Pssssssst… (I like you.)
In last week’s blog entry, I wrote about the first of two cultural surprises I encountered during my current stay in Japan to study calligraphy at Shikoku University. The subject of this entry is the second surprise, which involved…
Attitudes towards Dating
A while back I was talking with a friend/classmate, and during the course of our conversation he offhandedly mentioned that two people in our class that were dating. He saw I was surprised to hear this, and inquired “Well at least you know that So-and-so & So-and-so have hooked up, right?” This piece of what was apparently common knowledge was also news to me.
I wasn’t so much surprised that I was out of the loop; my Japanese comprehension isn’t exactly perfect so I miss a lot, and my classmates have several other classes together that I’m not in. What really surprised me is that I can’t remember ever seeing the respective boyfriends & girlfriends so much as even talk to each other. Like, ever.
In the days that followed, I creepily watched the members of the two couples out of the corner of my eye (just out of curiosity, honest), and indeed; they treated each other like complete strangers. Other than an occasional “Good Morning” at the beginning of the day, not a word between them. I don’t expect them to be french kissing in the back of class, but not even a quick chat during the day? When and where did they ever get to know each other well enough to start dating?
The answer to that question is still a mystery, but I’ve come to realize that having a significant other is treated as an unofficial secret. If someone directly asks you if you’re attached, you’d probably answer honestly, but otherwise, the subject of who you spent the weekend with magically never comes up, and if your partner is a classmate, you coincidentally never have cause to talk to them in public.
So why all the secrecy? I asked a smart-alexy Japanese friend of mine.
“It’s because Japanese people like to have affairs!” He offered. Hardy-har.
Taking a more serious stab at the question, he speculated that attached classmates conveniently avoid mention of their relationships because if they made a big to-do about it, they’d be less likely to get invited to social gatherings. Like platonic male friends would stop inviting romantically-attached girls out (even in groups) in deference to the boyfriend, or something. Seems a little old fashioned to me, but whatever, every culture has its own set of rules.
My newfound awareness of the Japanese “cloak-and-dagger” appraoch to dating notwithstanding, the following still caught me off guard a bit:
A couple weeks ago, a cute friend of mine sent an e-mail to my cell-phone, wondering if I’d still be at school later that afternoon. She had something she wanted to tell me, she wrote.
“Hell yeah I’ll be around!” I thought, and then jotted off some causal reply about maybe being around, or whatev.
While waiting around for the appointed time, I mulled her e-mail over. “Something to tell you…” why so vague? Or for that matter, why even send an e-mail at all, why not just wait until we ran into each other randomly? Unless it was something important… I entertained a myriad of unlikely possibilities.
When I ever so causally bumped into her later that day, all my beautiful theories were put to rest by the ugly truth: she wanted me to help her write an e-mail to her boyfriend, whose birthday was that weekend. She thought he’d get a kick out of getting an e-mail in English. An e-mail to the boyfriend I didn’t know you had after knowing you for four months? Sure, pass over the pencil & paper, let’s compose a birthday greeting to that asshole!
Rereading her e-mail to me again later, I saw that she hadn’t written that she had something to tell me, but rather that she had something she wanted me to tell her. Japanese can be tricky, I tell ya…