My girlfriend broke up with me a week before バレンタインデー (Barentaindee, Valentine’s Day). The proximity to the holiday didn’t really make a big difference to me; it was 悔しい (kuyashii, painful/frustrating) all the same.

She wasn’t Japanese, so I was surprised to get a Japanese language lesson out of the ordeal. As I broke the news to people and began to go through the grieving process, I was impressed by the way my Japanese friends responded.

I’d visited Japan for the first time in four years a couple of months prior, over the お正月 (o-Shōgatsu, New Year’s) holiday, and had been excited to share news of the relationship with the friends I was staying with. They are a young couple, and I’d shared an apartment with the husband in Tokyo years before. They hadn’t had a chance to meet my previous girlfriends.

ラブラブですか (Rabu rabu desu ka, “Are you guys lovey-dovey?”), they asked, as is the custom when inquiring about new relationships in Japan. I responded with a cautious まあまあ (Maa maa, “We do OK”). I’d thought that things were going pretty well, and said as much: うまく行っているよ (Umaku itte iru yo, “It’s going well”). I traveled up to Fukushima Prefecture and shared the same feelings with my host family in the small town where I’d taught on the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Programme. They were also excited for me.

The breakup did not happen in Japanese, of course, so it did not incorporate the most typical Japanese breakup phrase: 別れてください (Wakarete kudasai, “Please break up with me”).

It may seem strange that it’s phrased almost as a request, but this is the way Japanese works, and it reveals that kudasai is more of an imperative than a request. This phrase is so standard that in response to the question 彼女との別れ方を教えてください (Kanojo to no wakarekata o oshiete kudasai, “Please tell me how to break up with my girlfriend”) on the Yahoo Chiebukuro site (the Japanese version of Yahoo Answers), one respondent incredulously asks if there are really options other than Wakarete kudasai: それだけでしょう?他にも何が有る訳? (Sore dake deshō? Hoka ni mo nani ga aru wake?, “That’s all there is, right? Is there really anything else?”)

If you’re a fan of Japanese ドラマ (dorama, TV dramas), then you’ve probably seen this acted out. Ideally you face your former loved one and deliver a few comments about the relationship — something harsh like 君のことが嫌いに なった (Kimi no koto ga kirai ni natta, “I don’t like you anymore”), something honest like 好きな人ができた (Suki na hito ga dekita, “I met someone else”) or something gentle like ごめんね。これ以上 お付き合いすることができない (Gomen ne. Kore ijō o-tsukiai suru koto ga dekinai, “I’m sorry; I can’t date you anymore”). Then you end things with Wakarete kudasai.

I’d resolved to stay in better touch with my friends, so I let them know about the breakup via the Line messaging app. Before delivering the bad news, I used a short phrase to prepare them: ちょっと残念な話だけど (Chotto zannen na hanashi dakedo, “Unfortunately, I have some bad news …”).

The verb 振る (furu) literally means “to shake” or “swing” but also “to give up” or “abandon,” and in this case “reject” or “break up with” as well. I made efficient use of the adversative passive of furu to let them know what had happened: エミリーさんに振られた (Emirii-san ni furareta, literally, “I was dumped by Emily”). 捨てる (suteru, throw out) can be used in place of furu and has a harsher nuance.

My friends responded with messages of support: ダニエルをふるなんて、もったいないね (Danieru o furu nante, mottainai ne, “It’s a shame that she broke up with you”). And they suggested solutions, which I made sure were already underway: 飲むしかない!今日は飲もう! (Nomu shika nai! Kyō wa nomō!, “All you can do is drink! Today, let’s drink!”).

My host mother in Fukushima was working when I messaged her but quickly responded with wise advice: またきっと良い女性に巡り会えるから失恋に 耐えなさいね (Mata kitto yoi josei ni meguriaeru kara shitsuren ni taenasai ne, “You’ll meet someone else nice, so try to endure the heartbreak”).

This struck me as a particularly Japanese phrase: It combines elements of 我慢 (gaman, perseverance/tolerance) and possibly even the Buddhist duhkha concept embodied in 苦 (ku, suffering), along with optimism for future encounters. I filed away Shitsuren ni taenasai as a phrase that might be useful in the future if a friend was feeling forlorn.

My host mom followed up later at greater length with more wisdom: あなたは只今失恋中で心が寂しいと思うけど必ず 良縁に巡り会えるから今は静かに待ちなさいね (Anata wa tadaima shitsuren-chū de kokoro ga sabishii to omou kedo kanarazu ryōen ni meguriaeru kara ima wa shizuka ni machinasai ne, “I think you’re heartbroken and lonely, but you will definitely come across a good match, so wait quietly for now”).

The waiting process has been tough. As I read back her messages, I realized how much I had been squirming under the pain of the breakup, and resolved to wait more patiently for what she called 縁 (en), a great Japanese word that implies fortuitous connection, fate and chance. 何かの縁 (nanika no en, some kind of connection) is a nice way to describe serendipitous events or mysterious meetings, or even just a surprising close connection.

Breakups are supposed to be 辛い (tsurai, painful), no matter whether they happen in English or Japanese, so there was really nothing strange or unique about how I was feeling. I now have only to wait, a prospect made easier by the support and confidence of Japanese friends.

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