February 16, 2017
The relationship intensity curve
theory of Japanese psychology and sociology is that Japanese society strongly favors introversion over extroversion. What many in the west see as Japanese oddness often comes down to extroverts puzzling about why they don't understand introverts.
For the introvert, the "Relationship" can be such a burden that the "one and done" mentality takes hold. "I so do not want to have to go through this again" + "I am so glad I'm through with the dating scene" = "This is my one true love!" A sunk cost rationalization for "All this effort must pay off!"
Sheldon Cooper being a case in point. It's exhausting enough to watch, let alone live through.
Another explanation points to a pretty consistent finding that emerges when the subject is explored with Japanese-Japanese and Japanese-American couples, at least on the pop psychology shows I've seen: the difference in what might be called the "relationship intensity curve."
In the "typical" Japanese relationship, the "passion" peaks early on and regresses to the mean more quickly. "Maintenance mode" is achieved in fairly short order compared to the "typical" western romance, which is supposed to just keep on going and going with lots of smoldering emotions.
In man-on-the-street interviews for a show I saw recently, less than one-in-five couples said they worked at "keeping the romance alive." The majority obviously thought it too tiring to realistically consider, and some said so aloud. Marriage is about comfort and convenience.
Not a never-ending Valentine's Day. The relationship between Sarek and Amanda in "Journey to Babel" on the original Star Trek may well approach the ideal (for Sheldon Cooper too).
Maybe the whole thing parallels the way high school in Japan establishes a kind of static social template while in the U.S. a teenager is expected to start climbing the social heights in high school and keep going all the way through college and well into his thirties.
These days, the big problem is that too many Japanese happily bench themselves after striking out a couple of times. No "long haul" for them. (As a certified introvert, let me tell you that this is perfectly normal behavior.)
Working at seeming odds with this phenomenon is the divorce rate. Although divorce has been legal in Japan since medieval times, the whole "gay divorcee" thing never took hold. People aren't supposed to go into marriage contemplating an out: "Well, if A doesn't work out, there's always B."
Be it a "confession," a "first kiss," or marriage, you're supposed to be all-in. Despite the fact that filing for a divorce is easy in Japan: in the case of "no fault" (90-plus percent of the time), both parties sign a form and file it with the family court. Done.
Alimony as understood in the west doesn't exist in Japan. A divorce is typically settled with a one-time payment. Maybe one year's salary and that's it. Child support, yes, but good luck getting a court order enforced if the non-custodial parent "forgets" to pay or moves away.
Still, it's common for working women to quit for an extended period (or permanently) once they get married and have their first child. Again, they're all-in on the cultural expectations. And from the raw statistics it seems to "work": the divorce rate is significantly lower in Japan.
This kind of headline is not at all uncommon: "PreCure Singer Mayu Kudo Announces Retirement Due to Marriage" at the age of thirty.
And nobody (aside from the activist fringe) pitches a fit decrying the terribleness of women who makes such decisions, or the terribleness of society for "forcing" them to. As a 2013 government survey revealed, such expectations don't come out of nowhere.
One in three young Japanese women wants to get married and be a full-time housewife, a government survey has showed, despite growing calls for increased female participation in the workforce.
Then again, with total fertility at 1.41 and the population dropping in absolute terms, marriage alone isn't enough. Maybe a little red-hot romance is called for, after all.