If you were a man in his late 20s or early 30s, which of the following lifestyles would you choose?
A: Go for power and sex
B: Go for love and friendship
Easy answer, right, or is it? For many young Japanese men option B is the first choice. They are popularly called herbivore men, which plays on the fact that they have little interest in relationships of flesh (meaning physical relationships). Marketing researchers estimate that around 1/5th of Japanese men fit into this category which is astoundingly high. And in the West there is also an increasing number of herbivorous men though they are sometimes mistakenly referred to as metrosexual men. We all thought that guys just wanted option A and any exceptions are rare and special. So why are so many young men turning away from it? To answer that lets look at this new lifestyle in a little more detail:
A Lifestyle for Sensitive Men
I also like to refer to herbivore men as sensitive men because it more accurately describes their lifestyle and more importantly, it doesn’t label them with some type of sexuality. These people have no interest in climbing up the corporate ladder which involves great personal sacrifice. They are timid with women and often not interested in relationships at all. However, they do tend to befriend women and share a large part of their lives with them. Yes we are talking about straight guys here. Likewise, sensitive men are more family oriented and more likely to spend time with their families at the cost of a career. Consequently they are usually not earning well. The typical herbivorous man is struggling to make ends meet financially. Another prominent feature, in particular of the Japanese sensitive men, is that they are into fashion and take good care of their looks. Looking good is to them what having a big Mercedes was to the macho men.
Most people who’ve tried both will tell you not to dismiss this lifestyle too quickly. Yes, money is important and gets you quite far, but the hoops you have to jump through to get it are often not worth it. It turns out that men aren’t as simple as we thought, that they are more human than we thought and that they aren’t the mindless power hungry machines that society seems to press them to be.
I questioned some sensitive men, who chose this lifestyle for themselves, about their motivations:
Interviews with Herbivore Men
Don’t you want to have more money?
“Of course I want more money but corporate life is just not for me.”
“After graduating, my friends put everything into their careers and it made them distant from family and friends. I don’t want that to happen to me.”
“Sure, who doesn’t want money? But I’ve seen what the career path does to you and your family. Thanks but no thanks.”
“Most high flying people never get a chance to enjoy their profits anyway and now days more of them are dropping like flies from their high positions and when they hit the ground, they are left with nothing”
Don’t you want a romantic relationship with a woman?
“I do go out with women but only if they ask me. And I’m not that fussed about it. There’s more to life than romance.”
“Dating is like a job interview. They watch you like a hawk, giving you trick questions and testing your reactions. Nobody can tell me that’s fun.”
“When I date women it feels like I’m just a product to them to evaluate and compare to a list of features they’re looking for.”
But not all women are like that?
“Yes and if I meet one that would be great but meeting a woman I can be with isn’t worth going out hunting and being rejected many times for silly little details. That just wears you down over the years.”
“Sure, but the kind of women who I meet when dating, are the very ones that I really don’t want.”
What do others think of your lifestyle?
“My father thinks I’m being weak but he doesn’t understand that this is what I want and doing something else would really be weak. The rest of the family don’t mind.”
“Most people are supportive. You just get the occasional one who can’t understand it.”
“I don’t bother with others' judgements on my lifestyle. Most of them have miserable lives compared with mine.”
Some researchers have attributed this phenomenon to the economic crisis and the recessions that these young men grew up in. They now supposedly have a mistrust of the power seeking corporate career life and that's what apparently pushes them towards inner fulfillment rather than extrovert success. I’m not convinced that is the whole or even a significant part of the story.
Just as women have emancipated themselves in the career world, it isn’t surprising that men start to expand their horizons too. The only thing that seems unexplained by anyone is the apparent disinterest in romance of so many young men. Maybe it goes a lot deeper than just money and lifestyle.