3.31.2010

Korean Dating Culture: Where is the love?

Alright. A little love for the K dating culture, as promised. This post is going to involve a lot of coming clean on the Liz Persona. I have a feeling quite a few people will be quite surprised to hear some of this coming out of me. But I'm going to do my best to lay that aside, and be really honest.

1. Don't touch my bag. But yeah, I'll take your coat.

Okay. So I can admit it. I appreciate chivalry. I'm a feminist and all that, and I don't expect a guy to go jumping through hoops -- I'm just as fine with a guy who doesn't make gestures as with one who does. But I appreciate the gestures. I appreciate so-called "good manners". I was raised in the south, after all, and you can rail against that as much as you want, but a little part of it just stays with you.

I have never one time been on a date in Korea without getting a text or phone call before my taxi even arrives home asking if I've made it home safely, thanking me for my time, and telling me to sleep well. At first, this confused the hell out of me. But I've become quite used to it, and I like it.

2. Language mistakes.

Okay. You can sound the hypocrite alarm if you want to, but it has less to do with thinking anything is cute (in fact, it has nothing to do with thinking anything is cute), and more to do with the fact that I just really, really like the way second language speakers talk. I dig poetry, right? And there's something in the way that a second language speaker will come at conveying an idea at times that just strikes me as purely beautiful. They aren't trapped in language cliche or idioms, and sometimes they have to get quite creative to get their point across. I'm constantly surprised and pleased by the way this happens, and I feel like you can see a lot of a person's personality in it. I've spent far, far too much time around second language speakers to have even an ounce of condescension toward it left in me. It's admiration, if nothing else. They're doing something that I have never been able to do, something I desperately want to be able to do in Korean. I'm still floored by this, everyday. And the truth is, there's nothing I find sexier than a man I have to admit is, in any way, smarter than I am.

Of course, this isn't a part of Korean dating culture, but it definitely plays a role in inter/// dating.

3. The Korean ideal of masculinity.

A lot of Western guys love to take digs on this one, don't they? And that's fine. They're entitled to their opinions. What these particular types don't like to face is that a lot of us women are so fucking relieved to get outside of the stereotypes. I like that Korean men aren't afraid to cuddle up to their buddies. I like that Korean men aren't afraid to be cute. I like that I've noticed a tendency, by and large, to just come out with some random, whimsical thought they've just had, without any fear of being perceived as poncey or, god forbid, "gay". I like that they'll get really excited when the food comes, because it's pretty, and want to take a picture.

I also like the fact that they'll turn right around and challenge their friend to an arm wrestling match right there at the table to see who is top dog. That they'll scream and shout at each other in that way that only Korean men can sound. That they'll respond to any compliment about how big, strong, tall or tough they are as though you've just given them the best Christmas present ever.

I like both sides. I like that both sides are present and readily visible.

4. The friend zone: an absence.

This one is a double-edged sword. I hate it as much as I appreciate it, to be honest, sometimes more on certain days. For the most part, with a Korean man, you know exactly where you stand. They aren't, generally, good at being "just friends" with women, and they'll make no qualms about making it known when they're interested, in general. To them, to Korean culture, that's the way things are supposed to work, between a man and a woman. You don't get all this dancing around the issue at hand, is he/isn't he, are we/aren't we nonsense that goes down so often in Western dating circumstances. Although they may be shy, they aren't insecure, if that makes sense. They'll still act shy, but you'll know why it is they're acting that way. They're not super defensive about having an interest in a girl -- it's only natural. Nothing to be ashamed of.

5. PDA: an absence.

Look. I just hate PDA. I don't know why I do, but I do. I don't want some guy slobbering on my face in public. Not everyone within a ten mile radius needs to know that we're involved, or exactly how involved we are. For all my liberal ideas and big talking (and I do believe in everyone's right to be as sexual as they choose, without being judged for it, just to clarify), I am actually a very, very modest person. For me, there is a time and a place for everything, and, excepting the extremely rare night out with one too many jack cokes, for me the place for playing tonsil hockey is not the bar, the street corner, the coffee shop or the restaurant. I don't have a problem in the world with the fact that Korean culture outlaws this behavior. Not a personal one, anyway. And I appreciate that I no longer have to have bitchy little arguments about how I'm "ashamed" or what have you with significant others because I don't want his hand on my ass in the parking lot.

This closely relates to....

6. Taking it slow.

Okay. First of all, this is not all Korean men. I've met far more Korean men, in fact, who are more likely to beg you just get into the damn taxi with them and find a love motel than who are interested in taking you home to meet their mother. But. That's because a huge percentage of the Korean men I've met have been drunk as hell and in a bar at closing time. They don't speak for the whole, majority population. They are not looking for the same things as the men you encounter in your daily life -- the ones you meet at work, in the bookstore or at the coffee shop. Obviously. I guess that I'm just trying to clarify that this one is dependent upon the kind of situation you're dealing with, just as it would be in the West, and not give the impression that Korean men are all sexless saints. Because men are men, before they are any sub-category there within, right?

But. When you look at normal everyday life in Korean dating culture and put it up against normal everyday life in Western dating culture, in general, Korean men tend to move a lot more slowly. Physically, that is. There isn't pressure to get right into the bedroom to make it clear that everyone is really attracted to everyone else, and then try to sort out the aftermath after the fact. You can take your time, and it doesn't become an issue. In fact, it's expected. I like that. This goes back to my ideals being a hell of a lot less modest than my personal life actually is, most of the time. I certainly don't think that getting physical right of the bat removes the possibility for a long-term, healthy relationship, but I prefer, basically, to take the long way around, when I'm dealing with something serious. I think things can get way too complicated way too fast when you get into the physical stuff so soon. It puts too much pressure on the situation. And I don't need to worry about some guy either chucking me into the friend zone, or deciding to act like an asshat and make demands that are going to get him absolutely nowhere, while I'm taking my time making up my mind. In general, in Korea, the first kiss comes sometime after the first night together would come in Western culture. I like that. I like the fact that I'm free to take my time.

Okay. Now you wanna hear the really tacky ones? I'll give you two, and then I'll hit on my last two, my favorites.

7. 나만 .

This was one that came up big time when I was in Scotland. I don't like that this is the way I've become, but it is. Basically, while me and the kid were out with a couple of gentlemen, we found ourselves suddenly playing with our drinks and rolling our eyes at each other in boredom, as the two fellas chatted on and on and on about, of all things, video games.

Really? You're out with two girls and you're going to forego that situation to have the same conversation you have everyday sitting on the couch in your flat together? I looked the kid straight in the eye and said, "There is no way in hell this would ever happen in Korea...."

Korean guys are not about to let the ladies sit there looking bored. In fact, they'll rarely take their focus off of them for the entire night. They are fantastic at keeping the conversation going, making you laugh, even pulling out magic tricks when there's a lull just to keep you entertained. They'll refill your drink before you even get to the bottom, notice if you shiver or seem uncomfortable in your seat, and immediately do something to rectify the situation. They won't be looking around at other girls, and they certainly won't get lost in conversation with each other.

They're there with girls. GIRLS. They generally have an appreciation for that that I've rarely seen matched in any other culture. Call me a fucking princess, if you want, but I like it.

8. GQ as fuck.

Look. I'm just going to admit it. Looks, in general, are not that important to me. But style, while not being something I'll count a guy out for not having, will move a guy up a few notches if he does happen to pay attention to it. Am I proud of it? No. But hey, at least I'm not a height snob or something else like that, that a guy doesn't even have a chance of fixing.

What that style actually is rarely matters, so long as it's something. A personal expression, a little effort here or there. I know it's not nice. But it's true. And Korean guys have this one head and shoulders above Western guys, just as Korean women far surpass their Western counterparts in this realm.

Looks are important in Korea. Parts of that, I really don't care for. I don't give a fuck if a guy is 5'6, and I don't care for people carrying on about it like it matters. A person's external presentation has fuck all to do with who they are, and the qualities that really matter, in the end. At the end of the day, I will always take the ordinary looking guy who can keep my interest in conversation over the tall, dark and handsome mister in a suit who bores me to absolute tears when he opens his mouth. I think Korean culture, in general, takes it too far, sets the bar too high and negates too many other things in favor of the external.

But I appreciate a well-dressed man with a nice haircut as much as the next girl. And you can't swing a stick on the sidewalk in this city without hitting at least ten of them. And you can be damn sure no Korean guy is going to be showing up to a date in sweatpants without a fresh shave.

So there. I said it.

Now the two that are closest to my heart.

9. Family matters.

Yeah. I get tired of hearing, I can't come out tonight because I have to stay with my mom. I don't like that a grown ass man has a curfew and has to scurry home before a certain hour or else face his mother's wrath. But. At the end of the day, the most important thing to me is my family. And I appreciate a man who has the same values. When I see a man put aside his own desires in order to take care of his family, I feel like I am really looking at A Man. He knows what it is to value someone else's needs over his wants, and to take other people into account. And that is so fucking important when you're looking at getting involved in a relationship with someone.

In general, because of the communal aspect of Korean society, I have found Korean men to be far more willing to listen to your point of view, or even accept things that they don't even understand, because they see that in some way something is making you unhappy or uncomfortable. In Korean culture, preserving the group harmony comes before all else -- even, in some cases, common sense or rationality. And, while I have my struggles with that as an American, I appreciate that it means that someone doesn't always have to agree with you or have the same feelings as you to take your feelings into account. What matters isn't so much why you feel the way you do, or if you should feel the way you do or not, but rather, what can I do make sure you don't feel that way anymore? That is an aspect I have struggled long and hard to find in a partner, and one that I struggle with developing in myself as well. I like that it comes almost pre-built in the Korean mindset, thanks to the culture.

This leads nicely into....

10. Gentleness.

Okay. I'm no blushing flower. A Western man is likely to take one look at me and size me up as someone who doesn't need or want absolutely anyone to lift a finger to "take care" of me. And I can get really fucking irritated with the way this just doesn't seem to register with Korean men at all. To them, I am a woman. And women are fragile and to be treated with gentle care. Which really got on my last nerve in my first few months here.

But, when it comes to those more tender moments in life, sometimes it's nice to have the external persona overlooked. When a man looks down and sees that, on a cold day, I'm wearing nothing but thin tights, and immediately you see his face strain with worry, as he automatically moves to cover your legs with his coat, without even realizing that you're already pulling away. When he overrides his own hesitation to make physical contact with the opposite sex to offer you his arm on an icy road, because you are a little unsteady on your feet and he's worried that you might fall. When he looks absolutely horrified to see you come through the door carrying a heavy box and knocks over his chair jumping out of it to rush over and take it from you. Those moments can be nice.

And they ride over into the emotional side of things, as well. Where your Western male companions are more likely to accept your masculine presentation when times get hard, throw a slap on your back, tell you to buck up and buy you a beer, a Korean man is more likely just to see a girl who's having a hard time. Both are necessary -- I appreciate both equally. It's just nice to have the option. As much as it may mean that so many other things are assumed in the process, as well.

33 comments:

Kosaru said...

I guess it's gone backwards for me-- as someone who has mostly male friends in the States, I found most of the polite, gentleness, and inability to be 'just friends' charming at first, but eventually wearisome. I rarely felt like I was anything more than my gender, or my nationality. After coming back home I realized just how much I had missed that.

Mr Nameless said...

Man, what women wouldn't immediately want to marry a pair of guys that talk about video games during a night out? Crazy women, that's who!

I'm no Picasso said...

Kosaru -- I definitely still have my struggles with it. I just ended up highlighting the positive side in this post. I, moreso, have ended up distracted by the "nationality" part of your issue, and I certainly have a lot to say about that.

In other words, I hear you.

Billy -- you know what women wouldn't -- me and the kid. And so did the two gentlemen in question, as I'm sure you know as well. In the end, we forgave them. But man. We were ready to just walk out there for a hot second.

Anonymous said...

I agree wholeheartedly about the second language speakers use of language. Personally I think that second language speakers communicate more honestly. Not necessarily because they're more honest, but they just haven't picked up the obfuscation methods and social norms that native speakers have.

The other day I was confused and had to pause the conversation when my Korean friend talked about an enemy and used the word "pitiful" correctly, as in deserving pity. I (and almost every other native speaker) use the word solely in a denigrating manner.

This is also the reason why my collection of Korean notebooks has blossomed to over one hundred. Every week I go to E mart and see a notebook that says something like "It's a lovely day today. The best method to be happy is simply have seat with friends and people you love" If it's for 700 won, of course I'll buy it. Now when I have a bad day I just lay all of the notebooks out on my carpet and go though them.

babsie said...

this is by far the best entry ive come across in regards to dating. im moving to s korea soon and am looking forward to testing the waters. id let him hold my purse if it really made him happy though :)

t-hype said...

dang it. once again, i agree wholeheartedly with your post.

everyone of these reasons is why it's so damn hard to get along with korean korean guys and exactly why after i sware them off for a month, i'm crushing on another one. *sigh*

I'm no Picasso said...

Anon -- Right on. Basically, you've said it all.

babsie -- I'm glad to hear that. I have a feeling it's going to become quite popular, thanks to the growing number of Western women who are interested in Korean men.

t-hype: There are things I love and hate about both, to be honest. I can't really be said to favor either. What it all comes down to, obviously, is the individual at the end of the day. But there are things I miss from Western dating culture, and things I think I will miss from Korean dating culture if/when I leave.

si-h said...

made my way here from 'the grand narrative' and i'm glad i did!

i'm involved with a korean guy right now, and i have to really agree with this list. of course, i met him in america, so he's well aware of the way western guys treat women, and he's also a busan-man through and through, but overall he strikes me as more of 'A Man' than many of the western guys i am friends with just because of some of these things on the list.

or i'm just very biased ;)

Anonymous said...

absolutely love korean men. dated two of them and would love to have a korean boyfriend/husband. fidn western guys absolutely unattractive, but well, hard to find an asian boyfriend if you are a white girl living in europe...
I guess it would be much easier if I were in korea, which I am planning to do in the future, but still upsetting, that they only date korean girls here

Hot Yellow Fellows said...

I completely agree with all of this, especially the bits about manners (also raised in the South), attentiveness, and style. Another thing I love about second language speakers is how excited they get when they hear a word they don't know for the first time. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy when I teach a guy a word and he brings it up later on in the night or a few days later. And I love the way Korean men sound as well, the huffing and AIISH-ing. It's hard to explain in type or even in person since I can't replicate the sounds well.

Off-topic note, I'm applying with a middle school and have a few questions. Can I e-mail you, or is there a post you can link to about general advice for teaching middle schoolers/curriculum/etc.?

I'm no Picasso said...

Thank god you know what I mean about the sounds. I don't know how to describe that to anyone, or how to explain why it's so.... endearing/funny/sexy.... depending on who it's coming from.

No general posts about that yet, but I might do one soon. The best thing I ever heard about teaching middle school is, "If you want to find out what it's like to be a comedian bombing on stage, teach middle school."

You can email me at imnopicasso@gmail.com I'd be happy to help with anything at all!

Sara said...

i started reading your blog because i couldn't agree more with ur posts about korean dating culture. im currently dating a korean guy and he does pretty much everything you've said. i guess that makes him a "good catch" but im still skeptical... i feel like it would be so easy for him to be playing me, seeing as i dont know the language very well or the culture.

so i was wondering--- u mention distinct characteristics of a "good" korean man.... any specific characteristics or patterns i should look out for in korean men that mean otherwise?

love to hear your thoughts!

- MSA - said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
- MSA - said...

Hey, MSA from KCorner here. I'm a bit embarrassed, I normally ask permission before translating and posting anything. Sorry about that.
As for this entry, I had actually read it before but when I searched it I couldn't find it, so I started to think I had read it somewhere else (or that I had imagined it, hahaha). It's my turn to thank you so much for the link - I really really wanted to add this as well.
(Deleted the previous one because of some glaring grammatical mistakes).

I'm no Picasso said...

MSA -- No, please. Take whatever you want. I'm not one of those "career" bloggers -- I still consider this blog personal. And I'm happy to share whatever I've learned about Korean culture. "Help yourself", as Koreans are fond of saying.

Your site is really excellent -- I just wish it wasn't such a struggle to read through some of it. Thank god for high school Spanish classes.^^

strong.blee said...

WOW! this blog amazes me.. I was really searching for Korean dating culture, and yours was the first!
The reason is that, I was intrigued by K.dramas being showed here on Philippine TV. Every scene and character always leaves me in confusion>> "do they really act like that towards a girl?" and if they do, I like their kind of treatment. Rarely nowadays I see a guy who would treat a girl like a "woman".
But I wish and pray I could have a guy with same personality as of a Korean. ^_^

jhb said...

I retrieved my long-forgotten blogger log-in info just to comment on your awesome blog.

Your posts are quite accurate and very delightful. Props!

AddieMae said...

Addie-
I honestly think that this post was extremely helpful and I enjoyed your insight.

Crazy azn bitch said...

I agree with many things you have pointed out about Korean men but disagree at the same time. I a Korean American and also my mother is Korean who married my step father who is equally American as you. While it is beautiful to articulate in a second language what you normally would never hear the language barrier is one wall hard cross with that. Unless you become fluent with one particular language whether the Native Korean fellow become fluent in English or if you become fluent in Korean there will never be an exchange of emotions, ideas, gestures in words in a convoluted light. I have seen it with mother, I have seen it with myself, evidently there will be frustrations breech a barrier if one person of the relation cannot reach a point of deep fluency in one language they both speak. My mother can only express to me certain things in Korean about my step father she cannot directly tell him when her English is fluent and pretty good. When my Korean was inadequate I grew frustrated not being able to express some ideas and emotions i had deeply. I wanted to translate some words but because i wasn't fluent enough in Korean I could not. But now that I am fluent in both Korean and English I can express myself with almost equal fluidity as English. Also English I have realized is a language more aped to expressing oneself easily with excessive amount of words. Some words, as I have become an astute learner in Korean, do not exist in the Korean language such as the word misogyny. Ironically it doesn't exist in the Korean dictionary when Korea is one conservative misogynistic country itself.

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Anya Malts said...
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EnigmaticJack said...

I agree with what Crazy azn bitch stated. I've been texting and talking on Skype with a Korean woman. Just to clarify, I'm American and my Korean ability is limited at best. She can certainly hold a conversation using English but there are pauses where she's trying to find the right word to use, often times talking to herself out loud in Korean to figure out what she's trying to say. I do agree that hearing her speak English with all of the idiosyncrasies that come with that is an attraction to me. But I can imagine if things progress with us it could lead to frustrations.

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