Dating culture in south korea
In the crude social economy of heterosexual male expats living in South Korea, having a Korean girlfriend is a sort of measure of success.
You can learn the language and forge all of the platonic friendships with locals that you like, but as far as anyone else is concerned in the expat scene you haven’t truly “arrived” until you have a Korean girlfriend or spouse.
A young Korean couple gallivants about town during a dating excursion wearing matching T-shirts, broadcasting to everyone that they are, indeed, dating. Reluctantly I put mine on, then prayed that I wouldn’t run into any of the British and Irish guys from my expat soccer team in the city that day. Our matching attire would soon be broadcast on Facebook for all to see anyway. With dating in Korea, texting becomes a means to keep in constant contact with your beloved. I know it might sound inconsequential, but the endless stream of text messages and the pressure I felt to respond to each one in a timely fashion quickly grew tiresome and stressful.
Another difference between American dating and Korean dating arises in the realm of text message communication. I was taking the train from Seoul to Busan one evening and talking with the young woman beside me when my phone died. A constant affirmation and reaffirmation that you do, indeed, have someone with whom you are romantically intertwined, and the digital messages you are exchanging are a constant testament to this. I just wanted to be alone for a bit and read a Yukio Mishima novel in my apartment, but there seemed to be no respite.
She started chewing on it and then opened her mouth in distress. I was still battling intermittent bouts of nausea (motion sickness vestiges from my time at the amusement park) provoked by the car’s unsteady maneuvering, and would periodically roll down the rear passenger window to let some cool evening air come rushing onto my face to abate this.
Every time I did this my girlfriend would rouse slightly from her light slumber and complain that she was cold.
I joined a language exchange website, one of those myriad online venues on which lonely singles can contact one another whilst hiding behind the thinly veiled guise of ostensibly just looking for someone with whom to practice learning a new language. She asked if I wanted to be her boyfriend and I said sure, why not. On Monday she texted me after work and asked if I wanted to go see the cherry blossoms with her on Dalmaji Hill, a touristy café, art gallery and wedding hall-lined promontory overlooking the East Sea and Busan’s bright and bustling beachfront down below. We met when I got off work and walked there together.
Sometimes the photos were doctored before being posted: floating cartoon hearts appeared by my head or hers in the uploaded images, rosy circles were affixed to my cheeks in a photo she took of me bent over my ice cream at the local Baskin Robbins. ” An endless barrage of text messages and cutesy emoticons deployed throughout the day not in search of any sort of significant information but rather sent for the simple gratification of knowing that someone will respond to them.
Another facet of Korean dating culture that has no parallel in the Occident is the saccharine phenomenon of “couple T’s.” This is exactly what it sounds like. It was the day we went for shaved ice together at a dessert café nearby that she appeared at the doorstep of my apartment bearing two cerulean blue polo shirts she had purchased for us. To know that you are not alone in this conformist competitive society constantly pressuring you to be thinner, be better looking, study harder, get a nose job, get a boyfriend or girlfriend, get married.
One Friday after the gym I met her at a Starbucks located on the bottom floor of the same building where my gym was located.
She informed me that the following day we would be joining her brother and her brother’s girlfriend on a trip to an amusement park in a nearby city. Her brother and her girlfriend were celebrating one hundred days of coupledom, another significant Korean dating milestone that goes unacknowledged in the West.
Not cries of elation but cries of real, gut-wrenching terror. Like she thought she was actually going to fall out of her seat and die, which of course is the feeling of thrilling weightlessness the ride was engineered to induce, but which most of us can parse away from the reality of an actual threat to our wellbeing. But as I tried to calm her and reassure her that she was OK the nausea was mounting within me as well, to the point that when the ride finally stopped its seemingly endless pendulum course and we were back on level ground but our restrictive harnesses hadn’t been released yet, I was deeply concerned that I was going to projectile vomit in front of the other ride-goers if I wasn’t let out of my seat soon.