Letters From Japan: “We’re Dating, But He Won’t Let Me Call Him My ‘Boyfriend.’ Is Something Wrong?”

“Hi, Hilary. I’ve lived in Japan for four years, and have been with my Japanese boyfriend for almost half that. At least I think he’s my boyfriend, I’m not exactly sure what we are to one another. We go on dates, he sleeps over at my place, I go to his, we know each other’s friends and we all spend time together (where we’re obviously a couple), but when I call him my boyfriend, he tells me not to use that wordkareshi (boyfriend), specificallyabout him. I asked him why not, and he said he didn’t feel comfortable with that word, but got upset when I asked what to call him instead. We’re still together, but I don’t know what we are to one another. We do everything that couples do, so…?” – What Are We?

Dear, What Are We?

I can tell how frustrated you must be with this situation, and I understand how you feel. I’ve been there before, and it can make what seems like the perfect relationship feel strange if you think about it too much.

There are thousands of sites and magazines out there, each with its own criteria for what constitutes a “real” boyfriend or girlfriend. But I don’t think that’s the issue here. You two go on dates, have a physical relationship, and spend time as a couple. You didn’t mention anything about exclusivity to one another, but I get the impression that this is implied from your message. I think it’s safe to say that he is your boyfriend, and you are his girlfriend.

Trying to define a relationship status like you would on Facebook isn’t clear cut for many people — Japanese or not. A girlfriend, whether called garufurendo (ガールフレンド) in katakana or kanojo (彼女) in kanji means the same thing, so …continue reading