What is a friendship marriage? From pals to platonic partners, Japanese couples embrace unions without romance or sex

Explainer | What is a friendship marriage? From pals to platonic partners, Japanese couples embrace unions without romance or sex

Increasing numbers of young people in Japan are adopting a new type of marital relationship that requires neither love nor sex, in a trend called “friendship marriage”.

Around one per cent of Japan’s population of 124 million are possible candidates for the arrangement.

They include asexual individuals, homosexuals and heterosexuals who are disillusioned with traditional marriage.

The figures come from data collected by Colorus, an agency that claims to be the first and only one in Japan that specialises in friendship marriages.

Since the agency’s inception in March 2015, about 500 members have formed friendship marriage households, and some have raised children.

The Post finds out more about the trend.

What is it?

Friendship marriage is defined as “a cohabitating relationship based on shared interests and values.” It is not about traditional romantic love or marrying a best friend.

Some “friendship marriage” partners opt to have children using artificial insemination. Photo: Getty Images

In such relationships , the partners are legally spouses, but without romantic love or sexual interaction. Couples may live together or separately. If they decide to have children, they might decide to use artificial insemination.

Both individuals are free pursue romantic relationships with other people outside the marriage, as long as there is mutual agreement.

“Friendship marriage is like finding a roommate with similar interests,” explained someone who has been in such an arrangement for three years.

“I’m not suited to be someone’s girlfriend, but I can be a good friend. I only wanted someone with similar tastes to do things we both enjoy, to chat and laugh with,” another said.

Before marrying, couples usually spend hours or days agreeing on the details of their life, such as whether to eat meals together, how to split expenses, who does the laundry and how to allocate refrigerator space.

Such discussions may seem unromantic, but they have helped about 80 per cent of couples to live happily together and in many cases have children, Colorus said.

Who does it?

Individuals interested in friendship marriage are, on average, 32.5 years old with incomes exceeding the national average, and about 85 per cent have a bachelor’s degree or higher, according to Colorus.

The trend is particularly appealing to asexual individuals and homosexuals.

Many asexuals, who are unable to feel sexual desire or fall in love, still crave connection and companionship.

Homosexuals may opt for friendship marriages as an alternative because same-sex marriage is not legal in Japan.

Some heterosexual young people, who dislike traditional marriage patterns or romantic relationships, but are subject to societal pressures, have also been embracing the new trend.

About 75 per cent of Japanese in their thirties still view marriage as a life goal, as reported by the Japanese Cabinet Office.

However, 47.2 per cent of Japanese married couples have not had sex in the past month, and the number is rising, a 2016 survey showed.

Seeking alternatives to traditional marriage, people have turned to friendship marriage to present a “stable and mature” image for career advancement or to please their parents.

In Japan, being married has tax benefits and it remains very difficult for single women to have children.

More than 70 per cent of partners in friendship marriages did so to have children.

Although these types of relationships sometimes end in divorce, the advantages include enjoying policy benefits, companionship and “helping those who feel lost, dislike traditional marriage, or consider themselves social outcasts”, Colorus said.

Some people in Japan follow the new trend to assuage the traditional concerns of their parents. Photo; Shutterstock

Outside Japan

Worldwide, young people are increasingly exploring relationship arrangements beyond traditional marriage norms.

Two 24-year-old women from Singapore, who have been close friends since childhood, decided to become life partners and live together in Los Angeles. Their relationship is not sexual.

In China, a growing number of young people are choosing to buy houses and live with close friends.

Marriage lawyer Zhao Li uses a common Chinese saying “more than friends, less than lovers” to describe friendship marriage, and emphasises the importance of signing a prenuptial agreement.

“Although a non-sexual marriage might not be for everyone, it is not necessarily unhealthy or abnormal,” said Ma Xiaonian, a Chinese doctor with more than 30 years experience in sex education and research.



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