Clearing something up: 28 = 15 cont.

The author of the previous question has been so kind as to stop by and explain what she meant a little more in full. As she said, the space in the formspring box is quite limited and sometimes people aren't able to make themselves clear. To note for future questions from others, I'm always reachable by email at imnopicasso@gmail.com, although I can be bad or slow at responding sometimes.... I try to do my best. If you do email me, though, be sure to clarify whether or not you want the question posted in public or not! Usually I respond privately, but if it's a question I've gotten a lot of different emails about, sometimes I'll post the response. Never will do, if you ask me not to, however.

Here was her response:

The space to ask questions was limited, so I didn't get to explain further. My friend is actually my daughter's friend and she didn't mean anything negitive. She was trying to explain to me the difference in the dating culture between Americans and Koreans. It was just from her experiance. She grew up in American but had to move to Korea with her family when her father was stationed in Korea. She spent 3 years there. What she meant was that the young people in Korea don't move as quickly into relationships as Americans.

For example, teens start dating so young here and the relationship can quickly move from kissing on the first date to being more physical within a week. In Korea, she found that most people start dating later and it could take knowing someone a couple of months before the guy would attempt to even hold her hand.

She was trying to explain that she was having issues with American guys trying to move so quickly from saying "Hey, I like you" to "Hey, let's sleep together."

The example of subtracting the age was just trying to show that the Koreans she knew didn't jump into serious relationships as early as Americans.

I didn't mean to offend you or imply that your boyfriend wasn't mature. I was just trying to ask your opinion about the pace at which relationships move when dating a Korean man vs. an American man.

I have read your blog from the beginning and admire your dedication to teaching. I can understand, looking back on how I phrased the question, why you would have taken it the way you did. I apologize if I offended you or anyone else with the way I worded my question.

To begin with, I would say that even by thinking of it in terms of age (which I don't think is the best way to explain it -- it's a little more complicated than that), thirteen years is quite extreme. My boyfriend does happen to actually be 28, and when I imagine dating a fifteen year old, I think more of giddy behavior, petty fighting and general flightiness -- irresponsibility and a childish mindset. The timestamps on appropriate timing of physical aspects of the relationship is one of the last things I think of, which is perhaps why I took the question in the wrong way to begin with. And no, the idea that Koreans are "childish" is not a new one, unfortunately. It's something I've heard (I think we've all heard) pretty often before. Which is why I don't think imagining it in terms of age is very helpful in general. Like I said, my boyfriend works and works hard, contributes to his family and is very responsible.

Your daughter's friend, I would imagine, may have been dealing with university aged men. Or, at least, that is where I notice this "lag" in maturity. It's generally known amongst Koreans that there is a huge difference between a pre-army service and post-army service man, and there's another big gap between university student and company worker. But that's all pretty normal, and in line with what goes on in the West, right? The difference is that American university students tend to have a bigger gap between themselves and American high school students than the Korean counterparts, for the simple reason that most Americans leave home for university. They live in dorms or apartments, do their own laundry, usually work some form of part time job, possibly pay their own bills, cook for themselves and generally have all of the freedoms that come along with that kind of responsibility. Korean university students, on the other hand, tend to live at home. And a (decreasing) number of Koreans continue to live at home, even after university graduation, until marriage.

So, naturally, there is a lag in maturity there, in that regard. But not always. As with everything, it depends on the person.

As far as a gap in the timing of a physical relationship.... I mean, that's a hard question to answer. I could give you a line around the block of women (both foreign and Korean) who would definitely beg to differ. Men are men, and people are people, -- desire is desire, and things will happen, as they are wont to do, regardless of culture. If you catch my drift.

I think where the difference lies is not so much in the across-the-board "rules" of physical relationships, so much as in the disparity between a "conservative" American and a "conservative" Korean.

Korea has been modernizing and Westernizing at a break-neck pace, and the young people are becoming more independent and more rebellious toward the traditional ways of life in a pattern that naturally follows -- the difference between a 30 year old Korean man and a 20 year old Korean man, and the ideals that each holds in regards to dating is pretty astounding. And the gap between a conservative Korean and a liberal Korean, in regards to such things, is pretty big. Whereas a conservative American man may wait ten dates to sleep with a woman for the first time, a conservative Korean man is more likely to push it up into the months-to-years territory. And probably won't touch you at all for several dates. Both of their liberal counterparts, however, are likely to grab your hand straight away, and try it on by the first or second date. The funny thing is, within the frame of the original question, in my experience, the ones who try it on the quickest have usually been the least responsible, most childish of the bunch.

Skinship (or non-sexual physical affection) is also in and of itself a different ballgame. I've had girlfriends who slept (or who were intending to sleep) with a man on the first date turn right around and complain about how he tried to kiss, hold hands, or otherwise touch them far too early in the evening. That will sound strange to someone who hasn't been living or dating in Korea very long, but to me (and to them), it makes perfect sense. A man trying to casually touch you too soon, and especially in public, generally gives the feeling of being too aggressive and possibly of having the wrong intentions, in a manner which is completely unrelated to whether or not he is invited up at the end of the night.

The long and the short of it is, the rules are not just on a different scale or in a different order -- they're completely different. And that's why trying to create a /=/ relationship between them is so difficult -- because, as far as I can tell, there is no such relationship. It's just a matter of relearning your "instincts". Which, oddly enough, myself and most of my friends have found to be most difficult in reverse. As in, we find it more difficult to shift back to the Western way of thinking than we did adjusting to the Korean way to begin with. I assume that's what your daughter's friend is going through, as well.

It's something that's very difficult to explain (at least for me), and I don't know if I've done it much justice, so I can understand why your daughter's friend may have resorted to putting it into such terms. Because, in truth, it's very difficult to verbalize to someone who doesn't already know.


Cyndi said...

Thank you for your follow-up to my question. Yes, my daughter's friend is finding it very difficult to adjust now that she is back in the US. She doesn't understand how her friends, who are between the ages of 17 and 22, have no trouble holding hands, kissing or even sleeping with guys withing the first few dates.

I kind of fall into the category of "Mom" to most of my daughter's friends. I have the mind set of "Ask me a question and you'll get an honest answer." I've had questions about school, friendships, dating, sex, clothing, music...Let's just say a lot of these kids find it easy to talk to me and I have no problem giving straight answers to questions they would never ask their parents about.

In this situation, I told my daughter's friend she should never do anything unless she was comfortable with it and if the guys have a problem with the boundaries she has set, then it's their issue, not hers.

Again, thank you for your response and I look forward to your future posts.

I'm no Picasso said...

Daughter's friend! Sorry.

I have a friend's mother who is similarly a close fixture in my life, and it was always nice to sit around and talk with her. My mom was also always close with my friends. It's nice to have that other perspective, I can imagine especially if you aren't able to be open with your own mother about such things.

I mean, she will adjust back eventually I assume. I don't know why it's so difficult to go back in the other direction -- you would think it would be easier, but for me and for a lot of my friends who have been in Korea for 2+ years, the general consensus is that somehow it's just not. But we've only had a sparse few weeks here and there to try to do so.

In the meantime, you're right -- if a guy doesn't want to take it in stride, then he can take his walking papers. All the better, right?

Sidney said...

Possibly another thing to consider, I know at least in my situation, is the segregation of sexes for some Koreans. Coed schools are becoming more of normal thing now, but Keunseok & I were literally just talking about this two days ago. After elementary, he was in all-male middle school and high schools. He went to university for one year, but was mostly involved in non-girl related activities, then went off to the military. Even when he came back and went back to school, his major (Engineering) was made up of mostly all men. He was just not given the chance to interact with women very much at all. I don't know what you can draw from that, because I know he is a good man and a good boyfriend (though hardly romantic, but you decide if it's the 부산 남자 stereotype or what (kidding)). But it's just something else to consider.

I'm no Picasso said...

Well that's the other thing -- Busan had girlfriends in his very late teens/early 20s who he never even kissed. Yet a good percentage of my second and third graders (fifteen and sixteen) already have girlfriends, and I've even caught some of them kissing. Which is shocking, again, not because they're doing it, but because they're doing it in public.

I also had friends in the US who were virgins well into their 20s. And not because they were socially maladjusted or anything like that. So. It's just pretty complicated I guess.