In this article, I’ll talk about dating in Korea and (very briefly) take you to a world similar to that seen in everyone’s beloved Korean dramas– just in case you read Sex in Korea and were wondering whether or not that world even existed. Don’t worry. Love seems to always be in the air in Korea. Koreans even have romantic holidays– one for each month, so check out this video to see what Pepero Day in Korea is all about!
To see the full list of romantic holidays in Korea, check out THIS article. But, even without romantic holidays there are still plenty of special events for a couple to celebrate, from surprise events to 100 days to 1,000 days, an event famous Korean singers Oh Jong Hyuk of former group Click B and Soyeon of T-Ara were recently caught celebrating with several friends.
Speaking of celebrity couples, these days it seems like ALL of our favorite Korean celebrities are dating, from comedians to actors and actresses to idols! In response, many people have expressed their happiness for these couples but also their shock and concern over the age differences between both confirmed couples, like Tony An and Hye Ri, and alleged couples, like Choiza and Sulli. So, I’ll talk about something that bothers ME when it comes to dating in Korea to kick things off.
Age Differences and Dating in Korea
Just the other day my friend was taken aback by an ahjusshi who was messaging her. He is 34, and she is 24. I’ve had similar experiences where Korean men who I think are too old approach me for a date, and I was similarly taken aback. My ex-boyfriend– Korean, is only five years older than me. However, it seems like men in Korea are allowed to be much older than the girls and women they date or marry. Even Kim Soo Hyun said that he’ll get married to a 21 year old girl when he’s 41; and, here are some shocking age differences between a couple in Korea that is still just dating, a recently engaged couple in Korea, and several married couples in Korea.
Baek Yoon Shik (actor): 30 years
Park Jin Young (JYP CEO): 9 years
Yang Hyun Suk (YG CEO): 12 years
Seo Tai Ji: 16 years
Lee Ju No: 23 years
For a longer list of married couples with BIG age gaps between them, check out THIS article; and, its not just older men, yeonsang, and younger women, yeonha, who are tying the knot!
Kim Jo Kwang Soo (director, gay): 19 years
In addition, in recent years it has become something of a trend for older women, also yeonsang, to date younger men, also yeonha, but not with such big age differences. For example, Baek Ji Young is nine years older than her husband, Jung Suk Won. Kim Woo Bin’s girlfriend is actually older than him, too, but just by a year.
Dating in Korea Isn’t ALWAYS about Love
But, in Korea, why is the age difference between older men and younger women who are dating or married so big? For me, perhaps because I am Nigerian-American, this age difference is somewhat shocking, but it is also completely understandable from the perspective of Korean culture. In Korea, age differences are often bigger between older men and younger women who are dating and married, because it is generally up to the man to prepare everything from events and bags and other gifts while dating and everything from a house to a car to a ring if he ever expects to tie the knot.
According to THIS article, titled “It’s Not Like on TV: ‘80% of Korean Men Without a Car and Home of Their Own Never Find Love’,” not ALL Korean men are rich! And, not ALL Korean men can find love, BECAUSE they’re not rich: “The reason I was dumped by my last girlfriend was that I didn’t have a car and a home of my own. Her parents were completely against us being together.” So, Korean men often get married when they are older– after going to army for two years and after working for “X” amount of years– older and thus, wealthier.
Of course, this is definitely NOT always the case, but it seems to be the case more often, at least compared to America where men and women tend to support each other financially, allowing men to get married sooner rather than later. Although, in America there are also PLENTY of gold-digging young women who date and marry extremely old men just for their money, too. But, what do young women in Korea look for– is it really just a expensive things and diamond rings?
One survey might have an answer, but remember that all surveys have their flaws and faults and should be taken with a grain of salt. Younger women in Korea who were interested in getting married said the following would be a “game-changer” for a potential husband who also happened to be a bad first date: 36 percent said the type of car he drives, 27 percent said his annual salary, 23 percent said if he looks charming in a suit, 11 percent said manners and sense, and just three percent said humor and an ability to lead a conversation. To take a look at what Korean men had to say, check out the full article HERE.
Date or Die: Korea Takes Dating Seriously
Dating in Korea is like breathing: Everyone does it, and if you don’t, then you’ll “die.” Out and about in Korea you’ll see tables and specials for two. Couples of all ages hold hands and can be spotted easily, especially if they’re wearing couple items. But, why is dating, or yeonae, so important in Korea? Dating is the best way to find a husband or wife and go on to get married and build a happy or at least stable and secure family; and, in Korea, family matters.
So, here are some typical(?) questions a Korean mother will ask her son’s girlfriend, as seen on Mamma Mia (English subbed) at 28 minutes:
“Are your parents still alive?”
“What is your religion?”
“How many siblings do you have?”
“What do you do for a living?”
However, the younger generation of Koreans might not care about the answers to those questions. A close Korean dongsaeng of mine said that she wished her parents didn’t care so much about who she dated. Same here!
Level Up: Matchmaking
Matchmaking in Korea is INTENSE. Couples who look alike are said to match, so couples often go to get their faces matched. Couples also talk about compatibility concerning their blood types and star signs, something many of us already know about thanks to movies like My Boyfriend is Type B and dramas like 12 Men in A Year. More traditional Korean matchmaking involves getting a couple’s names read, as well as going to a fortune teller to see if a couple is meant to be together….
This might be why there are so many Korean shows and Korean services that are devoted to matchmaking. For example, JJak (or “other half”) is a popular show in Korea where a group of single men and women live together and go on dates with each other. At the end, they can choose their other half or walk away empty-handed and alone.
Although not everyone chooses to televise their blind dates, if someone is single, then they are often sent on sogaeting, short for sogae meeting, by a matchmaker, family member, or friend. These are just what we call blind dates, and they can be for two people or for a group of people, so long as the numbers make pairs and no one is left out! Once Koreans get older, then they can also seonbogi, or go on a blind date with the intention to get married. If you are curious about a “typical” Korean blind date, then check out this (English subbed) episode of Mamma Mia for two blind dates, one arranged for an older woman looking for a husband and one arranged for a younger boy looking for a girlfriend:
However, blind dates don’t always involve as much effort and romance as you see on TV; and oftentimes, they can end abruptly as someone rushes off to the bathroom and never comes back to that small, cramped table in a cafe or hotel lobby.
Typical dates between couples in Korea tend to involve the same activities: Food at cafe or restaurant; going to see a movie, play, or baseball game; hiking; biking; sightseeing; and, date “courses.” Dutch pay in Korea isn’t very common, and that might be why girls and women complain about men who use coupons on dates as they try to save money. But, some of the best dates might be “1 night, 2 days,” short vacations that a couple takes together lasting one (special) night and two (fun) days.
So, dating in Korea is likely to involve the romance (and drama) that many foreigners have come to know and love!
However, don’t expect every Korean boy or man to be just like a lead actor (or second lead actor) from a Korean drama, especially when it comes to dating.
Next up, Marriage in Korea!