My previous post was a caveat for the answer I'm about to give to this question that I was asked in the comments section of a former post:
I enjoyed reading your blog. I am a Japanese male living in Japan who had some experiences overseas. I'd like to state that its the social dating expectation that guys react to. When I was in Canada I would usually say the jokes that girls wanted to hear and be gentle and all that. Its because the dating scene expects that from guys.
When Im in Japan, I do not have to worry about pampering girls etc (although, Japanese girls love being pampered) and can relax more. I am not sure if that's because I am Japanese. I find that if I am with a western girl I always would have to give her attention and satisfy her and it kinda tires me. I have an Italian friend who married a Japanese and he says that Italian girls always asks for attention and its too much.
Why are guys in the west expected as a norm to pamper their woman and give her attention all the time? or am I being too general? What do you think. Would love to hear your opinion."
I loved this question because it got me thinking all evening and I want to thank Ninpo both for taking the time to read my blog and writing this comment. It offered a perspective on women I would never have considered and brought up an issue I'd never read about before.
I believe that the differences in the attention women in America (I can't speak for other Western countries) and Japan are the effects of several different broad factors.
1. The type of woman you are pursuing.
There are high maintenance and low maintenance people. One of my husband's former girlfriends in the U.S. didn't require that much attention or interaction. In fact, she sometimes felt overwhelmed by his demands on her attention. They were simply rather mismatched on their attention needs. It wasn't that there was anything wrong with either of them, but just that they were different.
I also believe that the age and attractiveness of the woman being pursued is an issue. Younger women require more attention than older ones. Women who consider themselves very attractive in their culture will feel as though they are due more attention because, frankly, they often get more of it as men compete for their favor. From a cultural viewpoint, I wonder if Japanese aesthetics may play a part in this. That is, I think Japanese people aren't quite as shallow when it comes to imperfections as Western folks and the bar isn't set so high on being considered "acceptably attractive" (good enough to marry or date) in Japan compared to the West where the consumerist culture is constantly encouraging everyone to scrutinize their appearance and find every last little detail lacking so they'll buy products to improve themselves.
I base my assertion about Japan on the fact that not everyone has to have perfect teeth (and I've been told that some people think crooked teeth are "cute") and the general aversion to plastic surgery in Japan. It has always seemed to me that the Japanese were more realistic about what people should look like and that Western standards are getting more and more out of hand to fuel various cosmetics industries.
Attractive women in the West may feel they deserve and can command more attention based on how many standard deviations they are above other women whereas women in Japan may not see themselves as so significantly different from other women on an attractiveness scale. That's not to say there aren't women who are clearly more attractive than others but just that the most beautiful Japanese women may see themselves as two cuts above average whereas the most beautiful Western woman may see herself as 5 ranks higher than average.
2. The communication styles of the country.
Ambiguity is something which is not only a part of Japanese communication, but actually sometimes admirable and desirable. One of the greatest frustrations for Western folks is the tendency among Japanese people not to say what they mean, but rather to be vague and figure we will reach the proper conclusion based on commonly known interpretations for particular types of vague language.
Generally speaking, I believe you can say also that this comfort with ambiguity breeds a tolerance for incomplete understanding and communication. Japanese people may be more comfortable not knowing exactly where they stand in a relationship because they are used to dealing with such "fuzzy" boundaries.
In regards to attention and American women, receiving attention is a constant stream of communication that you are cared about and important. Since Western folks like clear communication and firmly understood boundaries (without them, some people get anxious about the status of a relationship), constant attention, especially early on in a relationship or during the courtship phase, keeps it clear that you maintain a strong interest in the other person. If the attention starts to wane, the communication will be that you are losing interest. I will note that this is a situation that changes with greater security and experience in a relationship though it never goes away.
3. The status and power of women relative to men in the country on the whole.
While the lot of women in Japan has improved a lot, they still are not equal or even seen as as valuable to society as men. If your culture informs you that you have less value, you will sublimate your needs to the needs of the person who is seen as more valuable. You can see women constantly yielding to men on many levels in life in Japan and men asserting their right to come first. From serving tea and coffee to being relegated to support work in companies to women being expected to move aside while walking on a crowded street so the man can walk on through uninterrupted, women's needs often come second to men's. In that sort of culture, women don't even think about asserting their needs. In fact, I think that their primary mindset is not about themselves but about serving others. That is absolutely not a statement that women are subservient. However, I do believe that women are indoctrinated in all cultures (though more so in Japan) to think first of others and last of themselves.
Additionally, people without power, and the unequal situation for men and women in Japan means women have far less power than men, do not go around making demands. Women are still seriously economically disadvantaged if they do not marry and that means men have the power in relationships. The men give the support. The women need it. If you're in the position, you're hardly in a place where you can demand attention as you know your options are limited.
I think American women feel that they have the power to demand what they want because they can make their way economically on their own without serious disadvantage. If they don't get what they want, they'd just as soon be alone or move on to someone who will give them what they want. The more equitable situation (though still not equal) gives them the power to act on their needs and wishes.
4. The expectations and ideas of a relationships and marriage that are common in the culture.
Marriage in Japan is really quite different from that in the U.S. First and foremost, and I know people are going to take issue with me for this, but I can't go against a tide of discussions about this topic with Japanese people, Japanese people view marriage more pragmatically than Americans. They see it as a life partnership for creating a successful family. It is more akin to a "business" linking when you compare it to Western ideals.
That is not to say that there is no love or passion in Japanese marriages. I'm only saying that the primary consideration is the success of the partnership. Every time I discuss this topic with a Japanese person, the idea of a "love" relationship to them is "ideal" but is second to forming a partnership with someone who is capable of fulfilling their necessary role for a successful future family. That is, men have to be capable of being good breadwinners and women have to be capable of supporting the men as needed (by doing whatever suits their mutually-agreed upon goal). For Japanese people, by and large, the future is the focus, not the passion of the moment.
For American folks, the passion of the moment is the focus and the future will fall into place later. They feel that "love will find a way" and often discard notions of obstacles and pursue their feelings in even the most imprudent situations (such as falling in love with married people or people with fatal character flaws and problems). With this focus on passion comes the need for attention. If you aren't paying attention, you aren't passionate and the other person doesn't feel special or that you're really loving them.
Tangentially related to this, I believe that the nature of men's and women's roles in the culture also play a part. American society has very flexible roles. People tend to relate in individualistic and idiosyncratic ways whereas the roles in Japan are more traditional and easy to fit into. A good husband in Japan knows what he must do to be a success in that role as does a good wife in her role. The benefit of this situation is that each party can fulfill the others expectations by fulfilling society's commonly-held expectations. There's no need for husbands or boyfriends to deliver flowers and chocolates or go out for romantic dinners on a regular basis to be a "good husband" as both parties accept that his role is to work hard so his family can live well and be a kind person. In the U.S., each couple defines their relationship as they see fit and that often requires a lot more communication. The American situation is fraught with insecurity because of this lack of solid boundaries for what is "good" or "bad" in a relationship. That insecurity leads to the need for a lot more attention.
In Japan, the other main point I think is that the women's future focus is on their children rather than their husbands. Women here tend to get their emotional satisfaction as mothers more so than as wives. In the U.S., the relationship between the husband and wife is the one that primarily fulfills needs, not the one between parent and child. This is because the family in Japan is seen as an eternal unit with interconnecting responsibilities that will last throughout lifetimes, but in the U.S., kids are expected to become independent after 18 or college. American parents can't rely on an emotional bond with their kids that will sustain them, but they (hope to) rely on their spouses. Generally speaking, husbands and wives or life partners rely on each other more for their happiness in the U.S. and that means they need a lot more interaction and attention.
One final note I'd like to add is that, I don't think it's only women in the U.S. who need more attention. I think men in the U.S. need more attention as well, but men in general are more self-absorbed and tend to be content with non-verbal attention. Men essentially require a different form of attention so they don't recognize it as being any special need, but it is there as well. They recognize it in women mainly because it's not what they need so it strikes them as a hassle to provide. The perception that women require more attention than men is compounded by the fact that women tend to more readily and seamlessly offer men the forms of attention they need without complaint or prodding since they are socialized to be more other-directed. That being said, there is almost certainly a relationship between men's need for certain types of "attention" and complaints about women not wanting to have sex often enough and not "nurturing" them well enough (e.g., cooking, cleaning). The only difference is that men see what they need as being "natural" and what women need as being "unusual."