Relationship culture shock: how soon is it to call someone your boyfriend or girlfriend?

Let me preface this with some personal background info: I came to Japan with an American boyfriend. Now, I’m single and staying here indefinitely.  This means I can start dating new people, but I’ve quickly discovered that relationships in a foreign setting are very confusing.  I’m basing this on my western lens being flipped sideways by Japanese mindset.  Basically, I’m experiencing relationship culture shock.  I wish I could divulge what little personal experience I’ve had, but… let me just talk about what I’ve seen happen around me.

Rapid relationships – redefining “rebound”

For a point of reference, my ex-boyfriend and I broke up about two months ago.  My Japanese friend also broke up with her long-term boyfriend a few weeks after I did and now she has another boyfriend whom she talks about regularly.  She told me that on their third “date,” he asked her to be his girlfriend.  I believe this happened within two weeks.  I asked my Japanese guy friend if this was normal and he said, “she must be popular.” But he mainly said it was an acceptable thing – once you’ve broken up with someone, it’s over and you can start something new.  In America, many people would say jumping into a relationship this quickly is “rebounding,” but I don’t believe believe this term exists here.  A fellow foreign friend was approached by a Japanese girl who wanted to make him her boyfriend to “get over” her ex.  Sounds definitely like a “rebound,” but seems to be an acceptable norm in Japan.

What is a “date”?

Another one of my Japanese friends who lived abroad and had an American boyfriend said she had a hard time understanding what a “date” meant in America.  She also wasn’t sure when he became her boyfriend.  I’m not surprised by this because there’s so much ambiguity in the American dating world.  Americans are always asking the same questions: Is it a date?  Have they “defined the relationship”?  Is it serious or casual?

Well, Japan is a serious place.  The same friend told me that a “date” is something that happens with a boyfriend and girlfriend.  From my understanding in America, you can date a few people at the same time until you “define the relationship” with the one you like.  I’ve discussed this with a few people.  My Japanese friends ask, “isn’t that cheating?”  In America, there’s too much diversity of personal values that there’s no clear answer.  Conservative, traditional people have different dating styles.  My American friends I know here say it’s perfectly normal to casually date multiple people in the US.  However, my Canadian friend here says that he couldn’t date more than one person in a romantic setting.  (Maybe Canada is just a nicer place…)

Lets not get physical

I’m going to avoid diving in depth into the topic of sex in Japan because it confuses me.  However, I feel it important to point out that any foreigner who comes to Japan and starts hooking up with a Japanese person, maybe getting themselves into something more serious than expected.  My friend told me that some Japanese girls think that once they have sex, they have a boyfriend.  On the flip-side, this also happened to an American girlfriend of mine who now has a Japanese boyfriend.  He thought they were in a relationship before she did.  Luckily, things are going well for them.

Perhaps I live in an especially traditional part of Japan so it’s amplifying all the differences in culture I’m seeing.  There’s so much more I could say, but I’m no expert.  Relationships are confusing within one culture, so when you make it cross-cultural it’s a recipe for an interesting experience.

Japanese Taco Rice – a simpler cross-cultural experience. Which is more appetizing?

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