Sunday, January 8, 2012

Extremely Lost in Translation

Dear Doc Love,

My brother bought me a Japanese girlfriend for Christmas. I know, I know it's a pretty big gift (I thanked him for her extensively), but I have some growing reservations. For one, I can't understand anything she says to me! I don't think she understands anything I say to her either. From what I could find out her name is Manaka Takane. It's been a complicated relationship, so far. For instance, just the other day Manaka and I went out to play some tennis. I could tell by the score at the end of the match that she didn't win, but there was no way for me to console her at all. We ended the day walking awkwardly home both of us in a stony silence before she gave me a quick nod leaving to take the train home. Everyday that we're together something like this happens. I'm not sure how long I can stand it. I need some expert advice.

Here's a photo of her
Manaka and I both go to the same school and we meet up everyday in class. Sometimes we head to the diner or the mall after school, and we're always emailing one another. There's a lot of communication in our relationship, but she always leaves me wondering how much is actually reaching her. There are some other girls too like Rinko and Nene who both show mutual interests in me, but I have no idea how to tell them about my problems. I really, really like Manaka, but those other two always seem to be talking to me, or flirting with me, or randomly meeting up with me at school or downtown. It's really getting to a point where all three of them seem to be constantly following me even though I think of them only as friends. It doesn't really help that they speak Japanese too and all I can do is randomly spit out a few phrases from my small translation guide and hope to get a good reaction.

It feels like everyone around me is suddenly speaking Japanese even the teachers and my best friends. I think something a lot larger is going around in this world, and I'm starting to freak out. That, as someone once told me, is the worst thing you can do in a relationship. He told me, "If you start to panic, you'll lose confidence and so will she." That's the thing though, I can't tell what she thinks of me. Other than these small faces she keeps drawing on the desk or at the diner while we're together there's no real indication of what's going through her mind. I think they're an indication of what she's feeling, but they're so indistinct. Each time we're together she changes the face that she draws. What kind of girl tell you how she feels like that? I'm so lost in translation here. It feels like I'm so in over my head, and there's no way for me to tell her that it's over. It's like I'm trapped in some kind of weird, Japanese dating simulator.

I'm really sorry for putting so much onto you right now :( 

This was really the last place I wanted to be, but it's the only place I can turn to at the moment. The more I think about Manaka the more it feels like she's doing this to me out of spite like I can't speak her language so she revels in that fact. She affectionate, so are Rinko and Nene, but she makes me feel so confused, so flustered every time we go on a date. A few days ago she spotted me at the shopping mall and she was So Happy I was buying CDs. Then a few days later, she spotted me at the shopping mall again and she was So Disgusted that I was buying CDs. Maybe it has to do with the days when I do things. Maybe I should have been with her doing something, but she's never made any indications about what I'm supposed to be doing to make her happy. It seems like the activity I take part in during my days has an odd affect on these invisible scales through which she judges me.

I feel like Bill Murray except Charlotte has been replaced by a Japanese-speaking school girl who can stare into my soul. It makes me wish I could just turn this life off using a power switch. I've done some research on people who have had experiences like mine. There are a number of people who have been through this kind of thing and there are a few guides out there that have helped me along the way. It feels like Manaka and I aren't a unique couple, in fact it feels like there are so many couples like us it's almost formulaic of how to succeed. It's all about communication I think.

From what I know in life about relationships, what you have to be able to do it talk. I've spent my entire life looking for someone I could speak to and my whole life searching for someone I could connect with. Manaka might be that person, but the language barrier between us puts up such a wall that we're unable to do that. It's no fault of her's, nor is it a fault of my own. I made up with the fact that if I spent money on a language tutor for Japanese her and I could live a happy life. It feels like if she spent some time getting a little more localized in where we are, I could understand her better and the culture that she's from. East and West are two extremely different locales, and even starting to understand where she's coming from is a challenge. A lot of girls see working out and fitness as a big deal, but with her it's almost a necessity that I spend my time working out at night to impress her. We've gone on dates, for sure, but they almost always end with me saying something wrong (not that I know what I said).

There's always an expectation of change in a relationship, I know that. I've been flexible, but sometimes she acts as if she's not even trying to change. It's as if she's a robot programmed with a certain number of responses that are beyond my abilities to comprehend. Maybe it's a cultural thing. Two days ago we had our first "kiss" too if you can call it that. She insisted that I only use my fingers to touch her lips. We didn't even make contact, though it made her really happy. Sigh... I think this kind of contact is genuinely something she wants, but the nature of it, the skin contact is a little odd. On the whole, I don't think this relationship is really for me. She's way too different and maybe I'm a bit too closed-minded. That whole thing I wrote up there was a little unfair. For sure it's odd how she acts, but I can't really expect her to change who she is or for her to cater to me. There's a degree of cultural relativity going on here.

This feeling of being lost in translation is an interesting one. Everyone around me changing slowly into this unrecognizable form, the expectations of what a "relationship" entails, and the effort made over the last 210 days have really affected me deeply. It's something I never really expected to get from a girlfriend in a box. Manaka has taught me a little bit about what it must feel like for someone who speaks Japanese to go to a place with people who speak English, as she taught me how it feels like speaking only English to an all Japanese crowd. It's not that we're incompatible or that we're unwilling to work things out. I think it has to do with what length we as players on this stage are willing to learn the language of the people we're with. Even if it's just trying to communicate through small gestures like emailing a few words, going on a date, or going to a tennis match it makes a difference in the end if you make that effort. Of course, it's easier if there's a commonality in the language that you speak, but can two people communicate without the need for words?

I've come to you looking for some advice in this matter. Any help that you can give will really be appreciated :)!


A Confused John Doe


Dear John Doe,

Are you dating a real girl? I read your letter and I'm extremely confused by what's going on in your life. I think this is beyond my expertise, but I wish you all the luck with this.

Good luck,

Doc Love

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