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Letters from Japan: ‘Are Our Relationships Okay?’

Ask Hilary: Questions From Readers Answered

By Hilary Keyes
November 26, 2021
Ask Hilary

Savvy Tokyo's resident "Love in Japan" columnist, Hilary Keyes, answers anonymous questions from readers on everything from dating in Japan to women’s health issues. Got a question you’d like to ask Hilary? Send it to askhilary@savvytokyo.com

Hey Hilary.

I’ve been single for a while and now feel like I’m ready to get back to dating. I have a guy in mind, I just don’t know whether to go for it or not. I work for a Japanese company and have a ‘more than work friends’ relationship with a coworker. He’s not technically my coworker since he works for a related department in a child company of ours and he’s currently working in Kansai but actually lives in Tokyo.

We’ve never even met in person before, because of the pandemic. Our companies started a project in spring 2021; that’s how we first met and literally had to spend like all week long talking to one another through emails and video meetings. We started talking outside of work in August, and have become pretty good friends now. Like if we were working in person, he’d definitely be called my work husband. He’s funny, we also have similar hobbies and interests, and get along really well too. He’s also single but looking and physically very my type.

I don’t think there’s anything against office romances at my company, I don’t actually know though. What should I do?

– Office Romance

Dear Office Romance,

Aw! It sounds like you have the makings of a Japanese rom-com going on. Kudos to you for being cautious but proactive about the possibility of a relationship with your ‘work husband’ as you said.

Typically speaking, people working in the same company/department aren’t usually allowed to date strictly to protect the company from sexual harassment, wrongful termination, and other sorts of issues/lawsuits. Some will allow relationships so long as the couple do not work together in any capacity or if they both sign agreements disavowing the company of any liability, or if they declare their relationship status with HR and so on.

However, since technically speaking you both work for different companies, those rules don’t necessarily apply. That being said, a relationship may impact your ability to work together on your current project or future iterations of it. Are you comfortable that you can work with him if it turns out that he doesn’t want to date, or if a relationship starts and fizzles out?

I’m not saying that it will, but it would be better to consider that now rather than having to deal with unpleasant, unforeseen circumstances later on. You sound like you enjoy your job, so I assume you wouldn’t want to do anything to harm that.

a relationship may impact your ability to work together on your current project or future iterations of it

One option that you could go with is to talk with him, outside of work hours, and essentially “confess your interest” and talk about the possibility of having a relationship with one another. If you two communicate clearly and honestly with one another, you may find that you have an even stronger foundation to start from than many do.

The only other issue is down to geography. Does he commute between Tokyo and Kansai frequently, or does he keep an address here but lives in Kansai full time? That could impact whether or not you two dating is feasible.

One other thing to note if you do get together is that typically coworkers will not announce their relationship to their company or anyone else they work with until they’re at least engaged. If he wants to go that route, don’t be surprised or offended if he wants to keep things secret.

If he’ll be coming back to Tokyo properly in the near future (say at Christmas) then you might consider holding off on making any date plans until then. Not that there’s anything wrong with starting a relationship online, but if you two get along as well as you imply in your message, then why not take advantage of the season? Best of luck!

Dear Hilary,

I was dating a guy seriously for four years, and then in April 2020 he dumped me out of nowhere. He said the world situation made him rethink our relationship, and he realized we weren’t compatible. It wasn’t even that bad in Japan then, but I had to move out of his apartment and get my own place, then had to get a full-time job so I could afford rent and utilities. I even had to change my phone plan because he kicked me off his.

I hate my life now, it was so much easier when we lived together and I didn’t have to worry about things. I thought he was going to marry me, I was ready to have kids with him, I was already thinking about quitting my job so I could focus on getting married too. I haven’t been on a date since thanks to the stupid virus and I’m really lonely. He was so good to me, I don’t understand why he thought we weren’t compatible. I tried messaging him on SNS but none of my messages went through. Why’d he do this to me?

-Confused and Alone

Dear Confused and Alone,

I hate to say it, but judging from your email alone, it sounds as though you were the only happy one in your relationship.

You were together for four years, yet you lived in his home, were working part-time, and were thinking about quitting your job to ‘focus on getting married’ as in, plan a wedding? Just from your email alone, it sounds like he was footing the bill for most of your living expenses, and you were trying to become a stay home wife/mother.

You say it was easier for you and you didn’t have to worry about things, but what about him? If he was paying his own bills and to support you, he either was earning enough to do so or was practically killing himself with work. What were you contributing to the relationship? You were working part-time but in what capacity? What did your income go towards? Did you and he pay rent and bills equally? Did you have an agreement where you did all the cooking and cleaning in exchange or?

From an outside perspective, in four years’ time, you went from starting a relationship to living under his roof, being on his phone plan, and by the sounds of it, relying on him to support your lifestyle. While that does work for some couples, usually there is a discussion about marriage or about how to financially manage things at some point in a serious relationship.

it sounds as though you were the only happy one in your relationship

Being a stay-at-home wife/mother is all well and good, so long as a couple has mutually agreed to do that and can financially afford it. By the sounds of it, he did not agree to this and decided that he could no longer afford to take care of you in any capacity.

You don’t mention it, but it sounds like you weren’t a legal tenant in his apartment (not named on the rental agreement) either, which meant there was nothing to stop him from kicking you out as he did. You were living very much based on his generosity, which is a precarious situation for anyone as it puts one person at the other’s mercy.

The fact that he’s got you blocked on all forms of social media should tell you that he doesn’t want anything more to do with you. It doesn’t sound like he gave you any details about why he thought you two were incompatible, but at the end of the day, how he feels is just as relevant as how you feel, and you have to respect that. It’s not a good feeling, knowing someone has cut you out of their life, but it is what it is and all you can do is move on from there.

I think your best option is to stop dwelling on this relationship and focus on making yourself more independent and reliant on yourself. If your ultimate goal is to be married and become a mother and housewife, there’s nothing wrong with that, but you may consider using an “omiai” matchmaking service where the terms of what both parties want from a relationship are both plainly laid out. There are men out there who are still looking for a partner to take care of their home, but the modern style of dating is unlikely to get you what you’re after there. 

your best option is to stop dwelling on this relationship and focus on making yourself more independent

In the meantime, think about it from this perspective: you ‘lost’ your home and stability, and yet here you are, you got a new place, a secure job, and can take care of yourself despite being stuck in a pandemic. That’s pretty impressive and, judging from your email, you did all that on your own, so why not take that win and keep moving forward yourself? You showed you could handle yourself, so stop looking backward. Good luck.