It was during lunch when she told me the news. We were having lunch with two other colleagues in a casual French restaurant in Tokyo.
‘I am getting married,’ she said.
‘Umm, ok. To who?’ I asked.
‘It’s him.’ She told me the name of a colleague we both knew.
‘Hey, you might be the least surprised person so far.’
‘I don’t know. Yeah, that’s a bit unexpected but it sounds possible,’ I said.
I certainly was surprised. In fact, I didn’t have the slightest idea that they were together. They hid their relationship very well. They hardly ever talked in the office and when they did, they always used polite Japanese (keigo).
It turned out that they were already living together. Nobody knew that because they always came to the office and left separately. They didn’t give the slightest hint of their relationship. They had been playing perfect Japanese office love.
She was probably the first person I got to know in the first company I worked for. It was a small IT company and they would send software developers to other companies. There were about 30 of us, but there were only a handful of people in the office because most of us were working in other companies’ offices. She wasn’t a developer, so she always stayed in the office.
- Her exact role was not very clear. She was one of those people who do almost everything. She would write letterheads, buy office supplies, collect receipts, manage customer data and stuff like that.
- She was about 26 (and I was 23).
- She studied teaching Japanese as a foreign language in university but she didn’t become a Japanese teacher as most people would have done which meant that she was a bit alternative. There was something about her that didn’t fit the norm.
- She knew some Korean, but she wasn’t really conversant. Again, studying Korean is somewhat alternative in Japan.
- She knew some weird things I didn’t know. For example, I didn’t know what ‘fallen angels’ were. I still have no idea how she learnt about that kind of thing.
- I could tell that she didn’t have much experience in dating. It seemed like dating wasn’t something she was terribly interested in. But she wasn’t necessarily shy as she was very open in talking to me when I first met her.
- She wasn’t bad looking, although I didn’t have any romantic interest in her. She seemed a bit uncomfortable with her femininity. It was maybe the way she blinked as she talked. It was hard to imagine her being flirty.
- She was more rational than emotional (which is a very important trait I will talk about later). I’d never seen her getting upset or overjoyed.
Considering all that, it was quite unexpected that she was going to marry. Moreover, that she was going to marry that guy, the guy with a ‘reputation’.
I have only met a couple of people who I considered players. It’s not always easy to identify them. But if they had a common trait it would be this: they didn’t look like players.
In fact, they looked rather boring and uninterested in women. And that guy was a classic example.
The Player was the same age as I was, but he looked older because of his calm, soft-spoken nature. He was far from the image of the flirtatious, smooth-talking player. He didn’t talk much about his private life (or any other stuff unrelated to work for that matter). I actually thought he wasn’t that interested in dating generally until I heard the story:
He once dated five girls simultaneously.
Apparently, that was what he said. He also said that it was ‘too painful’ to date that many girls all at once which, by the way, is quite understandable. Dating one girl can take a lot of energy. How much emotional power and time do you need to actually date five girls?
This episode made me wonder why I couldn’t identify his ‘playerness’. I wondered how he was capable of doing that. And it came to my mind that it was precisely because he didn’t look like a player. He was able to do it because girls didn’t become suspicious.
He was also a smart guy. He was the best programmer in the company and much more experienced than I was, so I would ask his advice once in a while. He must have thought carefully about the way to handle multiple girls at the same time, and obviously it worked, at least for a while.
Because of this, I became very curious about him marrying the Not-So-Nerdy girl. I needed to find out more about this.
How everything started
The best way to ask private questions to Japanese co-workers is to get them drunk. To make things easier, Japanese people often organise after-work parties whenever they have a good excuse (welcome/farewell party, end-of-year party, start-of-year party etc.).
My company was no exception. The chance came soon after I learnt the news. They organised a farewell party for someone who was leaving. I had a chance to talk to the girl privately. It was easy. I was used to talking to her anyway. I just casually popped the question.
‘So, how did things get started?’ I asked her.
‘Well, a while ago we went for drinks with a group of people after work. When everybody was going home, he said to me that he wanted to drink a little bit more. We ended up in his house and one thing led to another…’ she didn’t finish the story, but that was enough information.
I also had a chance to talk to the Player when he was drunk. It was when we had another company party in a nearby Japanese-style bar. I remember talking to him in the street. He was very drunk and staggering as he walked.
‘So, if you are so popular, why did you choose that girl to marry then?’ I said to him.
‘It’s because she’s not the kind of girl who gets overly emotional when you need to have a rational conversation.’
He was definitely not a 17-year-old virgin.
That line stayed on my mind. In a way, everything made sense. He chose her based on her quality as a long-term partner. She could stay calm when discussing something important. I wasn’t sure how much they were into each other romantically. They didn’t talk about their relationship, nor did they show any affection in public (which is not uncommon in Japan). And, Japanese people tend to see marriage as an institution rather than a crystallisation of love. His reasoning was perfectly understandable.
In a way, they had something in common: their coolness about the whole thing. Maybe that was why I didn’t have any emotional reaction when I heard about them.
At least she wasn’t like the other girl, the hot one.
The Hot One
There were only two girls out of 20 to 30 people in that company. Both of them found their husbands there. Now that the first girl had got married, it was the second girl’s turn. And she was the Hot One.
She came to join the company after I started working there. She immediately attracted attention. It didn’t take long for the news to spread. By the time we had the next company get-together, everybody knew that there was a pretty, new girl in the office.
A lot of guys wanted to talk to her, which many of them did. One guy said to her, ‘Hey, I was looking forward to meeting you as they have been saying that the new girl is very cute.’ He couldn’t help letting her know that she was pretty.
But there was one particular guy who seemed to be especially fond of her. He was the Obvious Guy. Unlike the Player, who was good at hiding emotions, the Obvious Guy just couldn’t contain his infatuation.
The Obvious Guy
Even though I didn’t see him often, as his workplace was another company, it didn’t take me long to realise that he was into her. It was just obvious by the way he looked at her and talked to her. He didn’t have any sort of sophistication in his approach.
He was the awkward guy you see in a romantic comedy film. And he did cheesy, romantic stuff too.
It was at the end-of-year party (Japanese people love those parties). Everybody was drunk. Somebody had brought a fake rose, and when the party was nearly over, the Obvious Guy took a piece of fake rose, placing it between his lips, and walked up to the Hot One in front of everyone. He went down on his knees and said, half-jokingly:
‘Will you marry me?’
The girl got confused and didn’t know what to say. She just smiled uncomfortably, hoping that the moment would soon be over.
That was that kind of thing he would do and I thought he was joking.
But he wasn’t. They got engaged soon after.
Me and the Hot One
In fact, I got along very well with the Hot One. We talked a lot and she always laughed at my jokes. She laughed a lot, and she laughed loud.
We often went to lunch. There was another guy who got along with us too, so the three of us were often together. If it had been a school, we would have been the kind of friends who go out after school.
Once, we went out to a fancy French restaurant and ordered a lunch course. We only had one hour but the course took longer than we expected and our lunch time was almost over.
‘What shall we do?’ she asked.
‘It will probably be OK,’ I answered.
‘Yeah, let’s do it,’ she agreed.
So we stayed, and got back to the office late. As soon as we set foot in the office, the boss called us.
‘Hey, you three, come here right now,’ he said.
Then we got scolded. I was thinking that it looked just like we were misbehaving students in school. There was something comical about the situation. (I felt really bad afterwards and I worked late that day.)
She was the kind of person whom I shared those moments with. I felt that she liked me to some extent (whether it was romantically or not). And she was cute and nice. I would have asked her out if we hadn’t been co-workers. I just wasn’t happy with the idea of going out with someone from work. Also, I was not actually in love with her. But there were times that made me feel that we would make a good couple.
But she and the Obvious Guy didn’t seem to have the kind of compatibility that we had.
There was something puzzling about their relationship. Despite the apparent fact that the guy was in love with her, they didn’t seem to talk that much. I had never really seen them talking, except for a few awkward exchanges like the fake proposal.
Now, in Japan, couples tend not to show much affection in public, especially when they are among people they know. In fact, many of them prefer not to act like couples. It’s also perfectly normal not to take your partner to social events.
From this point of view, not talking to each other when they were with the rest of the company would have been perfectly normal. But I saw something more about their situation. The guy obviously wanted to be close to her in public too. The Hot One didn’t mind him being around either. Yet, there was always something awkward about them.
Before I left the company, they threw a farewell party for me on my last day.
I was talking to her in the street. We were saying something funny about watermelon (it’s funny how we remember this kind of trivial detail sometimes) and we were laughing together.
Suddenly, the Obvious Guy approached her from behind and placed his head on her shoulder. It was as if he was a child wanting his mother to sooth him.
She didn’t look at him, but tolerated his presence and physical closeness. She looked a bit embarrassed. Then she just continued talking with me.
I still remember the weirdness of the scene. On the one hand, we were having a very close conversation. It was one of those moments that make the outer world fade away. On the other hand, there was this grown guy (who was her fiancé by then) resting his head on her shoulder even though he was not involved in the conversation. I never really understood that couple.
In the end, they got married and she had a baby soon after.