“I’m a woman in my 30s. I have been having a relationship with one of my co-workers for three years, and we have started discussing marriage. He is much older than me. My parents were shocked when I told them, especially my father who yelled at me and then tried to sign me up at a marriage broker without my permission. It is a fact that my boyfriend will reach retirement age at the same time our child (if we have one) becomes an adult. I will then have to play the role of breadwinner, and I may have to care for him in his old age when I reach my own retirement. My parents tell me I’d just be creating problems for myself by marrying a an older man. I don’t want to break up with him, but I don’t want to fall out with my parents, either.”
This is a surprisingly common dilemma in Japan. One of my friends was in the exact same position, and she decided to go ahead with the marriage against vigorous parental opposition. Unfortunately her husband died only a few years into their marriage, leaving her with a small child and a fat pension. She then moved back in with her own parents (who had forgiven her and were thrilled to have their only grandchild living with them) and proceeded to have the time of her life. In another case, a co-worker of mine – a man in his twenties – fell in love with an older woman, a single mother in her thirties. His parents were so opposed to the union that he ended up waiting until his father died before popping the question to his girlfriend. This particular problem is not limited to Japan. I can think of several similar cases in NZ, and I’m sure you can think of a few of your own. However, it’s true to say that in Japan, people think of their life decisions (marriage, parenthood, divorce) in terms of how they will affect the others around them, rather than in terms of personal gratification. And that’s not always a bad thing.