Number of women with boyfriend holds steady as one femle demographic shrinks across all age groups.

Recruit Bridal Research Institute may sound like a clearinghouse for mail order brides, but it is, in fact, a research division of Japanese human resources company Recruit, whose diverse divisions also include the monthly magazine Zexy, which is not an unusually spelled sexy skin rag, but a wedding planning periodical.

Now that we’ve got all that out of the way, let’s get to the meat of this story: the results of Recruit Bridal Research Institute’s Romance and Marriage Survey. Held every two years, among other topics the survey examines Japan’s dating landscape, and Recruit’s data for 2023 shows things becoming increasingly quiet for Japan’s single young adults.

A total of 1,200 responses were collected, 200 each for unmarried men and women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. When their survey answers were tallied, the researchers found that less than in three, just 29.7 percent, currently have a boyfriend or girlfriend. What’s more, 34.1 percent said that not only are they not currently in a relationship, but they’ve never had a boyfriend or girlfriend. Recruit says that both of those figures are the highest ever in its survey, which appears to have begun in its current format in 2011.

▼ If this woman was one of the survey participants, there’s a 34.1-percent chance that the photo also includes every guy she’s seriously dated.

Out of the participant demographics, young men and women were especially likely to have zero experience being in a steady romantic relationship. 46 percent of men in their 20s said they’ve never had a girlfriend, and 29.8 percent of 20-something women replied they’ve never had a boyfriend. These are also all-time highs for the survey, with the percentage for men in their 20s jumping 11.8 percent since the last time the survey was held, and the percentage who do have a girlfriend dropping 12.2 percent.

● Men in 20s
Currently have a girlfriend: 26.7 percent (down 12.2 percent compared to 2021)
Have never had a girlfriend: 46 percent (up 11.8 percent)
● Women in 20s
Currently have a boyfriend: 43.2 percent (up 0.2 percent)
Have never had a boyfriend: 29.8 percent (up 5.5 percent)

The survey also found a sizable increase in the number of men in their 30s saying they’ve never had a girlfriend, while the relationship status/history of women in their 30s remained almost unchanged.

● Men in 30s
Currently have a girlfriend: 27.6 percent (up 0.6 percent)
Have never had a girlfriend: 41.2 percent (up 5.8 percent)
● Women in 30s
Currently have a boyfriend: 31.1 percent (down 0.7 percent)
Have never had a boyfriend: 25.3 percent (up 2.3 percent)

Meanwhile, the situation is somewhat complex for respondents in their 40s, where both the number of men without a girlfriend and those who’ve never had one dropped, while the proportion of women who’ve never had a boyfriend grew.

● Men in 40s
Currently have a girlfriend: 14.4 percent (down 4.4 percent)
Have never had a girlfriend: 22.9 percent (down 4.2 percent)
● Women in 40s
Currently have a boyfriend: 27.7 percent (up 0.6 percent)
Have never had a boyfriend: 26.5 percent (up 6.6 percent)

Nearly half of 20-something men having a romantic resume that tops out at casual dating or less feels like a startling statistic, but it’s not too hard to imagine some of the factors at play. The 20-29 age bracket includes younger male college students and working professionals, both of whom tend to be somewhat lower on the totem poles in their prospective dating pools compared to their slightly more mature male counterparts, so it’s easy for guys who are less proactive about their love life to get out-competed by those who are. The lingering effects of the coronavirus pandemic can’t entirely be discounted either. Oftentimes young Japanese singles meet their romantic partners as part of university club activities or office socializing events, both of which are only recently starting to get back up to their pre-pandemic levels. These incidental meetings, which allow two people to get a feel for each other’s personalities and gauge their mutual attraction, are a key part of dating in Japan, where many people won’t enter into an explicit boyfriend/girlfriend relationship until they’ve gotten to know each other in non-dating situations and are already confident they’ll be compatible as a steady couple.

▼ These two might be on their first date as a couple, but they’ve probably hung out together in a group of classmates or coworkers several times already.

At the same time, it’s worth noting that there was less than a one-percent change in the number of women who do have a boyfriend in each of the age groupss. That means that the across-all-ages increases in the number of women who’ve never had a boyfriend corresponds with nearly identically sized decreases in the number of women who’ve been in a relationship that ended in a breakup. It’s possible that the latest survey’s larger number of female respondents who’ve never had a boyfriend is a result of a larger number of women willing choosing to sit out the dating game, or perhaps being more selective in who they date, weeding out and passing on guys they wouldn’t be compatible with, rather than rolling the dice on marginal prospects or dating someone just because they feel ashamed of being single.

Of course, the idea of reducing the number of failed relationships brings to mind the old platitude “It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” On the other hand, Japan also has a saying, “Inu ni kamareta to omotte,” meaning “Just think of it as though you got bitten by a dog,” used to console someone who was on the receiving end of one of life’s raw deals that doesn’t come with the side effects of meaningful emotional growth or deeper personal understanding, and that you just have to move on from without any sort of silver lining, as can sometimes be the case with a bad breakup with an unreasonable ex.

“Well, sure, I’ve been sleeping with your sister for months, but isn’t it awesome that you got to love me until you found out?”

Unfortunately, Recruit’s questions didn’t delve into why participants had never had a steady romantic partner, but the question that matters most of all is simply, “Are you happy?”, and if the answer is “Yep!”, that’s really the best possible demographic to be in.

Source: Recruit via Sankei Shimbun via Hachima Kiko
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert images: Pakutaso (1, 2, 3)
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