Letters from Japan: “Ghosted in Portugal”

Ask Hilary: Questions From Readers Answered

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? Email it to editorial@gplusmedia.com with the subject "Ask Hilary".

Hi Hilary,

I’m writing from Portugal and I was in a relationship with a Japanese guy. But before I talk about my story, I want to give you some context [summarized]:

Seven years ago, my ex-boyfriend came to Portugal to marry a girl that he had only known for 15 days. They didn’t really have a marriage—he wanted a Portuguese visa basically. I met him five years ago and we became friends; during that time they got divorced and we developed feelings for each other.

After dating for a month he wanted to move in with me, but I told him I wanted to wait until we had a stronger relationship. We made plans for the future (marriage, kids) and traveled together. Suddenly during this trip, he said we were moving too fast, but that he still loved me. After we returned to Portugal (dating for 6 months), he disappeared, then messaged me asking for some time alone.

I found out he was meeting up with his ex-wife, and other female friends. I asked him to explain, and he asked for a month to himself; I asked about the future of our relationship and he never gave me a clear answer. It felt like he wanted me to break up with him. After a few days, he was messaging me like nothing had happened. This pattern continued until I called him out, telling him how he was the one that started the serious future discussions, and he said that he never wanted a girlfriend in the first place. After the fact, I learned he’d been dating eight other women including his ex-wife, and all the relationships had the same pattern—gets serious fast, then fizzles out into nothing, while he dates other women at the same time.

My main question: I know that “ghosting” is a common part of ending relationships in Japan, which I would accept if we’d only been dating for a couple weeks, but we knew each other for years and were in a serious relationship. Is this normal? Because, at the end, he just started to date his female friends the day after and tried to make me jealous and then disappeared. And this doesn’t sound like a normal behavior to me. He was so cold and now I’m here collecting the pieces of my heart and trying to heal.

Dear Broken Heart In Portugal,

Wow… He sounds like a real jerk. You should be happy that you didn’t move in with him after just a month, otherwise, you might have ended up like his ex-wife. The way your relationship started and his past history were two huge red flags for me, and by the time I got to the end of your email, I was actually angry. I hate situations like this because I’ve seen it happen to too many women dating Japanese men.

On the surface, he sounds like a visa-hunter, which is bad enough, but he’s also a cheater, and a ghoster too. From what you told me in your email he’s one of those types of men that’s in love with the rush of a new relationship, but not so keen on the future or seriousness of it all, except when it comes to the benefits for him. In other words, he’s only looking out for himself.

Generally speaking, the Japanese prefer to avoid confrontation at all costs… So ghosting is becoming somewhat normal. It’s still not okay, but it’s more common than it used to be.

Unfortunately, this kind of behavior is actually really common, especially in international relationships between Japanese men and non-Japanese women. You’re one of about 30 women I know that has had the same sort of experience. The common thread for all of these women is that they have either lived in Japan or met a Japanese guy abroad.

All of the Japanese guys have been similar too: very charming, a great friend, just out of a relationship and loves whatever country they’re in or whichever country the woman happens to be from. These aren’t necessarily bad qualities, not at all. But after becoming friends with a man like this and moving into a relationship, there comes a sudden push for commitment, and then when things aren’t going their way or someone else comes along, they ghost their non-Japanese partner. It’s a horrible pattern and one that these types of men never seem to deviate from.

According to my male Japanese friends, ghosting feels “kinder” than ending a relationship in person or over the phone. “It’s less confrontational, and means that you can’t be guilted into staying,” says one of my male friends. Another adds “if you ghost someone it doesn’t feel like you’re hurting them.” Generally speaking, the Japanese prefer to avoid confrontation at all costs, and ending a relationship could mean tears, shouting, and emotional outbursts of all kinds. So ghosting is becoming somewhat normal. It’s still not okay, but it’s more common than it used to be.

Ghosting someone [after years of knowing eachother] means [they’re] either heartless or willing to change [their] entire life to avoid [their] ghostee.

However, as you said you’ve known him for a few years and then started dating him, that’s absolutely not normal behavior, even for someone prone to ghosting. Ghosting someone like that means you’re either heartless or willing to change your entire life to avoid your ghostee. In either case, your ex is not a good person. Period. Looking back at your relationship, I’m sure you can see the red flags that told you something wasn’t right, but hindsight is 20/20.

I’d like to think that you’ve gotten rid of him for good now, but men like him have a bad habit of showing up again in the future, six months, a year, sometimes two years down the line. If he does show up, he might try to say that he was confused, or he needed time to himself, but now he’s ready for a serious relationship again. He might even propose, which happened to a friend of mine. My advice to you in order to heal and avoid any repeat visits from him is to make sure that all your social media, email addresses and phone numbers have him blocked, and get rid of any trace of him from your life. It might be hard to do right now, but scrubbing him away will make you feel a lot better, and help you to move forward.

You deserve someone that honestly wants to be with you and only you, and I wish you all the best of luck finding that person.