4.16.2010

How to spot a 나쁜놈.

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!

Okay. I don't have loads of experience on this one, because I sort of get on really well with the 바람둥이. And I kind of tend to assume every man is 바람둥이 until proven innocent. And I also haven't gotten to a point in a relationship with a Korean man where I'm taking it seriously enough to worry about what all else he has going on that I may not be aware of. I'm kind of a free spirit about these things, until I meet one person who I really, really jive with. Therefore, I don't tend to pay a lot of attention to "warning signs" or what-have-you -- perhaps the K-boy bloggers will be able to offer more advice, as they have more experience.

That having been said, I think the first thing I can think of to say in response is that, the biggest signs of a playboy you can watch out for in a Korean men are this: the biggest signs you can watch out for in a playboy, period.

Men are men, sex is sex, relationships are relationships. Of course, the culture is vastly different, and that causes all kinds of confusion. I'll get into that in a second. But the most important thing to remember is that, if something seems sketch within the context of your own culture, it's more than likely sketch within the context of his as well. Unaccounted for time/nights in other places. Dodging common everyday questions and giving oddly vague responses. Taking long phone calls in the bathroom. Things of that sort. Sketch in the US, sketch in the ROK.

Now. Here's something I've been absolutely dying to get into: Remember that thing about sweet talking here? Seriously. Don't overlook that.

One huge difference I've noticed between Western guys and Korean guys is that Western guys will generally go out of their way to make it clear they're not interested, even when, sometimes, they are, whereas Korean guys can seem about ready to marry you when they have absolutely no intention of ever seeing you again. I'm not exaggerating there, either.

Americans make jokes about sex. Koreans make jokes about love. This causes a lot of discomfort, confusion and social awkwardness on both sides. This could possibly be the biggest helpful thing to remember when trying to sort out who, among Korean guys, is 'dateable' and who is best reserved for a good night out, every now and then.

It's not uncommon, when in mixed company with young, untethered Western adults, to hear a bit of sexual jibing going back and forth. We will tease our friends -- people we have absolutely no intention of ever sleeping with -- with all kinds of sexual comments, and think nothing of it. It doesn't mean anything -- it's just talking amongst friends. We're extremely likely, however, to perk up and pay attention, when someone of the opposite sex starts 'joking around' with regards to romantic intentions. Take this, and flip it precisely 180 degrees, and you have the Korean version.

Koreans have love shots, couple games, and all kinds of other assorted nonsense that goes on during a good night out drinking that can lead a lot of Western women straight into the pits of despair, if they aren't used to taking this all in the spirit of lightness with which it is intended. Korean men will coo on and on about how beautiful your eyes are, how they want to marry you, how you should take a romantic vacation away together, etc etc etc. And it all means exactly bunk. They're just carrying on. Not in all cases, obviously, but largely, when done over a few bottles of spirits, that's about what it comes down to. They're having fun. And they're not aware that this 'fun' is something that means something entirely different in your culture. They're not trying to be baramdoongi -- Korean women understand all of this to be exactly what it is. They don't realize that you may not.

At the same time, if the average young Korean man were to look the average young Korean woman straight in the face and crack a joke about sleeping with her, it would likely go over about as well as a lead balloon. Keep that in mind. Because if he's making comments of that sort too much, too soon, it could be a sign that he is not showing you proper respect within the confines of his own culture, and he is not viewing as you may wish for a potential mate to view you. This is all generalization -- be forewarned -- but. But. Korean culture is not quite as... egalitarian as Western culture when it comes to the gender divide and 'promiscuity' (oh god). Which is not to say that Western culture has made all of its amends with this issue -- it most certainly has not. But I'd dare say we've come a fair bit farther than Korea has, at this point. In my opinion, from my experience, the average Korean man is not going to take a woman who 'puts out' (oh god, oh god...) as seriously as a Western man might. A good sign that you might have a bad boy on your hands, when dealing with Korean men vs. Western men, would be him making any kind of sexual comments at all.

Now. This all gets horribly garbled when you're dealing with a Korean man who has had some experience with other foreigners. If he has adjusted to Western culture, he may understand that this kind of thing is more common, and he might actually end up coming off worse for it, because he may not be quite aware of where the line is with this kind of thing yet. So you have to just use your gut in sizing up what exactly is going on.

I realize that this is all exactly zero useful to someone who is in a committed relationship with a Korean man. But I feel like it was important to say anyway. As for relationships, like I said before, I don't actually have much experience there, and the only thing I know to tell you is, again, at the end of the day, you just have to go with your gut. If something just doesn't feel right, and it eeks away at the back of your mind, then there is probably a problem.

A few of things I will say: If you're in a serious relationship with anyone, including a Korean man, and you're worried about how seriously he may be taking you....

1. You need to. Meet. His. Friends.

If you are really his girlfriend, then you should be involved in his social circle. The more plugged in he allows you to be with his social life, the more permanent you are. The exception here, with Korean men, comes with the family. It's not normal for Koreans to introduce significant others to parents until the intentions are quite serious -- I'm talking marriage. So don't worry about that. But friends. Meet them. Get to know them. And get to know him a lot better for it.


2. How comfortable is he being seen in public with you?

Always wanting to go back to your place to watch a movie is not, frankly, a very good sign. First of all, that whole "go back to my place and hang out" thing doesn't really even exist in Korea, because usually both parties are living at home with parents. Most 'nice' Korean men I've met have balked to high heaven and turned seventeen shades of red at the first suggestion of stepping foot into my apartment, without other people around. It's largely seen as improper. So if he's totally cool with chilling back at your place right off the bat, that's a little odd.

Furthermore, if he seems hesitant to be seen out and about with your, or showing any kind of affection in public toward you (and I don't mean kissing -- that's just not done in public in the ROK -- I mean holding hands and the like, all the normal stuff you see other Korean couples doing all the time), then that's a fucking problem. He may be uncomfortable with being seen with a foreign woman, which is a big sign that he's just testing the waters with you and either not willing, or not capable, of taking a relationship with a foreign woman seriously. Or it could be because he's afraid to get spotted out by someone who knows him, and also knows his other (Korean) girlfriend.

If you're a couple, then you should be doing all the normal things that couples do. Out in the open. Not only in your aparment, and not only in your neighborhood. If he seems to only want to stick around where no one he knows is likely to be, that's something to think about.

and finally....

3. Listen to how he talks about "foreigners". Because he's talking about you.

If you're serious about this man, you need to pay very, very close attention to how he seems to view 'foreigners'. If he always seems to put 'foreigners' in a definitively different category than 'Koreans' (although this is generally normal in Korea), you need to watch that. Because it takes an incredibly enlightened person to properly handle an intercultural relationship, particularly if they are going to do so within Korean society. It's normal to refer to foreigners as 'foreigners' when he's talking about something that has to do with being a foreigner, or something that differentiates foreigners from Koreans. It is not, in my opinion, on to be refering to you constantly as a 'foreigner', or 'my foreign girlfriend', or to other foreigners as such, when he's talking about something that has absolutely nothing to do with being a foreigner. Watch how and when he classifies foreigners, and how and when he feels the need to make the distinction.

At the end of the day, if you're really serious about him, you're going to need him to see you as you, first and foremost, and not as a foreigner. Because you two are certainly going to get quite enough of that out of absolutely everyone else around you. And he's going to have to be man enough to face that down if he wants to continue down this road with you.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great post, I think you're the most sensible k-blogger out there ;)

I personally have no intention of getting into a relationship with a Korean man. If it happens, then it happens, okay, but I personally am not willing to put in all the effort to all the things that it will entail. I admire those who can, but I'm too lazy. All I do is light flirting and that's it. I'm very content with that :)

Amanda said...

So you have to just use your gut in sizing up what exactly is going on.
::

Excellent point. Nearly every bit of your post could be applied to dating any man anywhere in the world, but this sentence in particular sums it up.

I'm no Picasso said...

Amanda -- Basically. I mean, that's really all there is to it.

Sara said...

great thoughts. do u think its weird that we can so easily point out all the trademark patterns of dating a good korean man? i feel like most girls who are dating a korean man can read your post and think "thats EXACTLY what ive experienced..." its a little unsettling actually... what do u think?

Sara said...

... or is it more the case of korean culture being extremely more homogeneous, not just korean men in particular...?

I'm no Picasso said...

I think it's more a case of the cultures being different in trademark ways. I think a Korean woman dating a Western man could probably write up a very similar list, and have all kinds of other Korean women say that that's exactly how the Western men they've dated have been.

There are just some really clear-cut differences in the practices, that can look a lot more definitive when you strip them down to general points. It doesn't mean dating every Korean man is the same, or dating every Western man is the same -- it's just harder to see and figure out our own patterns in our culture within our own culture. When you talk to Koreans about habits that Westerners have, you'll endlessly have these moments of, oh yeah... I never thought about that before, but you're right -- we *do* do that.

I think this is just another case of that.

Tiffani said...

Good post. I especially agree with you about the 'listening to your gut' thing...I've learned the same lesson over and over again (bad me!).

The other thought I had, though, was that you had a previous post about 'saving face', and I think that might come into play here? Because if a guy told a 'white lie' to me about where he was - unless he was specifically buying me a gift or something - that would be a huge red flag in the States. But here it might not be so bad, is my understanding. Can you comment on that?

<3!

Diana E.S. said...

Well said!

Figuring out if a guy's a player or not just takes time. If he consistently treats you well and calls you his girlfriend and makes time for you over the course of six months/one year, he's probably a decent fellow. Don't do anything you'd regret doing (like giving your heart over to a player) with anyone you've known a short period of time, no matter what he (or she, for that matter) says. Until you've spent time with a person in many different settings under many different conditions, you don't really know that person. Even if your hormones tell you that you do. (Can you tell I'm not a fan of the 100-days proposals oh so common in this country?)

Kel said...

I refer to S as "foreign girlfriend" sometimes, because it's hilarious...but homos get double standards, right? ^_^

I'm no Picasso said...

Tiffani -- I can comment on it, but probably not intelligently.

That's been a huge struggle for me, obviously, and it's one I haven't quite worked out, personally. I cannot tolerate lying out of my S.O. -- not even tiny white lies. I guess I've got 'trust issues' or whatever, but it's not something I can survive in a relationship with. I also put the sweet talking kind of in this category.

These two things make it impossible for me to consider someone a serious partner. The sweet talking is not something all Korean guys do, mostly just the younger, smoother ones, so that's fine. The white lies are... if I ever get to the point where I'm considering a serious relationship with a Korean man, we'll just have to deal with that together. Because I think my cultural ideas about it are too deeply-rooted to overlook it in a committed relationship.

As for how that works in a relationship, I can't really comment, because I've never experienced it. In my opinion, telling a million tiny lies to 'save my feelings' makes someone a bad boyfriend. But, culturally, I'm not quite sure how it all adds up.

Diana -- Right on.

Kel -- Double standards for the gay, of course. Also, it took me about five minutes to work out why you would call S "foreign". I'm an idiot.

PD said...

good god, liz...sometimes i think you're really a korean girl posing as an english teacher from america. and this post only reinforces that. but i'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt because i want to believe that you are this incredibly bright young woman who has figured us koreans out. :) that said, i'm going to refute two minor points you made about us korean men. but before i do, let me tell you a little bit about me.

i am, believe it or not, a full korean-korean. i did, however, spend my formative years in america, having gone to a foreign language school here in seoul and an american university as well as a grad school there as a coveted english major. :) in short, i am a 유학생. or i was. hence, my "proficiency" in english. okay, now that we got that out of the way, let me tell you a little bit about me and my never-been-outside-of-korea friends here in seoul.

when we meet korean girls, whether we've known them for 10 minutes or 10 years, we OPENLY make sexual innuendos and overtures because we found that honesty works best when trying to get laid. we do know some korean guys who are more shy or reserved or reluctant or whatever. but not us. and not those we know and have encountered. because really, most korean guys hate 내숭. we loathe it and don't want to waste time with chicks who are 내숭. we like honesty. directness. and hey, if you're at a club which is all about booking, you're there to meet guys. and we know that you women have hormones like we men and we know you get horny like we do. so why beat around the bush? honesty works and a lot of korean guys have figured that out.

koreans can be very blunt and when it comes to sex, many of us are no different. and yes, some of these are intended for one night stands, but a lot of my friends, myself included, have had one night stands that led to long-term relationships and i almost ended up marrying mine.

so while i'm blown away by your analysis for much of it is dead on, i do think you're slightly off when it comes to us joking about sex. we do it and we do it often. it doesn't mean we want to have sex with the girl and then date her, but if the sex is too good, it often leads to relationships.

two, if a korean man wants to spend some quality time together watching movies, drinking soju and just talking or cuddling in your apartment rather than go out and be seen, yes, he wants to have sex with you. but he also probably wants to chill and spend some quality, private time with you because as you know, it's a luxury in korea and you know how much we koreans love luxury. so i really don't think there's anything wrong with a korean guy wanting to take advantage of that extra benefit of dating someone who lives alone if the opportunity is there.

that's all i have to say. you should really get your own TV show in korea...or at least a newspaper column.

Unknown said...

Speaking as a foreign man who's only lived here in Ulsan for about a year ,(13 months, but who's counting?)

This post was really quite useful. Putting aside all the common sense stuff, there's some insight on Korean dating culture here that nobody else is telling me. Thanks.