Letters from Japan: 'Ghosted in Portugal'

By Hilary Keyes

Savvy Tokyo's resident "Love in Japan" columnist, Hilary Keyes, answers anonymous questions from readers on everything from dating in Japan to women’s health issues. Got a question you’d like to ask Hilary? Email it to with the subject "Ask Hilary".

Hi Hilary,

I’m writing from Portugal and I was in a relationship with a Japanese guy. But before I talk about my story, I want to give you some context [summarized]:

Seven years ago, my ex-boyfriend came to Portugal to marry a girl that he had only known for 15 days. They didn’t really have a marriage—he wanted a Portuguese visa basically. I met him five years ago and we became friends; during that time they got divorced and we developed feelings for each other.

After dating for a month he wanted to move in with me, but I told him I wanted to wait until we had a stronger relationship. We made plans for the future (marriage, kids) and traveled together. Suddenly during this trip, he said we were moving too fast, but that he still loved me. After we returned to Portugal (dating for 6 months), he disappeared, then messaged me asking for some time alone.

I found out he was meeting up with his ex-wife, and other female friends. I asked him to explain, and he asked for a month to himself; I asked about the future of our relationship and he never gave me a clear answer. It felt like he wanted me to break up with him. After a few days, he was messaging me like nothing had happened. This pattern continued until I called him out, telling him how he was the one that started the serious future discussions, and he said that he never wanted a girlfriend in the first place. After the fact, I learned he’d been dating eight other women including his ex-wife, and all the relationships had the same pattern—gets serious fast, then fizzles out into nothing, while he dates other women at the same time.

My main question: I know that “ghosting” is a common part of ending relationships in Japan, which I would accept if we’d only been dating for a couple weeks, but we knew each other for years and were in a serious relationship. Is this normal? Because, at the end, he just started to date his female friends the day after and tried to make me jealous and then disappeared. And this doesn’t sound like a normal behavior to me. He was so cold and now I’m here collecting the pieces of my heart and trying to heal.

Dear Broken Heart In Portugal,

Wow… He sounds like a real jerk. You should be happy that you didn’t move in with him after just a month, otherwise, you might have ended up like his ex-wife. The way your relationship started and his past history were two huge red flags for me, and by the time I got to the end of your email, I was actually angry. I hate situations like this because I’ve seen it happen to too many women dating Japanese men.

On the surface, he sounds like a visa-hunter, which is bad enough, but he’s also a cheater, and a ghoster too. From what you told me in your email he’s one of those types of men that’s in love with the rush of a new relationship, but not so keen on the future or seriousness of it all, except when it comes to the benefits for him. In other words, he’s only looking out for himself.

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Means he just disappeared without any further contact. He still messaged you on occasion so its not ghosting.

 we knew each other for years and were in a serious relationship

8 other women at the same time with a wife/ex wife clearly means it was not a serious relationship. Furthermore, you claim he has the same pattern with all the other women. That means its his game.

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haha you were played

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Wow! Check for std's.

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According to my male Japanese friends, ghosting feels “kinder” than ending a relationship in person or over the phone. “It’s less confrontational, and means that you can’t be guilted into staying,” says one of my male friends. Another adds “if you ghost someone it doesn’t feel like you’re hurting them.”

An English teacher friend told me that one of the lessons she taught asked, "What's the best way of breaking up with someone?" and she reported that about 90% of students - male and female, from high school age through retirement age - responded that ghosting was the best way to do it.

I think ghosting is a reasonable option if something terrible has happened (abuse, cheating), or if you've only been on a few dates together. Beyond that, it's a coward's way out. Emotionally, need people need closure in order to move on. Ghosting denies them that. All of the reasons cited above (less confrontational, can't be guilted into staying, feels nicer) are all beneficial to the person doing the dumping, not the person being dumped. It's selfish and disrespectful - not "kind."

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Ghosting may be appropriate if the woman or man is highly volatile and could get abusive or violent.

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If one can take this story at face value, then it is my opinion that there is something seriously wrong with the male involved. I do not have a background that would enable me to diagnose what his behavior indicates, other than to feel that the lady should count herself lucky that she didn't suffer worse than a broken heart.

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I can, maybe, understand "ghosting" at some level. If the person is at stalker level love, it's necessary. Otherwise, I cannot see the point. Like it or not, everyone you've loved and lost has made you what you are, and that might be good, or might be bad, but ultimately they had have an impact. So, again, short of something abusive I think it is the ultimate cowardice to completely shun a former partner, and that is, sorry, usually the woman who does it because she's measured up and chosen what she assumes is a better partner. I've seen it a thousand times.

More importantly, though, I do keep in touch with a number of former girflriends and lovers and even their partners (if we knew each other before), and we have great relationships. Those women (speaking in my case) made me who I am, good or bad, and trying to pretend they don't exist if they reach out is just not an option for me. If you want to pretend a person you were with doesn't exist, feel free to hit yourself in a head with a brick until you have no mind to bother with it all. That's what ghosting is, and that's all you'll be.

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Meant to say the irony of it is that the people who ghost are the loneliest and saddest people in the world. They truly die alone, and boy do they regret on their deathbeds. Had the pleasure of delivering a message to someone that had been ghosted a person who later passed away prematurely. I say 'pleasure' only because I was glad that she did it. Saw the message and when reading it with the receiver and it was met with the response I feel actual humans must always feel. A sense of sadness, remorse, and also acceptance. But still she waited until there could be no response, and that was the saddest part. That has forever affected his life -- he adored her.

They could have at least had the chance to support each other of not for this stupid idea of ghosting.

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I know that “ghosting” is a common part of ending relationships in Japan, 

Yeah, nah.

The man is obviously what he is, and his being Japanese has little to nothing to do with it. Stop making it about culture. Dogs are dogs, regardless of what country they come from.

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All the sign were clearly there, but this naive young women ignored her spidey senses -- because she is naive AND he was an exotic foreigner

Falling in love is a wonderful thing, not the least because it's a capitulation to wave after wave of super-powered emotions. But that don't mean during that fall we need ignore other emotions. Humans are really quite good at detecting deceit, and if you get a funny feeling about something, there is a good reason for it.*

In short, just 'cause some comes from a different place and does something odd, don't mean its just fine-and-dandy. Because Diversity.

*Barring of course, pre-set unwarranted prejudice against classes of people.

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