Thursday, October 28, 2010

Relationships in Korea

Relationships in Korea are an interesting thing.  One of the first questions I would be asked upon meeting new Koreans (after my age) was "Are you married?"  When I would say no, I'm not, they would momentarily be taken aback before the next question:  "Do you have a boyfriend?"  To that I could answer in the affirmative.

"But why not married? ...You are 27 (in Korean age)!"

"...I'm enjoying my relationship right now, " I reply.

Blank stare.

"Uh, not time yet," I add.

"Ooookay," comes the response, sometimes accompanied by a strange look.  I'm not sure if it's confusion or pity or both.  At the ripe old age of 26 I suppose I have become a spinster in Korea.

One of my first months here, a co-teacher of mine read my palm and told me that according to my love line, I wouldn't marry before I was 30.  She seemed a little shocked by this, but I assured her it was okay.  My mother would prefer it that way, because then grand-babies would be the next step and she wasn't ready to be a grandma before the age of 50.

I didn't come to Korea expecting to meet anyone I would be interested in to date.  (Nor did I expect to stay more than one year!)  I was pseudo-in-a-relationship dating when I first arrived with a guy at home, but the distance and the newness of the relationship did not fare well and things there fizzled.

But as fate would have it I met a really awesome guy at a rooftop barbecue in June of 2008, about 3 months into my first year here.  We hit it off and hung out occasionally throughout the summer into the fall.  By the time the end of October rolled around, we were officially dating.  Now two years later, we are still together and still enjoying our Korea adventures.  To celebrate our two year anniversary, we enjoyed a delicious four-course dinner at Grissini, a nice Italian restaurant in Sangmu district.

The interior of Grissini.  This is a very nice, classy place you can take your dates if you want to really impress them!

So back to my original statement:  relationships in Korea are interesting.  These next few parts contain some serious and possibly controversial subject matter; just be warned.

Just the other day I was waiting to pick up a pizza for dinner for Britton and I at my local store.  I was passing the time playing games on my phone and half-listening to the conversations around me.  There was a guy and girl at the table next to me, whom for all intents and purposes, I thought, were dating.  At least, judging by the way they were acting, I hoped they were.

I think Britton described it best when he said many relationships here are those of "look at me/don't look at me/why aren't you looking at me?!?"  This is the very "game" that this couple played as they waited for their pizza.  The guy initially took his girlfriend's wallet to open it and count her money, to which he asked where all her money had gone and what did she spend it on.  She proceeded to punch him in the arm and tell him that she had bought the pizza, as well as some other things for him.  (This is what I was gathering based on my Korean ability.)  Of course, he wasn't too happy about being called out in front of a foreigner, so a mini-argument ensued.  This immediately led to stony silence for about a minute and a half until the girl started making sad pouty faces at him, saying "오빠...왜? 왜요?  오빠! (ㅜ_ㅜ)"  (In Korean, 오빠 means "older brother" but it can also be used as a term of endearment from a girl to her boyfriend.)  To this, he gave in and the two started talking in some super-secret Korean couple language even I couldn't hope to translate.

This couple illustrated what I have seen with many Korean couples:  the push and pull style of relationship.  If the guy is not paying attention to his girlfriend, she will do what she can to try and get his attention.  But once she has it, she often protests that he shouldn't look at her.  The guy is left confused, and unsure of what exactly he should be doing.

I have on some occasions seen the worst of situations in relationships here.  Some guys will try to exert their dominance in the relationship with demeaning or demanding comments, or sometimes even with violence.  Domestic abuse is not something you see a lot of in public in Korea, so it is unsettling for foreigners to witness such an assault.  The problem is, as foreigners, we can't get involved.  One wrong step and it could mean serious trouble for us.

This by no means is representative of every relationship and every couple in Korea, however.  It is merely an observation on couples and relationships that I have witnessed in my three years here.

1 comment:

  1. Congrats again to you and Britton on your anniversary. I know a lot of great relationships that have started in Korea :-)


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