I met him in September 2014, within a few days of him moving to Japan. It wasn’t long until he started sending me messages about going out for a drink. He wouldn’t leave me alone. It was pretty obvious he was hitting on me and I took that as a compliment, but I was busy doing my own thing – I had consciously decided to dedicate the next year to work and school – and his pestering was getting annoying. I finally gave in, and we met one evening after work.
We met for two ‘dates’ – in a row, if I remember correctly – and that was that. The relationship progressed quickly. He kept things at my apartment (he only had a tiny room in the university dorm that housed a lot of young, international students) and so I gave him a key. We had gotten together only a few days before I started commuting to Tokyo on the weekends to study interior design. It was an expensive and time-consuming (over 3 hour commute each way) endeavour, but I’d spent a year preparing for it and I really wanted it. I didn’t mind him having a key; I didn’t have anything to hide. It was all kind of exciting, anyway.
The bad stuff started happening early on, too. Within about 10 days of being together, he had a difficult conversation with his ex who is Japanese, living in Yokohama. Haruka. They’d been together for 6 years, and had often talked about being together again (she had been mentally unwell and had to return to Japan after living with him in France for a few years). He’d decided to come to Japan to be closer to her, but he’d met me and I’d ruined the chances for her. He had to cut ties with her. He blamed me for it. He’d loved her. They’d wanted to have a family too, but she wasn’t mentally well enough and he couldn’t trust her with his future children so he’d sent her home to get better. He’d also had a short, fun relationship with a very intelligent, beautiful, multi-lingual woman just before moving to Japan and she‘d gotten upset that he jumped into a relationship with someone new (me), almost exactly one month after the move. She was angry and decided to stop talking to him. That was my fault too. I clearly remember that evening. Conversations with both women, and with me, all happened with an hour or two.
I thought it was a bit odd at the time, but he made it sound like a sacrifice that he was doing for us. It upset him to lose these two women, but it had to be done to ‘clear the way’ for a relationship with me.
He had a foul mouth and called me a lot of names from the very beginning, but the set up was that he was just like that. He meant it in an endearing way. It was a compliment.
We had a group from work that would have lunch together everyday, and he started pulling me away to get me to help him with filling out documents and helping him find an apartment. He wanted a place with as few neighbours as possible (ideally a corner unit in a building), and multiple rooms. He was too old to be in a university dorm. Why multiple bedrooms? Maybe he’d rent a room, maybe he’d have a roommate. Maybe he would’t live alone. Why a corner unit? He winked. You know, noise. These requirements were a must. I spent hours searching online, communicating with rental companies, going to viewings, interpreting and helping him sign the forms when he finally chose one. Then, I went shopping with him for furniture and whatever else his heart desired. I had my own apartment that I loved, but he wanted my opinion on everything. He wanted me to like what he’d have at his place.
His apartment was a 3 bedroom unit, plus kitchen and living room space. His favourite room was the washitsu, the Japanese room with paper doors and tatami. The unit was in a building that overlooks the river. One floor was one unit. His was the 5th and top floor. We could even climb up to the roof of the building from his big balcony.
The evening he moved in, his young friends from the dorm rented a small truck (he couldn’t drive), helped carry all the furniture and appliances up the staircases (no elevator in the building), and helped set things up inside the apartment. They’d even helped bring some things from my apartment that I didn’t mind sending over. There was a little house-warming party that night. I was going to go home to my own beloved apartment, now that his was settled, but he didn’t want me to leave. I felt uncomfortable, but there were others around and I didn’t want to make a scene. These young international helpers seemed to think we were a great couple.
He moved in to his apartment 3 weeks into our relationship. And by ‘he moved in’, I mean I moved in too.
All of this was a secret at work. We didn’t talk about it. There were women at work who were interested in him, he told me – it was funny for him – but work life and private life should be kept separate. We should keep things quiet, at least for a while.
He didn’t let me stay in my own apartment again. We started moving my things over, carrying things by hand. He made it sound like a happy and exciting thing, but also scolded me for not sending more over earlier, when we had access to the truck and helpers that night.
I didn’t sleep in my own apartment, but I continued to pay rent. I didn’t want to let it go. It was the first time in my life that a space had really felt like it was mine. We decided that I would contribute to electricity and water bills at his place, and when I let my own apartment go, I’d start paying rent at his.
His contract to be in Japan was for two years, so I had to start learning French almost right away to have be good enough for when we moved to France together after. It’s virtually impossible to get a job in France if you don’t speak the language, he told me. Plus, his family doesn’t speak English. How would I communicate with them? There were a few other places in the States that were possible places to go do research after the two years, including Harvard (he was in high demand, you know)… but he needed to start thinking about that very soon to start strengthening networks. Haruka had learned French to stay in France. She had loved France (and why didn’t I love France as much as her?). He’d started learning Japanese for her. All of his associations with Japan involved her, so it was my responsibility to re-write it all. Except that I couldn’t teach him Japanese, I didn’t know how, I didn’t have the confidence. I had underlying issues with that. I told him from the beginning I could support his learning, but I couldn’t teach him. I was a trained English teacher.
The language exchange that he’d dreamed up for us didn’t happen (especially the way he’d wanted it to), and he brought it up daily for months and months on end. It was my fault, and he never, ever, let me forget that. It was always my fault. Everything was always my fault. Didn’t matter what I did – it was too much or too little. But he was doing it all for me, so that I could learn to be less selfish, less arrogant; so that I could learn to be a better partner, a more supportive partner. He was always trying to show me the way, so that I could become a beautiful, sophisticated, intelligent woman. He wanted to be proud of me.
There were so many red flags, but I didn’t see them, I minimized them, I ignored them. (How many did you count as you read this?) I wanted to think that maybe I’d finally met the man who would sweep me off my feet, that would treat me well, unlike some other men in my life who had for years manipulated and taken advantage of me.
In a way, he did sweep me off my feet.
The more time we spent together, the more he tore into me. Picking away at my mental and physical health, every minute of every day. I often didn’t even realize what was going on. He was always there in constant texts and phone calls, if not in person. (Looking back, it’s interesting to note that as the relationship got worse and both of us had declining mental health, his name-calling faded away.)
The ill-treatment I’d received in my lifetime leading up to my relationship with him had apparently only given me a higher tolerance for it. And like most other things in my life, this was something I felt had to fix myself. It was up to me to do something. But, I tolerated it, I put up with it, I sometimes even appreciated it.