Tuesday, May 22, 2007

"You're a Liar"

Roppongi is an area of Tokyo well-known for its foreigner-friendly nightlife. It's especially notorious as a hunting ground for young Japanese females looking to secure western boyfriends. Since it's frequented by off-duty military personnel and foreign businesspeople, it's ripe territory for such gentle "predators".

My husband has never availed himself of the nightlife there, of course. During his year as a single male in Japan, he was devoted to me at a distance and we were married when he returned for his second, much longer stint. One of his students had a discussion with him about Roppongi and he told her that he had no interest in going there and in fact had never been to any of the nightclubs or prowling spots because of its reputation for easy one-night stands and gaijin-hunting women.

The student recommended that those points were the very reason that he should go there in her opinion. She felt that he should avail himself of the opportunities while he could. He reminded her that he was married and even if he had the chance to cheat, he would not. In fact, he told her that he had no interest whatsoever in casual sex and he didn't have any interest in it even before he was married or even in a committed relationship with someone. The student's response was to laugh and say, "you're a liar."

Her take on men was such that she couldn't fathom any male who wouldn't want to sleep with any woman who freely offered herself and disbelieved that he wouldn't consider cheating on his wife if he had the chance. I'm pretty sure this was her personal low opinion of men who are ruled by their gonads rather than their hearts but the situation in Japan in regards to cheating spouses appears quite different than that in the west. This student felt that 90% of husbands cheated on their wives.

Since this particular student was so jaded, my husband asked others how they felt and they said they felt it was more like 60%-70% cheated on their wives. The main problem with this question when asked in "scientific" surveys is that it's virtually impossible to get accurate statistics so I can't say how his students' viewpoints measure up to the reality. One of the reasons for this is that some Japanese men feel sex they pay for doesn't constitute infidelity so they are likely to report that they do not cheat if they go to prostitutes. The other reason is that asking the question as part of a survey is almost useless when the respondents may choose to lie.

So, I can't speak to the reality of how many men cheat on their wives but I can say that I've encountered more than one foreign man who had a Japanese girlfriend who told him it was not a problem if he cheated as long as she didn't find out about it. Marriage is generally viewed somewhat differently in Japan than in the West. I've met a few people who were very devoted to their spouses but the overwhelming majority tend to view marriage as a partnership where each party fulfills his or her role to make a successful family and home. Many people feel that the whole notion of romantic love burning bright throughout a marriage is unrealistic.

Given my views on marriage (which include the fact that you can be completely mad about each other forever), this doesn't exactly strike me as "right" but it does go a long way toward explaining the high divorce rate in the United States and the lower one in Japan. Of course, the lower rate in Japan is perhaps more greatly explained by the economically disadvantageous position of women in the culture.

However, if you expect every day to be a date after you're married or if you expect to be in love forever and that fades away in an American relationship, in many cases you end up divorced. In Japan, if you don't expect that sort of passion in the long run but you're both doing your "job" (as it were), you stay together. It's always been my impression that the Japanese set the bar "lower" when it comes to the romance part of marriage and "higher" when it comes to each party fulfilling their mutually-agreed upon roles. That is, a deadbeat husband who doesn't work or make enough money to support his wife and kids would be more likely to cause his wife to divorce him than a good breadwinner who cheats on his wife.

Still, this western mind, particularly this romantic one, bristles at the idea of casual infidelity and it's a much harder push to avoid being ethnocentric about this topic than some others.


Joanna said...

That seems right to me in regards to my parents... My father cheated on my mother many times, we even have proof of the cheating, but my parents are still together. My mother's main concern was that he wouldn't have a bastard child. Of course they really have no romance today, but yet they are still together. My parents always joke that they are together because the paperwork for divorce is too tedious. I think it's because it's comfortable. My mother takes care of his domestic needs and my father takes care of the financial needs. But I can't help hear the resentment in their voice about their relationship... so with my husband... I clearly stated that cheating is NOT allowed... just in case he didn't know...

Shari said...

Hi, Joanna, and thanks so much for your comment and input from your personal life though I can't help but be sad about your parents' situation.

I wonder if the expectations are different in a relationship between a foreign person and a Japanese one (as opposed to two Japanese people), even when one party says it's "ok" to cheat as long as it's not revealed. Sometimes I think that Japanese women romanticize western men and expect them to cherish them more than a Japanese husband might and that the "offer" to allow them to cheat is not one they sincerely believe will be taken advantage of.

I'm guessing you'd have an excellent perspective on that given your experiences though I guess it's not the sort of thing one discusses in depth with one's parents.

Helen said...

Oh, this is an interesting topic. I talked it over with my husband tonight and I warned him that I was NOT okay with him having an affair. He countered that I would have to forgive him if it was with Angelina Jolie or Nicole Kidman. (But if he gets them, I get Brad Pitt or Russell Crowe!)

I do think that Japanese people have a different idea of fidelity than I do. When I first came over (and long before I met my now hubby) I found a student of mine very attractive and mentioned the fact to my male co-worker. He advised me to "Go for it," despite the fact that the person in question was married with 2 children. I was shocked to be honest.

To me, married was married and not to be trifled with. But, that co-worker was single and male and I know that before he left my school he'd had affairs with at least 2 married women.

And just for the record... I didn't "go for it!"

Roy said...

I think your assessment is just about right.

Although I have read in more than one so called scientific study that research into infidelity across many cultures shows that cheating on ones spouse is about the same regardless of ones cultural background or religion. It's a socio-biological thing supposedly. Also, your post tends to imply that men cheat on their wives more than the reverse. While this may be true I think it's more because women are better at concealing it than men. When I was teaching English I had so many married women tell me about their infidelities it almost made me sick to my stomach thinking about marriage.

Joanna said...

My parents have discussed this with me. I'm pretty inquisitive, not that they like that about me. I think my mother always saw herself stuck in the relationship with my dad. She didn't get a college education (or speak English well) so she realized she would be doomed to the life of minimum wage. That kept my mother from divorcing my father. She also stayed in the relationship because my father being in the Navy was away a lot during the first part of the marriage. She almost felt like a single mother and she preferred it that way. I think my mother had a romantic ideal about relationships when she was young but because she thinks she's not attractive enough, she lowered her expectations. After a terrible first husband, all she wanted in a husband was to bring home the bacon and give her babies. She looked the other way because she didn't feel like having an intimate relationship after raising children all day. Now that she's older, she's more interested in hanging out with her friends, talking, and eating. She is genuinely happy doing her own thing. My father is almost reduced to a work horse, but I guess that’s what he gets for having the affair and in a sense ruining their intimacy. Although they still laugh and such, I think my parent’s relationship is more like a roommates. My father brought on a lot of this onto himself from early in his life. He’s living the consequences now… But I have to admit my mother did nurse him from cancer and stayed by his side throughout the crap he made the family go through… I’m not sure anyone else would have put up with the stuff… I guess that in itself is some sort of love… My mother did state that Japanese Men are worse and they are not as cute… The thought that that might be true scares me… really… it does…

Eric said...

I don't know as many details as Joanna does about her parents, but I can say that my parents seem to have stayed together for similar reasons. They are able to depend on one another and both fulfill their roles well. One point of difference (and it may be something Joanna chose not to include in her post) is that it seems as though my parents have become much better friends in the years since they almost divorced three times. For what it's worth, I do believe that your comment about the Japanese thoughts on marriage going a long way to explain the difference in our divorce rates was very insightful.

As far as my thoughts go: I love my wife and my daughter more than I can express. I wouldn't want anything to get in the way of that. Being faithful is part of that deal. It's a behavioral fulfillment of our marriage contract. So, even if we're not "in love" 25 years from now (it's only been 3. they've been wonderful so far, but I can't predict the future), we're still bound by certain agreements.

Shari said...

So many good comments on this one. They're all greatly appreciated!

Helen: Heh, I knew you wouldn't "go for it" though it is interesting that your coworker essentially advised you to do the same thing as my husband advised him to do.

Roy: I'm not sure that a "scientific" study can be done of infidelity since it will always be based on reported answers and such things are notoriously unreliable. People lie. A lot. Also, the type of people who are willing to take such surveys introduce a huge amount of bias as they're more willing to discuss sexual habits and perhaps even interested in sex more than people who don't take part in such studies. I'm willing to accept that it's possible that infidelity rates across cultures are the same but I'm not willing to accept anyone can prove that theory.

As for women cheating, while they do cheat, men do cheat much more. It's the same reason that you almost never hear a 16-year-old girl complain that her boyfriend won't have sex with her. Men act differently when it comes to sex. For women, it's generally about forming an emotional attachment first and then having sex (though certainly not always). Men are able to "love" their wives and separate sex with other women from their relationship with their wife. They see it as something else and not a threat to the emotional/family bond far more often than women do.

Joanna: I agree with your mother regarding Japanese men but, in my case, it's an ill-informed opinion. Her situation is very sad, particularly since her esteem issues factor into it. However, I'm not sure she's rare (among either western or Japanese women) in the choices she made or the limits she saw on her options.

Eric: I think more western men are likely to see fidelity as part of their marital agreement than Japanese men. In fact, you comment makes me wonder what the marriage vows in Japan state in that regard. Do they even profess faithfulness?

The situation you mentioned with your parents is interesting but illustrates how communication and resolution of difficulty brings people closer together and how avoiding discussing things drives them apart. I've always felt people who argue (productively and constructively) have the potential to be much happier than those who do not as those who do not are sweeping things under the rug.

Tim said...

Reuters has the divorce rate for the US at 47%, Japan at 27%. No stats available for this one, but a large number of married couples in Japan lead separate lives from their spouse or remain married while living in different locations. This may be preferred when children are involved while many Americans would likely divorce. In her book, Sumiko Iwao, Professor of Social Psychology, Musashi Institute, has one in six married Japanese women involved in extramarital affairs. A survey of strictly women who were in high school or college during the bubble economy would skew Iwao’s stats dramatically upwards. I don’t find a stat for Japanese men, but the number who have sex outside of marriage is extremely high. Many would not consider a prostitute infidelity. My wife who is Japanese encourages getting a sex friend or visiting a prostitute. Towards gender equality, possibly where infidelity is concerned, the gap is closing. A wonderful fantasy land for some, painful for those who believe in monogamy.

Shari said...

Hi, Tim, and thanks for your comment.

I always consider the divorce rates in a cultural context. Divorce rates tend to be much more affected by the ability of women to be independent in a culture than by any measure of marital satisfaction. That being said, I believe Japanese women are satisfied with security and place a lesser value on fidelity (as you mentioned).

I've heard that many Japanese men don't consider going to a prostitute cheating and I've also known other men whose wives encouraged their husbands to take up with sexual "surrogate" of some sort (but not to discuss it or to fall in love with the other person). From a Western viewpoint, this seems really pretty sad, but, from a viewpoint which says sex is a biological impulse (like eating or going to the bathroom) which simply needs satisfying, it seems very pragmatic.

Being a Western female, I can't embrace the latter view though I can accept it as a valid viewpoint for someone who doesn't have my cultural indoctrination.

Many thanks for your informative and interesting comment!

Anonymous said...

I came by this thread and found it very interesting since I travel to east Asia (Singapore to Korea) often for business, as well as South America (Brazil).

I think American men, in general, first discover these opportunities for liaisons or one night stands upon leaving the homeland. Realize, after college, the opportunities for living the bachelors' life go down dramatically, if one is neither well off (millionaire type) nor in the media/entertainment industries where dates are plentiful. Typically, men work, take home a paycheck, and work all week at securing a date or two for Fri/Sat night. That's the general American ritual for many men under the age of 35.

Now, when this shifts into ex-pat mode, esp in Brazil or Singapore, a guy, even one who looks middle of the pack descent (like a Jeff Daniels as oppose to a dashing Mel Gibson) but with a normal career (support engineer vs derivatives trader) would have dates every day of the week if he were so interested and not a workaholic.

Now, take a married person, in his mid-to-late thirties who wasn't able to attract the beautiful women during his single years in { Richmond, NY, Philly, Chicago } and you can see a plausible feeding frenzy in Rio de Janeiro.