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Letters from Japan: “He’s Taken”

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? Send it to askhilary@savvytokyo.com.

Hey Hilary,

I’m not sure how to explain my situation, but apparently the Japanese guy I’ve been seeing has been dating someone else for almost as long as we’ve been together. I had no idea. He always made time for me and I thought we had a totally normal relationship. What am I supposed to do now that I know this? Is this a deal breaker or just how things work in Japan?

—Not The Only Woman

Dear Not The Only Woman,

I wouldn’t say this is how things work in Japan, but at the same time, it’s not entirely uncommon either.

Some people believe that, unless there is a ring involved (and even after that) relationships are open to interpretation. For some couples, this works as they might not be getting everything they need from a single partner. For others, this is nothing more than cheating and a reason to end the relationship.

I can’t tell you what you should do with this information, save that you should do what feels the most logical to you. Are you comfortable dating someone who is also dating another person or even other people? Would you want to date someone else or others while also dating him?

sit down with him and discuss the nature and future of your relationship

If you would rather be in a monogamous relationship, then his dating someone else is clearly a deal breaker. You can ask him to break up with them and be monogamous to you, but whether he will do so or not is something you cannot control.

Your best option is to sit down with him and discuss the nature and future of your relationship. This won’t be easy, but if you don’t you’ll be faced with continued stress in your relationship, and no one wants that.

Dear Hilary,

I’m heartbroken and not sure what I should be doing now. The guy I was seeing married someone else. I didn’t know our relationship wasn’t monogamous, not until he showed up with a wedding ring on and decided to break up with me. I’m not trying to get back with him obviously, he’s married now, but is this kind of thing common in Japan? 

—Suddenly Single

Dear Suddenly Single,

I would say that’s definitely not common, but also not the first time I’ve heard of someone doing that in Japan.

Fortunately for you, he was courteous enough to end the relationship and come clean about his apparently recent marriage. Unfortunately, that meant leaving you very abruptly and with a lot of questions and doubts, I’m sure.

You deserve to be with someone who wants only to be with you.

I don’t think there’s much in the way of closure you can have, given how things ended, but at the same time, it’s probably for the best that they did. It doesn’t seem like there was anything wrong in your relationship with him per se, but it was only healthy on the surface.

If he couldn’t be honest about his relationship status with you, then your relationship wasn’t as genuine as it should be. You deserve to be with someone who wants only to be with you. I hope you find someone who is on the same page when it comes to monogamy.

I was dating a Japanese guy until last month. He called me to break up because he wanted to date an old classmate of his from when he lived in Seattle. She’s foreign too but moved to Japan now and they had dinner together many times—he told me she was just a friend. He said she speaks fluent Japanese unlike me. I thought we had a great relationship but now I don’t know. Is not being able to speak Japanese normally a problem or am I just unlucky? 

—Not Trilingual

Dear Not Trilingual,

Not being able to speak Japanese isn’t always a problem in relationships that involve a Japanese and a non-Japanese person. Sometimes it is a catalyst for one or both parties to learn the other’s language, sometimes it inspires them to learn a third language together.

Unfortunately, it sounds like in your situation the language barrier is one that is very difficult for your ex to move beyond. You didn’t mention how long you were dating, but if your ex-boyfriend is looking to get married soon or has certain so-called career/relationship targets, then dating someone who speaks Japanese may suit his needs better.

he wasn’t as invested in the relationship as you deserve a partner to be

He may also have been dating her at the same time as you, or you might have been the so-called “other woman” while this classmate was still living abroad. It’s very hard to say what the circumstances are, but the bottom line is, for whatever reason, he decided to use the language barrier as a reason to end the relationship.

It’s not an insignificant reason, but one that is very convenient for many people who are looking for as little stress/compromise as they can find in a relationship. I’m not condoning his actions; rather I think that you’ve dodged a bullet here. If he can dump you over the phone for a language barrier, then he wasn’t as invested in the relationship as you deserve a partner to be.

Hey Hilary,

I’m not looking for a serious relationship in Japan since I’m only going to be here for a year, maybe two, but every guy I meet seems to be okay with cheating. Either cheating on their girlfriend, their wife or just having a casual friends-with-benefits relationship. It’s totally changed my opinion of Japanese people. 

—Not Settling

Dear Not Settling,

I’m not entirely sure what your question is here. Are you disappointed in the options available, or are you disappointed by their infidelity?

It’s entirely understandable that you’d be disappointed by people willing to cheat on their girlfriends/wives. If you’ve been exclusively using dating apps to meet potential partners, then you’re bound to run into people only after something on the side. That tends to be the case on an international level rather than an exclusively Japanese problem though.

I’m afraid you’re caught in a catch-22.

I’m not sure I see why you’re against casual relationships, however. You said you’re only staying in Japan for a year or two—what kind of relationship are you trying to have? It won’t be easy to find a partner if you’re looking for a serious, monogamous partner for a relationship with a strict time limit.

A casual arrangement would be more suited to your needs and time limit, but if that feels too shallow for you, I’m afraid you’re caught in a catch-22. Wanting a serious, monogamous relationship but only giving it a casual/short time frame will make it hard to find the right person. It could take you the entire year, in fact.

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