The Japanese language takes a lot of cues from English when it comes to talking about romance. For example, “kisu”, the corrupted pronunciation of “kiss,” is about 100 times more common than “kuchitzuke,” the purely Japanese word for locking lips. Found the love of your life? Then it’s time to puropozu (propose), and when your bride walks down the aisle, she’ll probably be wearing a uedingu doresu (wedding dress).
Still, sometimes Japanese goes its own way, and while “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” are pretty readily understood, the indigenous terms kare and kanojo are much more widely used. And every now and again, the two languages get mixed together to describe something in the Japanese dating scene, such as with the newly coined phrase uiru kare, or “will boyfriend.”
As is often the case when Japanese tries to put its own spin on English vocabulary, “will boyfriend” isn’t the most linguistically sound piece of slang. A better term might have been “would boyfriend,” since a uiru kare refers to a guy a woman enjoys spending time with, and might want to date in the future, but who is definitely not her boyfriend right now.
Traditionally, most Japanese social engagements are group affairs. For decades, the orthodox course for progressing from just friends to something more has been to spend time together as part of the group, then, once you and the object of your affection realize the attraction is mutual (without spending much time alone together), almost immediately jump into a serious boyfriend/girlfriend relationship.
That can be a lot of responsibility to deal with right away, though, and the will boyfriend concept seems to have come about as way to lesson some of that fun-sapping sense of obligation that can come with being a couple. “If we’d both feel like we’d lose too much of our freedom if we were ‘dating,’ keeping him as a will boyfriend, with some distance built into the relationship, is just right,” explained one fan of the title. “Sometimes I just feel like going out on a date, so I keep many male friends who I can go out with for casual fun,” said another.
Some women claimed that having a roster of will boyfriends wasn’t just fun, but also a great confidence booster. “Their greatest merit is that they raise your security in your womanliness,” declared one woman. Many echoed her sentiment, asserting that compared to a steady boyfriend, a will boyfriend puts more effort into little acts of hospitality and chivalry, more freely offers compliments, and is more perceptive of subtle changes to a woman’s hairstyle, makeup, or fashion. “Being fawned on by many men satisfies a woman’s hidden desires,” revealed one will boyfriend proponent.
That’s not to say every woman with a will boyfriend is smug and sly about the situation, though. Many women who’re inexperienced in matters of the heart also say they like the idea of a will boyfriend as a way to ease into romance, as the lighter initial commitment eases their fears of being hurt if things don’t blossom into a permanent, life-changing relationship.
It’s also important to point out the difference between having a will boyfriend and shamelessly stringing along a guy you have no interest in just because he makes you feel good. Even though the title doesn’t fully represent the certainty of the word “will” in English, the consensus seems to be that the will boyfriend label can only be applied to guys who a woman could maybe see herself dating exclusively in the future, even though she’s not ready to step across that line just yet (and maybe never will be).
Using these parameters, one woman described the benefit of will boyfriends as “There’s no need to tell one of them that I spend time with other guys, and in the end, I can choose the one I like best out of the ones who like me.” If her choice of words sounds a little callous, perhaps this woman’s description of the will boyfriend upside will seem more palatable: “You never know how your feeling are going to develop as you spend time together, learning things you didn’t know about him and discovering his good qualities that you didn’t see right away.”
So while it’s likely some guys would resent being called a “will boyfriend,” it’s definitely a step up the romantic ladder from being “just a friend.” And while the need for the title may feel foreign to westerners swimming in the Japanese dating pool, the idea espoused by one woman, that “love often blooms in the relaxed relationship between two people who’ve already been on several dates,” isn’t that far from how dating is handled in the west.