Dating in Korea

by Sharon -- July 25, 2010

I’m going to just put this out there: if I were single in Korea, I wouldn’t exactly be a hot commodity to Koreans.  Although this is just a theory of mine, I think I have observed Korean couples enough within the past 4-5 months to feel like it’s true.  Here’s why…

Korean women are viewed by Korean men as porcelain dolls- pretty, fragile, thin, soft, wholesome, virtuous, and extremely fair skinned.  Women here don’t strive to achieve tanned, toned and athletic bodies that women in the U.S. do. On the contrary, they strive to be very thin and soft, and not in any way muscular or tan.  As a result, I feel that if I were ever caught in a cat fight here in Korea, I could snap any of the women in half over my knee.  Not that I would, though, of course.

When you see couples in public here, you will always find that the man has

his arms around the woman, is carrying her purse, their shopping bags, and all the while she is wearing stiletto heels (I could write an entire post on Koreans wearing stilettos at all times of day, while sightseeing, and while wearing sweat pants, but I will save that for another day).  A Korean teacher of ours told us that the men here absolutely love to dote on their girlfriends.  They always carry the woman’s purse and are making physical contact with them in some way at all times.  Our teacher also told us that Korean women whine a lot, and that their boyfriends think it’s cute…  Really, women?  Really?!

I will admit that when I see those types of couples when I’m back home in America, I roll my eyes.  Here, however, it’s more common to see.  In fact, it is normal for couples to wear… brace yourself… matching clothing.  I’m not talking about a promise ring or matching bracelets, I’m talking about matching black and yellow PLAID jackets, or matching rugby shirts with matching shorts.  (Jason and I actually play a game based on this phenomenon (thanks Britt!); every time we see a matching couple, we have to be the first one to say “same-sies” and we get to hit the loser).

Although it’s difficult at times, I don’t like to judge other people based on what I may consider tacky, so I have attempted to reason with myself as to why this may be the case in Korea:

  1. We have heard from other Koreans and foreigners that having a boyfriend or girlfriend is not as commonplace as it is back in America.  In fact, one of our Korean friends is obsessed with the idea of getting a girlfriend- that’s all he wants but he can’t seem to get one.  It seems to me that since dating is not as casual here, when you are in a relationship it makes it that much more special.  Men want to make sure that everyone knows the girl is theirs, so basically they are peeing on their territory.  Not sure if it justifies wearing matching jackets and shirts, but hey, to each their own.
  2. Korean parents are notoriously strict when it comes to their childrens’ spouses.  Arranged marriages still occur here as well, which says a lot about the culture in itself.  I can only imagine that secret dating is common here, and that when the couples are out in public it may be the only time that they can be together.  Thus, they are as affectionate towards each other as they would be in private if they had the chance.  Once again, this is a theory based solely on my observations, and in no way fact.
  3. Because of the fact that women in Korea are so thin, fragile-looking, and take pride in looking pretty all of the time (and are always wearing 4-inch heels) I believe that this creates an overly feminine and delicate image of women; an image that makes the man want to nurture and take care of the woman who can’t lift 15 lbs.  Thus, they enjoy carrying their shopping bags and other heavy things.
  4. A couple of our friends here in Korea, who teach English and have Korean friends, also told us another interesting relationship dynamic that I thought was really intense.  When a woman is in a relationship, she does not talk to any other guys, at all.  Apparently it is a sign of respect to her boyfriend (who sounds to be incredibly insecure and overly jealous) and this means she can’t even talk to her guy friends anymore.  I still have yet to confirm this with any Koreans myself, but it is interesting that once I heard about it, I started noticing that couples are never with anyone else.  They are either alone, which is virtually all of the couples I see, or they are perhaps with another couple.  Maybe this could also help explain why relationships appear so different here.

Like I mentioned earlier, these are just my thoughts that stem from a few observations that I have been noting in my head since the moment we arrived here.  I find these social points to be fascinating and I also love people watching and I am quite good at it, if I may say so, which makes me a great researcher for this type of subject.  One of my favorite quotes comes from an episode from Sex and the City: “Some people do arts and crafts.  We judge.”  Not that I judge people, but I report what I see and hear.  Just sayin’.


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24 Responses to “Dating in Korea”

  1. Great observations.

    #4 is also prevalent in other cultures, namely in Middle East, etc.

    Good read.

  2. I too would not be a hot commodity… not because I am toned and tan, but because Im tan, large and soft :) I guess I have one of the qualities… right? Good thing Im not looking to date a korean 😀

  3. “…when you are in a relationship it makes it that much more special. Men want to make sure that everyone knows the girl is theirs, so basically they are peeing on their territory.”

    Great line!

    By the way, I’ve seen #4 in dysfunctional pockets here in the good old US of A too…scary but true.

  4. Wow~It’s reealy a fresh thought for me.
    Even I am an asian, it’s my first time to know “the couple’s culture” in Korea.
    But it is true for my culture that our parents will arrange marriage for us, some of parents still have deep conventional idea, they think “marry with one’s match” is really really important.
    Good luck to both of you. Thanks for good articles!!

  5. I thought westerners might be more open to make physical contact in public? It seems I’m wrong.
    The women in Korea appears to be fragile but they aren’t in reality, right? Asians are generally thinner but they’re not going to be blown away by a breeze, either. Maybe it’s more polite in their culture, or it’s a way to show how they care about the girls?

  6. On wearing matching clothes — so they can find each other in the crowd in the event of one of them wonders off with a member of the opposit sex 😉 Mothers do this to children all the time. Everyone from baby to parents wear the same color when they leave the house, so when the toddler disappears at least they know what color shirt to look for.

  7. The picture of the matching outfits is hilarious. I don’t know why. Culture is culture though, and when I think about it, I guess it isn’t as strange as it seems.

  8. I think, at least in America, people do show affection in public, but it seems like a different kind of affection here. In America couples hold hands more, while in Korea the man always has his arm around her waist. To me, that gesture is a little more nurturing and suggests that the man wants to take care of her, while holding hands seems a bit more casual. Just my personal thought.

    I actually do notice in my dance classes here that their strength level (at least upper body strength) is definitely on a different level than the classes I usually take back at home, although their flexibility is leaps and bounds ahead of mine! It’s just a different cultural view on beauty- most Korean women don’t strive for a muscular body.

    Thanks for all of the comments! I love hearing everyone’s opinions about this. It’s so interesting to be in a foreign country and to be able to observe cultural differences!

  9. […] Dating in Korea: Yet another fascinating post about life in Korea from Sharon at Life After Cubes.  I really can’t get enough of these posts — life in Korea is just this fascinating! […]

  10. FYI, in my experience:
    1. Yes, it’s something special and we celebrate our 100, 200 and 300 days dating anniversary.
    2. Here, even if the other family member of the girl’s side are disagree, the dad’s opinion is prevails, and vice versa. Well yes, they do like to express affection but not in public. Once I spoon-feed my girlfriend in front of her friend, she got embarrassed, but not while we both are alone.
    3. That’s why there are so many plastic surgery here.
    4. Your observation are perfect, they don’t like their girl/boyfriend to be more friendly to the opposite sex than you. I even got scolded when me and my female friend go to glasses store LOL

  11. Korean women = the opposite of Brazilian women

    Brazilian women are very suntanned, very athletic/muscular and curvy, especially in the legs. They hit the gym a lot, and focus on a lot on leg and glute exercises. It’s because men in Brazil like their women to be very strong/athletic in the lower body..for obvious reasons.

  12. Daniel- interesting facts! I have also noticed how much plastic surgery Koreans get! It was shocking- every other ad in a magazine was for plastic surgery.

    Pete- Sounds about right. I didn’t know about the lower body part, but I guess… good for them!

  13. Hyori is famous for being very tan for a Korean woman. It’s interesting how no younger Kpop stars have followed in her footsteps.

  14. Well, I think for me the fact that I am Mexican-American that has had to grow up in two diff. cultures I have been able to blend to the society I enter.

    I wish to one day visit S. Korea, and hopefully live there (I REALLY hope I can live there).

    Correction: I am GOING to live in S. Korea at some point in my life!!! *gets into serious mode*

    I know Koreans take dating much more seriously than we do in the U.S.

    I respect that. I respect 99.9% of everything you observed (I’d even wear plaid if it’s what is common, even though I’d probably try going for darker colors and not neon stuff…).

    “When in Rome do as the Romans do” right?

    I’m actually fascinated by the traditions they have, it seems more precious and valued than what I have observed in my region… However, I can’t help but have a tiny problem…

    the .01% that I would have a problem with, IF it is common for this to happen, is to have to NOT talk to any of my guy friends….

    That I think I would have to compromise with him…I treat my guy friends as family so it would pain me greatly to have to not talk to them…so IF that is common, I may have to negotiate with the guy I would be dating…

    (Now, if does that count for the guy as well? Is he expected NOT to talk to any of his female friends? If it does count, then I found a perfect compromise.)

    Also, I can’t wear 4-inch heels…not possible, I’m already clumsy as it is…hah! I would die in those things…They are pretty to look at, but I won’t be wearing them unless I have a death wish 😀 (OR i have to for an event or something)

    Personally, I would love to experience what it would be like dating in Korea…but I’d probably be SO nervous about doing something rude I’d most likely buy every Korean Culture textbook I could find before even setting foot in the Incheon Airport…

    Do you know anything about the 100 day anniversaries? I’m very curious about those…

    In the U.S. couples can choose from celebrating one-week anniversaries to one-month anniversaries etc.

    I kind of giggle when my friends celebrate EVERY month, but hey…it makes them happy…

    Thanks for your observations…they are interesting!!

  15. most asian women want to have a lighter skin. That’s why Korean women don’t want to get tanned. For Korean (men and women), they define that “a pretty woman” equeals big-eyes, slim, nice breasts, long legs , natural redish lips and whitish skintone. If you have a dark skin, they may think that you are from countryside becasue normally people from countryside have a darker skin since they are working on the outside like a farm. ^^

  16. […] Dating in Korea – If you’ve been reading our blog for a while, you already know what interests me more than anything else; people watching.  Observing the dating culture in South Korea was absolutely fascinating and hilarious (mainly the matching clothes part).  Korea was the country that we spent the most time in, so I was lucky enough to closely observe its culture of physical aesthetics and dating. […]

  17. Truthfully, I think the samsies are so, so cute!

  18. I have to agree that many of your observations are quite accurate, but here’s the rub; accurate from a foreigner’s perspective.

    I am full Korean, and have grown up in Korea and America, and have many friends in Korea and expectations from family that I will marry a Korean man, introduced by them.

    Koreans (and most Asians) see white skin as a sign that you don’t work in the fields. It’s a sign of money, and the same goes for girls not having muscles or being toned. Femininity is highly prized here, and since Korea is very much still a collective society and not individualistic, you’ll find many similar “types” of girls trying to be what they think is attractive.

    Girls and guys still talk to their friends of the other sex, but they try to keep it away from the relationship as much as they can. While in the Western world most people bring their partners into their circle of friends, in Korea, the relationship is between the couple only, with only a few meetings with friends or other couples. Of course, if the relationship gets more serious, then they slowly introduce the friends more…

    Arranged marriages rarely happens here anymore. What actually happens now is that if you’re at the marrying age (26-35), and you’re not dating someone seriously, the family will ask if you want to be matched up. (Or you could go on the internet) They’ll go through their contacts, let the two people meet, and see if they get along. Since this is for the purpose of marriage, the courtship period is very short. Around a couple of months. Many see romance as something you experience in the 20s, but for marriage, being content and marrying well is valued more.

    I wish I could explain so much more, but I feel I left a long enough comment as is :)

    It might sound strange, but I know if my family didn’t approve of someone, I wouldn’t marry him. In the West, it’s romantic to give up everything for love. In the East, it’s romantic to give up love for family/duty. I suppose it’s a case of Happy vs Tragic love haha.

  19. Kay: Thanks for the comment! From our time in Korea, we have learned most of the things you mentioned about the dating culture here. I’m also a Korean American, but I never stepped foot in Korea before last year, so my observations about dating were from a completely foreign perspective as you said. It’s amazing how different it is, even though the country tends to gravitate towards American culture more than any other Asian country we visited so far.

    It’s refreshing- because it’s so different, it inadvertently puts myself under a microscope and allows me to evaluate myself in relation to other cultures. I’m not one of those women who will allow my husband to carry my purse when we’re out, and I won’t allow him to assist me up the long subway stairs when the escalator is broken… But this type of woman may be viewed as sort of… masculine and intimidating to Korean men.

    I can also understand your last point about not marrying someone your family didn’t approve of. The family dynamic here is so different than that of the US and it’s still hard for me to, for instance, see myself living with my parents until I got married. As I’ve noticed, in Korea younger people are taught to be very respectful to elders in more old fashioned ways, and it goes along with obeying your parents and being influenced by them more than us Americans.

    You’re right, I feel like I could discuss this topic forever!

  20. i typed in ‘dating in korea’ and this was one of the first hits that popped up. wow! :)

    i don’t have much to say about dating koreans, cuz i don’t think i could ever really do it. but it seems a little more shallow than other places since there’s more of an emphasis on money and beauty (and their idea of beauty is definitely… different).

    the thing is, i think koreans are a lot prettier in america! and every other country. i hate that they’re so pale and physically useless here. and passive. and all dress the same. they are… very friendly, though, to put it lightly. i guess inter-cultural dating is kinda a different topic, though!

  21. What a fu**** up situation. I prefer good ol’ India, thank you.

  22. I had a relationship with a Korean woman for three years. Number 4 did apply. She didn’t like the idea of me seeing my women friends. I wish that I would have read this sooner. I don’t think that I will ever date a Korean woman again. Too much melodrama and too much anger.

  23. I know this post has been here for a VERY long time but I feel like I have to clear something up. Number 4 is VERY important here. My boyfriend and I have had major fights over the last 2 and a half years about that one.

    I am a Bulgarian-American that came to live in Korea 5 years ago and since the moment my boyfriend and I started dating this has been an issue with us. (We are in the middle of a large fight about it, on my birthday of all days).

    His reasoning is that guys and girls can never be friends because no matter what the girl thinks, the guy is always only interested to talk to you because he thinks he has a chance to sleep with you. No other reason. And me demanding to keep my guy friends – friends, makes for a very rocky relationship. We have compromised, to a point. I can’t talk to my guy friends, message or anything without being with him at the same time and asking his opinion on how to answer. I can’t meet them without him and I can’t make plans without consulting him first. And most of all(which is the issue at the moment) I can’t suggest or want to meet them first. I have to wait for them to contact me on a special occasion(like my birthday) and either meet them then or another time when they contact me. I can’t ask to meet another day or ask my boyfriend when we can meet my guy friend.

    He never talks to his female friends. Ever. If he sees them on the street, he pretends he doesn’t know them. Honestly I am not OK with that. I think it is weird. I mean, c’mon, I have no problem with both of us meeting his female friends or my guy friends. But he keeps claiming that it is not what couples do and that I am weird and not acting like a real girlfriend for wanting to have guy friends.

    So, number 4 is honestly not really negotiable. Either you do as they wish or prepare yourself for a very rocky and heart breaking relationship.

    P.S. About the way the girls look, that is a misunderstanding on their part. Many girls think that is what Korean guys like but honestly it is what a percentage of them want. Most, while attracted by looks, will never consider being in a serious relationship with someone whose personality sucks. Also, they are guys. And guys are programmed to like a bit more meat, curves and hips on their women. There is still that small percentage of guys that want a doll, though, and all women (including Korean), assume all Korean guys are like that, which his not true.

  24. This was really interesting for me to read. My uncle was deployed in South Korea for a very long time but I never knew much about their dating culture. Lol, he’s a reserved individual. R, I’d never be able to live with that kind of relationship. I can’t stand being told what to do.

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