Letters From Japan: “My Boyfriend Suddenly Changed” & “I Thought He Liked Me”

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 how to find peace with oneself after a broken heart. Got a question you’d like to ask Hilary? Email it to editorial@gplusmedia.com with a subject "Ask Hilary."

My boyfriend suddenly changed. Was it correct to end the relationship?

Hi Hilary. I was seeing this guy pretty seriously for a few months, but things suddenly changed between us. We only spoke Japanese together, and before he would call me by my name or use ‘anata,’ and called himself ‘boku.’ However, suddenly he starting calling me ‘omae’ and referring to himself as ‘ore.’ He’d also gotten short with me — like, he had a temper that he didn’t before. No matter what I said, even if I agreed with him completely, he’d still get pissed off at me. I dumped him, obviously, but what gives? — Sudden Change Changed Our Paths

Dear Sudden Change,

I’m sorry to hear that. As a Japanese speaker, you’ve probably learned that the polite ways to refer to another person are by anata in general, kimi for a child or someone of a younger age or lower position than yourself, while omae comes across as being rude and is most often used derogatively. Boku is a boyish, neutral way of referring to oneself, while ore can have the image of an “ore-sama” or arrogant, overconfident man to it.

If it had just been a change in terms of language, I would say that it was simply the end of the honeymoon period of the relationship, and his natural pattern of speaking was coming back. In that situation, I would have suggested talking to him about it, and perhaps telling him that you didn’t like being called that.

However, because of the personality change, I’d say you just dodged a bullet. Anyone that undergoes a drastic personality change, especially one towards overly aggressive behavior, is someone that you don’t need in your life.

I’ve met a few men like this, in Japan and elsewhere, and I’ve noticed that they tend to start acting this way when their image of you has changed. They decide that somehow you’ve changed, and it’s not a change that they support. This is by no means your fault in any way, shape or form – you might have said something completely innocent that just riled him up, or maybe he saw something on TV about someone similar to you that made him angry. It’s entirely based on his own interpretation of things. But once he got that idea into his head, he couldn’t get over it.

I knew someone that started treating his girlfriend this way when she disagreed about what her future career should be — she didn’t want to follow in his footsteps, and her independence made him feel ignored/emasculated. Instead of breaking up with her though, he pushed her away in a similar manner until she dumped him — which sounds similar to what happened to you. I’d keep an eye out though, you might suddenly hear from him again in a few months (or even years), trying to apologize or act as though nothing happened between you two. I hope you find someone that appreciates you for you!

Anyone that undergoes a drastic personality change, especially one towards overly aggressive behavior, is someone that you don’t need in your life.

I thought he liked me?

Hi Hilary. I worked as a JET at a private school and had this male Japanese co-worker that was always bringing me omiyage [souvenirs] or asking to join me for lunch, or just wanting to spend time with me. He could speak English fairly well (my Japanese isn’t that great) and we sometimes hung out on the weekends too. Nothing physical since we worked together, but I really liked him. I decided to change jobs in September and was going to try asking him out on a real date, but he keeps snubbing me. What should I do? — Confused in Japan

Dear Confused,

Unfortunately, in this sort of situation, it might have been the “co-workers to romantic partners” type of situation that this guy was really looking for, which, according to my male friends, is still something that a lot of guys dream about. The shared hours and work experiences, bonding over activities/events in the workplace— that makes it easy to meet someone that understands what you’re going through and makes them less likely to be too demanding or unwilling to compromise when it comes to scheduling dates, etc., etc.

That being said, the fact that you changed jobs and he started snubbing you makes this situation less about him being into you, and more about him enjoying the convenience that dating you would have. In other words, dating a coworker meant less effort for him, and now that you’re not a coworker, you might take more effort than he’s willing to put into a relationship. Most probably, it has absolutely nothing to do with you as a person or potential partner, and everything to do with him being, well, lazy, basically.

I’m sure that if you get out, join some activities or groups, and make some friends, you’ll find someone that is willing to put in the effort to date you like you deserve. Best of luck!

What do you think: Was“Sudden Change Changed Our Paths” right to end the relationship? And should “Confused in Japan” move on or ask the guy directly? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments!

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