Since I did a blog on Korean weddings, I decided perhaps I should tell you about Korean dating. Korean dating is all mixed up. The older generation decided who they would marry in a completely different way than the younger generation. I have been privileged to understand what is going with dating because I was a university professor for many years here in Korea and was around all the young people as they were dating. Since I am no longer married, even the university tried to give me information on how to get married, but I didn’t take advantage of it. I just read the information they gave me in interest. Now, I will explain to you all the many things I have learned.
The signs that we are seeing more and more of now on the web like this come from Korea. Sometimes, these hearts are even made with their arms above their heads. It is a way of expressing yourself called eigyo.
To begin with, the older generation, my generation, didn’t date at all the way Americans date. Their parents arranged their marriages. Often times, they would only meet the person one time before deciding to go ahead and marry them because their parents had recommended it. I have seen it happen since I have been here. If you read my blog about my first year in Korea, I saw it the first year. I also read a book called Tales of a Korean Grandmother, and in that book, they tell the story of how people got married in old Korea. They had a young man go to visit with an older man who had a daughter. They showed the younger man the prospective bride through a window, but the bride was not allowed to see the younger man. The two actually never even met before the wedding. Marriage in Korea is not looked on the same as in America. Traditionally, marriage has been to have babies, not to be united with the person you love the most like in the west. The young people trusted their parents to make good decisions for them.
I have heard that among the older generation, though, the idea of having a wife, and then having a mistress was not unheard of. They had the wife to have babies with. Their parents set them up with a wife. A minority also kept a mistress away from the home, someone they enjoyed being with. I have heard this practice was here, but it has gone away with history.
The idea of getting married to have babies has not gone away. My daughter is married to a Korean guy, and when they gave her a marriage visa, they would only give her a visa for one year because she was not pregnant. They told her that if she had a baby, she could have a visa for two years at a time. She got around them and qualified for a permanent residency visa, a visa that never expires because she wasn’t going to have a baby just so she could get a better visa.
The younger generation is trying new ways in everything. They want to date the way Americans do, but they are very unsure of what they are doing. They are learning from American TV and American movies. They understand that the guy pays for the dates. They are feeling their way through the dark, though. Americans feel really strange about going on blind dates, but blind dates are very normal in Korea. Once, one of my girl students came to my office telling me she wanted a boy friend. We had a cross cultural misunderstanding at that point. I didn’t understand why she told me she wanted a boyfriend and gave her advice on what kind of boyfriend she should look for. Come to find out, she was actually looking to me to find her a boyfriend. Very often, if the young people want a boyfriend or a girlfriend, they go to a friend to set them up with a date. I have a friend who has never gotten married, but continually goes on bind dates that other people set him up with. It is called “soh-getting.” Soh-getting is very normal in Korea.
The young couple in this picture is Oriental, but the Korean girls would be considered loose if they wore that blouse. They are not supposed to show the top part of their arms.
There is one relationship that is very confusing here. They have an older brother, younger sister relationship. They aren’t really brother and sister, but close friends. They could be dating or they could just be good friends. The younger girl calls the older guy “Ohpa.” You can even hear wives calling their husbands Ohpa. However, there doesn’t have to be a romantic relationship at all for the older guy to be an Ohpa. One guy can have several girls calling him Ohhpa. If they are dating or married, for the younger girl to call the guy Ohpa, it is like calling him “honey.” If a girl is chasing a guy, she may go for the Ohpa relationship, and the guys enjoy the relationship, but it doesn’t always mean that he will become her boyfriend.
Korean guys can be extremely Romantic. They have many holidays for lovers in Korea. our holidays and theirs are celebrated.
Guys used to try to get my daughter to call them Ohpa, but she refused because she felt like the relationship was too close and yet too far if she liked the guy. She feels like the relationship is nebulous and takes advantage of the girl. Korean girls happily call guys Ohpa, but my daughter won’t. When her and her husband were just friends, he and his brother asked my daughter to call them Ohpa, but she refused. Even now, even though they are married, she still won’t call her husband Ohpa, and he agrees because he understands her feeling of how nebulous the relationship is. This Ohpa relationship can go on forever and ever and never go anywhere leaving he girl dangling, but letting the boy call the girl, flirt with the girl, and hang out with the girl as much as he likes without any real commitment on his part.
It is normal in Korea for young couples to wear matching clothing. It is often more prompted by the guy than the girl.
If you read books about the Korean culture, they will tell you that flirting doesn’t happen in Korea. That isn’t exactly true. Overt sexually oriented flirting doesn’t happen. There is no trying to touch a girl’s leg with your foot under the table here, but there is flirting. Usually, the flirting comes from the guys. If you are in a conversation with a guy here, and he gets completely crazy trying with all his might to make you laugh and entertain you, it is considered flirting here. The way girls flirt is by calling a guy Opa. One girl was so open with my son that she kept grabbing his hand and hold it, but they had never been on a date and couldn’t even speak the same language. However, I really don’t think most girls grab guy’s hands here.
When I was at the university, a girl gave a speech on how to get a boyfriend. Her way of thinking was to feed the guy. She told all the girls to make a really good lunch, bring it to school, and offer it to the guy. She said to get her boyfriend, she just kept giving him food until he finally exchanged phone numbers with her and asked her to go see a movie with him.
Yes, younger Korean guys are learning to call girls up and ask them out on dates. They are really unsure about what they are doing. They are the first generation to try. It is very probable there won’t be an physical contact for a long time after they begin calling the girl up and asking her out, not even holding hands, but the guys are learnign to call the girls, take them out, and pay for it. However, there are no cars, and everyone in America knows if they have done any dating that a lot of the physical contact begins in the cars, but the young people in Korea don’t drive cars, and traditionally, PDA (public display of affection) just hasn’t taken place, but things are changing. You can see more and more young people in Korea walking down the street holding hands. When I was a student in America, when I arrived at the dorm on a Friday or Saturday night, there were couples lined up outside the door kissing, but you will never see anything like that in Korea.
These rings don’t symbolize marriage in Korea. They mean they are a dating couple.
Once they begin dating, they do something that could be like American “going steady.” They call it coupling. They exchange rings that look like wedding bands. If they get serious enough to be coupling, they will probably get married.
My daughter and son in law were part of the same group that met for language exchange, Bible studies, and site seeing for two years. They first became very good friends before they ever dated. My son in law is like many young Korean men. If they ever decide to actually date someone, they will marry them. My daughter knew him well, and the first time he asked her out, she knew that he was serious. There isn’t much playing at dating here, just the Ohpa relationship where they don’t have any physical contact or commitments, and the guys can have several girls calling them Ohpa at the same time, and the girls can call several guys Ohpa at the same time.
A concept like Ohpa is Noona. Noona is what the younger guy calls the older girl. They like to laugh about this relationship. I watched a Korean movie once, and all the way through the movie, the younger guy was hanging out with his Noona and dreaming that she would actually turn around and kiss him. When she got a boyfriend, he went crazy and fought with the boyfriend because he was so enraptured with his Noona. If you have ever seen the “Numa, Numa Guy” on You Tube, they have translated that song into Korean and made the “Numa, Numa” part into “Noona, Noona.” The name of the song the Numa Numa Guy lip sings in Romanian is “Dragostei din tei” which means love from you. It is all about a guy calling a girl up and trying to get her to talk to him and give him the time of day. The Koreans reconfigured the song when they “translated” it. They made it so the Noona is telling about about the younger guy trying to get her attention, and they actually go as far as have her sing about how he wants to kiss her. Koreans love the word “kiss,” and they actually use it in English. The young people even have “Kiss” parties.
Most Korean young people are very innocent and inexperienced with the opposite sex some of them, even into their thirties. Many young Koreans now a days think they will never get married because of their financial situation, so they are in a perpetual state of Noona and Ohpa relationships. When my daughter and son in law got together, he had only been out on one date before, a girl that his parents set him up with that he never saw again after one date. My son in law had already been through the military and was in the end of college when he met my daughter. If you are a young American, Australian, or European girl and a Korean guy puts the moves on you, he is very serious unless he has learned the American, Australian, or European ways from living outside of Korea. I knew a young American guy here who dated a Korean girl and then dropped her, and when he tried to leave the country, she had him arrested. Dating is serious in Korea. In America, a guy might even get away with sleeping with a girl and just taking off, but the Koreans would never accept that kind of behavior.
Besides Ohpa, there is another really strange word here that can be used between a man and a woman, but not excursively. The meaning of this word also becomes nebulous, so I prefer not to use it. The word is “dangshin.” It is a kind of “you,” but you have to be really close to the person before you use it. It is a very warm “you.” It is so warm that many married couples use it in place of “honey.” You can also use it talking to your kids or close friends.
Sadly, since many Koreans think that getting married is only for having babies, there are some girls who get pregnant before they get married here. They understand that they aren’t supposed to sleep together before getting married, but like in many other countries, it doesn’t stop them all. However, once the girl gets pregnant, the guy will automatically marry her here, not like in America where when the girl gets pregnant, the guy still thinks he has the option of taking off because he thinks he doesn’t love the girl enough to marry her. The Koreans think of marriage as being all about having babies, so they just go ahead and get married. However, it is a little harder for them to sleep together before they are married here because the young people walk, go in subways, and go in buses. Young people in Korea don’t go in cars, so parking doesn’t take place here.
The Korean young people are so good about controlling themselves and being trustworthy about not sleeping together outside of marriage that in the dorm at KCU, there is one floor for the girls and another floor for the boys. There is no dorm supervisor living at the dorm, but the students themselves wouldn’t let a boy on the girls floor or a girl on the boys floor. When I was a dorm supervisor for an event for high school students at a university in Tulsa, Oklahoma in America, I had to be completely vigilant to keep they guys out of the girl’s rooms, and still I caught a guy in a girl’s room fleeing by crawling out the window. Overall, I would judge the Koreans to have higher morals than Americans, but there are always those who don’t hit the bar. I have always thought that this is because of the Confucian hierarchy that is part of the Korean society. Everyone is keeping those younger than them in check, so the older students in the dorm will keep the younger ones in check and on the right path.
At the beginning of this blog, I mentioned KCU giving me information about dating. They actually put a magazine in my professor’s mail box about how to get a date in Korea hoping I would take advantage of it. Many of the professors at KCU were worried about me not being married or dating anyone, but I was too busy working and finishing raising my kids to worry much about guys. There are many dating services in Korea. According to their magazine, dating services are big here. Just like my friend who is always going out on blind dates, these dating services take your profile and set you up on a blind date. Needless to say, I didn’t take advantage of it, but living here, I have learned a lot about the differences between dating here and in America.