have been on a three great dates but can’t seem to land a fourth one because they are suddenly busy, wait a couple weeks and try again.
If a casual date starts pulling back, don’t chase them. Then, two to three weeks later, try to contact them again.
I tend to move rather quickly in a relationship. I got engaged on our one year anniversary and will be married by our two-year anniversary. He met my parents a couple weeks into our relationship; I met his as soon as I landed in Japan. I understand how that can be off-putting. Everyone moves at their own pace.
Very rarely will you get a ‘real’ breakup with closure in Japan. That just doesn’t happen. Most of the time, if there is a concrete ending in sight (you are returning to your home country, graduating, or moving) couples will “ganbare” on until the end rather than just ending it.
[For more, check out: Fighting – things my Japanese boyfriend and I culturally disagree about]
Literature about AMWF (White woman dating/married to an Asian man) Couples:
There isn’t a lot out there. The term “AMWF” has only popped up in the last couple years. So far, the only two books I know of AMWF relationships are:
Actress Diane Farr’s book, Kissing Outside the Lines: A True Story of Love and Race and Happily Ever After. She is married to a Korean man; the book is a lighthearted and sarcastic take on interracial dating. I love it. I also love her as an actress, which was a happy coincidence.
Wendy Tokunaga’s book, Marriage in Translation: Foreign Wife, Japanese Husband. More than anything, it is a collection of stories from eight foreign women who are married (or were married) to Japanese men. It shows an honest look at what AMWF relationships look like, ten to twenty years after the couple first says “I do.”
[Add me on Google Plus: +Grace Buchele]