What’s it about? Ryuto has always had a crush on his classmate, Runa, despite her being a gal with a reputation for being easy. His confession of his feelings is the first time he speaks to her, so he’s pretty shocked when she says, “Sure, let’s try it.” That same day, she takes him to her room, sits on her bed, and starts undressing! Will Ryuto hit a home run on his first day with his first girlfriend?
Everyone, I hope you have lots of hangers and storage space, because Our Dating Story: The Inexperienced Me and the Experienced You has a whole cargo hold’s worth of baggage to unpack about sexual relationships.
Right off the bat, I could probably write a whole article on the proliferation of gyaru romances in the last few years, despite the decline of the subculture a decade or so ago. These romances almost always ignore or defang the rebellious nature of the movement, instead focusing them as outgoing girlfriends for the invariably shy and withdrawn male leads, while providing fanservice with their provocative fashion styles. And of course, everyone always assumes they’re easy but the girls are actually virginal! These romances can be fine in a vacuum, like My Dress-Up Darling, but it’s a troubling pattern that makes a female-centric counterculture movement into yet another trope intended for male consumption.
…But I’m not writing that article, at least not today. However, it is important to consider Our Dating Story within that context. Nothing about this show can be discussed in a vacuum, because it is so specifically about sex. My point is, gal characters all tend to be cut from similar cloth: more innocent than they seem, friendly and flirtatious but shy and lacking in experience when it comes to actual sex, so as not to be too intimidating. So, when it’s confirmed that Runa is very much not a virgin, it’s downright refreshing.
This is, however, complicated by the nature of her relationship with sex. Runa is willing to try dating most people who ask, which is how she got her reputation. In her mind, “dating” means “giving the guy sex,” which is why she invited Ryuto into her bed right away. This doesn’t mean she enjoys sex; in fact, she says she sees sex as a “duty” in order to keep the guy interested. This has locked her into a vicious cycle: the only guys who ask her out are the ones who see her as a sex object, she sleeps with them right away, and they get tired of the relationship and leave after they’re finished using her in a couple months. When word spreads that she’s single again, the cycle begins anew.
Naturally, these aren’t the kind of guys who are interested in making sure Runa is enjoying herself, and as a result, she’s completely out of touch with her own sexual desire. She’s never had a chance to explore sex as a source of pleasure for her own self. The most heartrending part of this is that it’s the reality many women and girls live with: sex is something you do to keep your boyfriend or husband happy and interested so they don’t stray. It’s as much an obligation as doing the dishes when your partner cooks you dinner, and about as fun. Too many people, in cultures all over the world, think of women as being incapable of enjoying sex.
But then, there’s also the implication that if a girl is willing to have sex too easily, it’s impossible for men to respect her, and that Ryuto is some kind of special savior who is here to teach her how to treasure her own body. This is also a false premise – the right time to have sex in a relationship is when both parties want to and feel ready. Waiting longer until there’s a ~deep emotional connection~ doesn’t automatically make the sex better or more meaningful than when two people are just horny and attracted to each other. The story doesn’t shame Runa for being sexually active, but it also doesn’t seem to consider that some girls can have lots of sex, both casually and in the context of a relationship, just because that’s what they want.
And this brings us right back around to the concept of the virginal gal girlfriend. Runa may not be a virgin, but I wouldn’t say that she’s awakened sexually either. She’s a pretty typical gal character in pretty much every other way: judged for her appearance but sweet, outgoing but sincere, speaks in a slangy way but never, ever rude or disrespectful or loud, unlike those nasty, unladylike real-life gals who drink and smoke and swear in public. She’s not very interesting as a character, rather than a concept. As a result, the story carries the taint that Runa’s casual attitude toward sex needs to be “fixed” by Ryuto, the good sweet boy who is so different from all the boys who took advantage of her before.
But also, the part where Ryuto looks at Runa and says, “If we do end up doing it eventually, I want to make sure that you really want to do it with me,” is really sweet! Really, really sweet!! And then she smiles and replies, “If I ever do want to have sex with you, then I just gotta say so, right?” It’s such a good and healthy conversation about consent and respect that I would love to see more of.
Too bad it comes at the tail end of 20 minutes in Ryuto’s head because that guy, well, kind of sucks. Much of the episode is dominated by his unpleasantly neurotic internal monologue that completely precludes any more subtle character moments. The worst part is when she leaves him alone in her room, he thinks he sees some lacy lingerie in her drawer and opens it up. It’s such a gross invasion of privacy that it’s incredibly hard to root for him for the rest of the episode. In that moment; he’s just making the same assumptions about her as every other guy she’s dated and treating her with the same disrespect.
I really, really don’t know what to make of Our Dating Story from the first episode alone. On the one hand, it seems to want to explore how sex and feelings can be interconnected, and how young women can feel pressured into sex before they’re ready. But then again, it’s caught up in purity culture and doesn’t seem to consider that young women absolutely can have sex without a lot of feelings and enjoy it just fine. I’ll probably give it at least a couple more episodes and hope that Ryuto is neither deeply obnoxious nor deeply boring, and that Runa gets a little bit more personality outside of the usual “cute gal girlfriend” type.