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Breaking Up: Japanese Words for an Anti-Valentine’s Day

What if the object of your affection chose not to be your Valentine? What to say when the relationship is over.

By 5 min read

Hopefully, most of our readers had a fantastic Valentine’s Day full of romance or at the very least 義理ぎりチョコ. However, one of the problems with a festival that shines a light on our relationship status is that, well, everything may not be a pleasant as one might hope. We have dealt with the mighty 文句もんく, but how about words for discussing a relationship when it goes south?

Welcome to our anti-Valentine’s Day article. Where we look at the つめたい (cold) and めちゃくちゃ(jumbled up feelings) of the unfortunate instead of all that lovey-dovey nonsense.

A big player in having an anti-Valentine’s Day is, of course, the feeling of 嫉妬しっと (jealousy). The fact that searches for “嫉妬しない方法ほうほう (a way not to be jealous)” result in 20 million hits on Google should tell you everything about how common this problem is for Japanese people. Perhaps this search result would be even higher if the English-origin word ジェラシー hadn’t recently become more common, stealing some of the results.

One of the most obvious problems is, of course, the fear that your partner may be 浮気うわき (cheating). Despite indications that the Japanese attitude to infidelity may have cultural differences; much like any culture, each individual has their own definition of what constitutes 浮気 and this should be discussed by the couple themselves using verbs like [ゆるす (forgive) and 許さない (unforgivable) for what is acceptable.

However, some things are undoubtedly 浮気 and when these things are uncovered you will need the verb 発覚はっかくする (to discover something someone tried to hide) or バレる — such as in the phrase: “浮気がバレた (the affair was uncovered).”

You may also need the word ぐち for when the other person in the triangle (or a friend of the couple) tells you about the affair. Be careful, as the number one hit on Google for this phrase is “浮気の告げ口をしたことを後悔こうかいしています (regret about telling on an affair),” so clearly being the tattletale doesn’t always endear you to the couple.

He Said, She Said: How to Quote Others in Japanese

Of course, you can reduce the risk of 浮気 by making sure that you don’t “結婚けっこん前提ぜんたいう(lead someone on).” This phrase is commonly used for that most dastardly of deeds whereby a romantic partner is led to believe that the relationship is heading towards marriage or exclusivity, when in fact it is never going to progress past that casual stage. A useful phrase for calling someone out for this misbehavior is ~を前提に付き合った (you led me on).

While the loved up couples may not want to hear it, ultimately not everyone is a suitable partner for a serious relationship. Sometimes men and women simply want nothing more than to hook up with a 恋人こいびとどまり (a relationship that stops at girlfriend/boyfriend and never proceeds to being engaged or married). If this is the case, then “ぼくたちはずっと恋人どまりなの? (do you want us to stay as nothing more than boyfriend and girlfriend?)” is a useful phrase for broaching this topic with your partner.

Whereas in English we would say that ‘the affair was one-sided,’ in Japanese they would say that it is ‘a one-sided thought.’

One of the reasons why someone might want to avoid marriage are the 束縛そくばく (shackles) that the relationship can put around one’s metaphorical wrists. The verb 束縛する literally means “to be restrained,” but in the dating world it refers to a lover who tries to excessively control the other.

Interestingly, when surveyed about this on the website Koibita, Japanese men thought women who try 束縛するかた (to shackle their partner) were just as annoying as women who want 束縛されたい方 (to be shackled). So, yes folks: follow Dorothy Parker’s advice and keep your hand open.

The opposite of this is the tragic case of かたおもい (unrequited love) — instead of control, the unlucky person on the receiving end simply gets indifference. Interestingly, 片思い shows the similarity of English and Japanese thinking sometimes — but with a small twist. Whereas in English we would say that “the affair was one-sided,” in Japanese they would say that it is “a one-sided thought.”

Idioms: Let Me Hear Your Body Talk

A similar example is where English speakers would say of betrayal that they were “stabbed in the back” by someone, Japanese might say they were “裏切うらぎる (cut in the back).” Likewise, “talking behind someone’s back” is 陰口かげぐち, or “shadow talking” or “backbiting” in Japanese.

At this point it’s worth pointing out to would be players that breaking the rules can have dire consequences for your wallet and not just your relationship. A uniquely Japanese punishment for a affairs is the culture of 慰謝料いしゃりょう, or palimony, whereby the cheating partner is expected to atone for their sins with a gift of cash for the emotional trauma caused by the 混乱こんらん (chaos) of discovering your partner with someone else.

Clearly, I am owed some back pay from my high school girlfriend. And, yes, Layla — I do accept Paypal if you’re reading this… !

If all that cash doesn’t work, ultimately, you may have to accept that there is a point where you just have to give up and わかれる (break up) or even 離婚りこんする (divorce). Be forewarned, though, that there is a still a stigma in some parts of Japan over 離婚 and you will even hear people trying to reconnect being labeled as バツイチ (quite literally: one X-mark). In dating circles, this term means a divorcee has an “X” is written over the name on the family register following a divorce.

Of course, it’s not all terrible news when a relationship ends as often those other fish in the sea are the Mr. and Ms. Rights just waiting for the perfect guy or gal to come along.

Thanks to our previous Valentine’s Day article, you can get the vocabulary you need for re-entering the dating game. So, brush yourself off and get out there — but not before you’ve used some of these terms to make sure your relationship is fully over.

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