A chill, rainy, late October evening – would anyone show up? “What if I’m the only one there?” fretted a man in his 60s as he made his way to the venue.
He needn’t have worried. As he settled in, making one of six men and six women, his mood brightened. Yes, even in the midst of a pandemic, even with old age looming, happiness is possible. Not inevitable, certainly – but possible.
Shukan Post (Dec 25) notes a remarkable phenomenon: the elderly are seeking marriage partners more eagerly than ever, this year in particular. This past August, September and October were especially busy for marriage agency Exeo Japan, a leading promoter of “senior konkatsu” (senior marriage partner seeking ). Its business during those months was up 169 percent over the same period last year.
COVID-19, far from putting a damper on such activity, seems to be fueling it. It’s counter-intuitive at first, but Shukan Post’s explanation makes sense. Disasters highlight our vulnerability and deepen our loneliness. What in normal times is a desire for companionship can become a need for it, more or less urgent, when times turn dark.
“When I lost my wife 10 years ago,” says “Yoshiyuki Watanabe” (a pseudonym), “I never thought of remarrying. But the years pass” – he’s 64 – “and you get lonely. Then came the pandemic. What if I get infected? The thought left me with a feeling of utter helplessness. If I had a wife we could keep each others’ spirits up. That’s what I was thinking when I came here.”
“Here” in Shukan Post’s photo looks like a mid-size restaurant. The 12 participants, six men and six women, are in their 50s, 60s and 70s. A transparent acrylic sheet suspended from the ceiling separates each couple. The seating is such as to avoid direct face-to-face contact. Everyone is masked. That would make dining impossible. But dining is not the point. Talking – getting to know one another – is.
Phase one of the party is “talk time.” The men circulate. The women remain seated. Each man spends four minutes with each lady. Phase two involves each of the participants writing his or her impressions. Who struck my fancy? Who do I want to see more of?
“I was divorced 20 yea ago,” says “Junko Miura,” in her 60s but looking younger. “I worked very hard to raise the children and put them through school. Then, suddenly, I was alone.” An office affair proved unsatisfying: “I wanted a stable relationship. I thought, ‘It’s sad to die alone.’” Ordinarily, nothing may have followed from that. The pandemic spurred her to action.
The mask brings out her sense of humor. “It’s good, it hides my wrinkles,” she smiles. It was a good evening in terms of fun, not so good in terms of results, for no lasting couples formed. Miura, still smiling, shrugs. “Why get discouraged?” she says. “There’s always next time!”© Japan Today