Content Warning: Intimate partner abuse, toxic masculinity, ableism, depression
Spoilers for 1122: For a Happy Marriage
In both fiction and reality, marriage is often seen as the ultimate proof of romantic love. Cis-hetero marriages in particular are often viewed as the ideal, and it’s expected that those marriages will follow the traditional gender roles of a husband and wife—the former providing for the family financially and the latter taking care of household matters. Married couples are also supposed to affirm their feelings through passionate love-making, and a child is “naturally” supposed to be born in the process. Seemingly innocuous, these expectations can actually push people away from their original goal in marrying their romantic partners: to simply “be happy with [them].”
1122: For a Happy Marriage examines two different married couples that are pressured to adhere to gender and allonormative roles within marriage, which ultimately damages their marital relationships. In order to cope with their problems, the couples resort to committing affairs and adultery, which serve only as temporary solutions. The traditional expectations of what “should” make a happy, traditional union ultimately becomes the stranglehold that keeps characters from finding authentic happiness in their marriage.
Ichiko and Otoya are the story’s main couple, and their inability to reconcile their sexless marriage is the catalyst for their extramarital affairs. Ichiko’s sexual desire for Otoya has been waning over the years, and she believes that sex isn’t that important for their marriage. Unfortunately, she invalidates Otoya’s feelings on the matter by harshly telling him that he should simply seek other people or services to fulfill his sexual needs. Since Otoya views sex as an expression of love, he’s deeply hurt by Ichiko’s words and this forms a major rift in their relationship.
Unable to confront the issue, Ichiko chooses to ignore it, but Otoya eventually finds consolation through Mitsuki, a woman he meets at a flower arrangement class. When Ichiko notices Otoya’s happier demeanor, she allows him to have an affair; however, this is only because she feels guilty for being unable to have sex with him and for dimissing his feelings. She secretly hopes his affair is a temporary phase and decides to approve of it as a means to protect their marriage.
The “Failing” of a Sexless Marriage
To Ichiko, Otoya is not only her significant other, but also the “family [she] chose.” He provides her with the emotional support and affection that her own family couldn’t give her growing up. Because he is so important to her, she ironically agrees to the current arrangement.
Ichiko also wonders if she deserves to be in a monogamous relationship with Otoya, since her experiences seem to fall short of society’s image of love. Her romantic and sexual attraction toward him have become more subdued, and she wonders whether it would be “shameless to call [these feelings] love.” Ichiko blames herself and invalidates her own experiences, because sexless marriages aren’t normalized, and romantic love tends to be glorified. This also has the effect of forcing Ichiko to keep quiet about her true feelings about the affair, eventually causing her more unhappiness. To make matters worse, she begins to feel weighed down by the chastising that she receives about not fitting into the traditional role of a wife.
Unlike other married women of her age, Ichiko has not borne a child. Both her relatives and her clients at work give her unsolicited advice about this and diminish her desirability of a woman in her mid-30s. She’s also bombarded by these expectations about marriage on a daily basis through the media, in which achieving beauty and motherhood are depicted as of utmost importance for women. Even though Ichiko doesn’t agree with these standards, she slowly begins to feel insecure. Societal expectations make her feel worthless, and she feels pressured to conform.
Ichiko eventually decides to seek an escort to deal with her problems. She purposely schedules her appointments on days Otoya is meeting Mitsuki to retaliate against her husband, preserve her pride as a woman and distract herself from her failure to fulfill the traditional role of a wife. While this provides some momentary relief to her stress and unhappiness, it also damages the marital relationship she had initially sought to protect.
Ichiko later discovers that her feelings towards the escort is based more on a “fantasy”. The sense of adventure makes her lust after him, but the idea of actually dating him isn’t appealing. The reality of dating a younger man, who is at a very different stage in life, has its own set of difficulties, making Ichiko wary of the idea. Seeking the escort was enjoyable, because it was convenient and easy, with no strings attached. She feels more connected and compatible to Otoya in comparison. Ichiko also becomes aware that her familiarity and similarities to Otoya caused her to have a diminished sex drive, but she comes to terms with it.
“Unmanly” Housework and Toxic Masculinity
Like Ichiko, Otoya also struggles with not fitting into societal norms about gender roles. Toxic masculinity often makes it difficult for men to cast aside their “pride and bravado” without judgement —an issue Otoya’s sister points out through her observations of her brother and her ex-husband. These toxic ideas about masculinity also make it especially hard for men like Otoya, who have qualities traditionally considered “feminine.” For example, when he meets up with some friends and expresses his interest in being a house husband, he is ruthlessly shut down by his male friends. They view him as irresponsible and lazy for having such thoughts, implying that his desires also make him less of a man. It’s in those moments, despite their marriage problems, Otoya is able to talk to Ichiko about his insecurities.
Ichiko is like a best friend to Otoya—one of the few people he can be vulnerable with. She finds his feminine qualities to be attractive and appreciates him. He trusts her deeply, because she accepts him for who he is wholeheartedly.
However, he is unable to be honest with her regarding the issue of their sexless marriage since it involves her directly. Toxic masculinity impedes Otoya from finding a healthy emotional outlet, straining his marital and extramarital relationships with Ichiko and Mitsuki. Eventually, Otoya realizes that his relationship with Mitsuki might have been a rose-tinted infatuation borne from his desire for companionship. Even though it’s unintentional, Otoya simultaneously causes Ichiko to become deeply insecure about herself and gives Mitsuki false expectations by using her to superficially balance his relationship with his wife.
When Otoya decides to end his relationship with Mitsuki, it ends with a violent genital injury, and he develops Erectile Dysfunction (ED) due to the psychological trauma of the event, which only makes him more insecure. While he is going through this, he begins to understand the shame Ichiko feels whenever she receives remarks criticizing her “womanhood,” especially from her mother who demeans her for not having children yet. ED unfortunately damages his self-esteem as both a husband and a man. The effects of being unable to have sex is twofold—he cannot have children though conventional means, and sex is often linked to manhood. His insecurites worsen when he discovers that Ichiko has been seeking a young and handsome escort for sex. Otoya is “afraid of being compared to him” and becomes self-conscious of his desirability as a man.
Otoya finds himself upset about the adultery, but eventually realizes it’s hypocritical of him to feel jealous. Just as Ichiko had sought an outside relationship to cope with her problems, he had done the same. The both of them had tried to find solace in their outside relationships, but they gradually realize they ultimately prefer each other. However, these self-revelations come at the cost of gaining emotional scars from their extramarital relationships.
Yet, despite the nature of their sex lives, they are often there for each other. In some of their most vulnerable moments in the manga, such as when Otoya finally discloses the circumstances behind his ED and when Ichiko’s mother is verbally abusive towards her daughter, both Otoya and Ichiko comfort each other amidst the unresolved issues they have with each other. Ichiko and Otoya are supportive and content with each other, which challenges the assumption that couples must adhere to traditional gender roles to be happy.
This type of dynamic explains why they have trouble confronting their issues. While they would benefit from an honest conversation, their fears of potentially confirming irreconcilable differences unfortunately paralyzes them. What began as a desire to protect the positive aspects of their marriage, quickly spiraled out of control and created an endless amount of pain for everybody involved. It became increasingly difficult for them to be honest with each other as their situation became more convoluted.
By the end of volume 6, it’s implied that the couple will finally discuss their marriage in the next volume. It’s uncertain whether they will stay together, despite preferring each other over their extramarital partners, given the aftermath of the entire situation. Societal expectations of marriage damaged a relationship that otherwise functioned really well and the reason they had extramarital affairs in the first place stemmed from their insecurities and inability to fulfill those expectations. It is only by accepting that they fail to fit those boxes that there’s potential in salvaging their relationship.
A “Perfect” Marriage
On the other hand, Mitsuki and Shiro are the picturesque image of a perfect marriage—Shiro supports the family financially by working, Mitsuki takes care of household matters, and the two of them have a child. However, their family dynamic is actually toxic. Mistsuki constantly deals with her mother-in-law’s verbal abuse and is blamed by both family members and strangers for her son’s intellectual disability. Shiro doesn’t stop his mother’s verbal abuse and instead tells Mitsuki to simply ignore her. When Mitsuki asks for help, he states that she is better at taking care of household matters and he is doing his part contributing to the family by making an income. By hiding behind gender-normative roles, Shiro deflects any responsibility.
While Ichiko and Otoya’s relationship challenges the notion that following traditional gender roles within marriage is necessary for a happy relationship, Shiro and Mitsuki’s relationship showcases how destructive societal expectations can be even for those who do successfully imitate their prescribed molds. Mitsuki and Shiro’s sexual encounters are described as rape, which causes further emotional stress on Mitsuki. Since she feels trapped and doesn’t have a healthy outlet, Mitsuki resorts to physically hitting her son on occasion when he misbehaves. Her actions make her feel afraid of the kind of person she is becoming, and she develops a self-loathing for herself. Feeling like she’s failed as a mother, Mitsuki tends to be more critical of herself than everyone else around her. All her efforts in maintaining her marriage and family life constantly feels like it’s not up to societal standards, and it causes her mental state to worsen.
Mituski seeks Otoya as solace for her disastrous marriage life, but Shiro eventually finds out. He tells her that he has accepted a job transfer to Singapore, effectively forcing her to quietly put an end to her extramarital relationship. Feeling backed into a corner, Mitsuki asks Otoya about hypothetically becoming family, only to be rejected by him.
As a result of Mitsuki’s circumstances and unclear boundaries, her break-up with Otoya ends violently. They are both aware that the other is married, but Mitsuki saw him as her last shred of escape from the hell she was living in. The break-up is the last straw, and she unleashes all her built-up anger by stabbing him in the groin. Though hurt, Otoya tells Mitsuki to leave the scene, not wishing to expose her or the situation. When she arrives home, she confesses to Shiro about the physical assault.
With everything out in the open and the violent conclusion of her extramarital affair, Mitsuki feels like there’s nothing more she could lose. She openly voices her grievances and gives Shiro an ultimatum—that if they do not discuss their issues openly and commit to change, she will leave. During this time, Mitsuki deals with the added stress of finding out she’s pregnant with her second child, who is presumably hers and Shiro’s given that she has not had sex with Otoya in a long time.
It’s difficult for Shiro to grapple with the brutal reality of his marriage, but eventually he holds himself accountable and decides to take on more responsibility in the relationship. When Mitsuki needs time to rest, he juggles his job along with all the other duties she originally managed. By being in her shoes, he feels the stress firsthand, which allows him to empathize with Mitsuki and develops greater respect for her. Shiro tells his mother to complain to him directly and commits to seeking outside guidance for his son’s potential intellectual disability.
He begins to heed Mitsuki’s advice and finally treats his wife as an equal. While the author doesn’t handle every part of their relationship well (particularly on the topic of marital rape), there is an overall message that a marriage where both parties are supportive, communicative and loving is much more fulfilling than trying to live up to cishetereonormative expectations of marriage. Once Shiro stops pushing all family matters onto Mitsuki and partakes in helping her, their relationship finally begins to change. Their story hammers home that all couples are hurt by normative boxes, even ones who can put on a convincing show of being the supposed perfect family.
The Harmful Lie of Gender Roles
The two married couples’ depicted in the manga show the damaging effects that cisheteronormative societal expectations can have on marriages. Instead of encouraging relationships based on mutual support, communication and consent, these limited social norms cause harm by imposing unrealistic standards that don’t take into consideration each couple’s specific needs. Society focuses too much on portraying a specific “type” of marriage as the ideal rather than on a couple’s overall well-being. Through the convoluted relationships that are portrayed in 1122: For a Happy Marriage, the manga strives to spark conversations regarding the problematic nature of these expectations. The series challenges preconceptions of marriage and examines why people engage in these rigid notions. As discussing such problems can be discouraged because it defies the status quo, for this manga to shed light on a deeply complex issue is bold and admirable.