Dating for Dummies

by

A couple, obviously bored out of their minds, stare intently at their smartphones in a Seoul coffee shop. The small talk, if there is any, is painful to eavesdrop on. Despite their matching clothes, ubiquitous couple rings, and obligatory selfies together, they seem to have little in common. So why the frequency of such awkward pairings in the coffee shops of Seoul?

“You don’t have a girlfriend? Why not?” is probably the most common question single men get asked in South Korea. Dating is a fairly straightforward endeavour and there is no reason not to do it, as my South Korean housemate constantly reminds me. Dating à la coréenne has been reduced to checking items off a list, following a textbook of do’s and don’ts. I give you the lowdown:

The Introduction ☑

The easiest way to meet women is through your friend: he will introduce you to someone he knows and set up a sogaeting — a pre-arranged date. Alternatively, you can use a sogaeting app. Once both you and your potential girlfriend have agreed on a date, be sure to dress to impress. Then go to Gangnam. Italian restaurants or VIPS are the standard fare for dates. If you are not sure about how to talk to your date, don’t worry and just prepare some topics in advance: websites with guides and video tutorials abound.

Talking about hobbies (42%) is sure to score high, followed by values (33%), personality (17%) and job (8%). Source: oopick.com, via enjoi your life

The Meetup ☑

Who foots the bill? Why you, of course. Her duties are limited to paying for after-dinner coffee, but only if the date goes well and you proceed to Round Two. Even my gallant housemate admits to hating the obligatory dinner purchase but feels he “has no choice”. After the date ends and you have arrived back home, the ‘after-message’ to confirm interest is vital. See here for well-documented successful methods. But don’t forget that timing is essential and that the message should be sent within 30 minutes to an hour after the end of the date to ensure optimal success!

Source: ss
“After first meeting, when is the best time to send an ‘after message’? 30 mins ~ 1 hour (48%), 2 hours ~ same day (42%), within 30 mins (6%), within 2 days (4%). Source: i-um.com, via enjoy your life

The Confession ☑

Now if things are going smoothly and you are interested in her, be sure to formalise the deal with a love ‘confession’. Regardless of how long you have spent together, let alone what you have done together, things aren’t settled until you set in stone the two of you are ‘official’. Tell her “I like you” or bluntly ask, “Do you want to go steady?” If she hesitates to answer, simply go back to “The Introduction” part of this article and start all over again. Until your confession of true love is accepted by someone, it is permissible to see more than one woman at a time. It is known as eojang gwalli — ‘managing your fish stock’.

But if she accepts your heartfelt plea, you have just entered into a relationship and it’s time to get serious.

Accessories ☑

Success! You now have a girlfriend, a marker of status or normalcy or both. But this is not the end. It’s now time to buy matching shoes, couple rings, exchange hourly texts, use a ‘selfie-stick’, go to parks, visit coffee shops, seek out pet cafés. In short, the possibilities are endless.

Source: s
Source: Couplemarket.com

Dates ☑

Of course, once you are ‘going steady’, the cinema is a must. Markets have even popped up to enhance and diversify the experience, with premium couple-seats on offer. Enjoy the experience of staring blankly at a screen for two hours, peppered here and there with gruesome scenes that automatically prompt hand-clutching, which provides her the reassurance that oppa is here.

Anniversaries ☑

As the days go by, you must commemorate your time together: one week, one month, 100 days… Such milestones confirm the healthy status of couplehood and create a sense of achievement.

100th day present to girlfriend. Advice please~~^^ Please can someone advise me on what to offer my girlfriend for our 100th day~ We will have reached our 100 days together next week, but with only a few days to spare, I’m starting to worry about what to give her .ㅜ.ㅡ Letters and flowers are the norm, but if there’s anything else other than that I’d appreciate some advice. What do other guys usually give on their 100th day?? By the way, she’s 24.
100th day present to girlfriend. Advice please~~^^
“Please can someone advise me on what to offer my girlfriend for our 100th day~ We will have reached our 100 days together next week, but with only a few days to spare, I’m starting to worry about what to give her .ㅜ.ㅡ Letters and flowers are the norm, but if there’s anything else other than that I’d appreciate some advice. What do other guys usually give on their 100th day?? By the way, she’s 24”. Source: Daum tip forum

Intimacy ☑

Hopefully sooner than later, you will decide to be intimate. Don’t worry though. That’s all taken care of as well. Love motels provide an all-inclusive sex package, not least the welcome pack containing condoms, lube, and desensitizing cream just in case you are overly eager. No doubt, the savvy couple will know which websites and apps to use for special discounts.

Source: yanolja.com
Source: yanolja.com

The Reality ☑

My housemate is right. With everything you need to do conveniently and easily laid out for you, there really is no excuse not to date. (Love, however, is optional.) The shame of being branded a motaesollo — “a loner since conception” — is after all best avoided and how better to do that than by entering into a relationship?  But in many cases, what I see is an expensive ritualised performance of courtship: a prescribed set of inevitable events marching toward the ultimate goal — marriage.

But until then, dating is expected if one wants to avoid charges of impotence, deviance, or homosexuality. In fact, some gay South Korean friends resort to wearing a ‘couple ring’ at work to pretend they are straight and in a relationship, as they ought to be. It works like a charm, I am told.

I sometimes feel the South Korean dating scene is like a Petri dish: an artificial environment containing all the right nutrients to promote the quick cultivation of couples. Valentine’s Day, White Day, Pepero Day, the 100-day anniversary… All are grotesque reminders of how relationship in South Korea has been commodified according to some ideal of Western middle-class romance, and repackaged into a kitschy must-have item.

As for the hopeless couple in the coffee shop, they are both ‘in need’ of a relationship — and status and normalcy it confers. So they date each other out of convenience, expectation, and perhaps — in the best-case scenario — a measure of affection. But regardless, surrounded by such extreme pressures to conform to societal ‘norms’ and perform set roles, they turn society’s desires into their desires, and they continue to buy into the consumerism of romance.

Humbug.

 

Cover image: From CGV

  • BillyH

    This is a great breakdown of what dating life is like in Korea, but I also find it a little sad and a little scary that dating can be broken down into such a formulaic and structured methodology that is so on-point and accurate.

    Just another example of Koreans trying to take a formulaic approach to a part of life that is largely subjective and based on intangible things like instinct or emotion. Very similar in the ways they attempt to learn English: as if it’s as simple as just following a script and plugging in values to fill in the variables.

    Pretty much boils down to Koreans being socially and romantically stunted in general. I’ve seen couples in their thirties committing cardinal relationship mistakes, like checking a lover’s phone history, constantly keeping tabs, showing up at one’s house unannounced: things that most thirty-year-olds look back on and laugh about as stupid things they did in high school relationships.

    But sadly, given their image-consciousness, poor treatment of women, lack of emphasis on development of social skills, and being trained to search for a “good” partner (high status, good family, clean image) rather than looking for the right one, I fear that there are just too many issues that won’t easily be resolved.

  • Scape Goat

    A well-written and accurate portrayal of the nightmare of Korean dating. Texting at the right times and judiciously is so important, a whole separate article could be devoted to it.

  • Cherry

    Well said. But the author missed a very special day for couples. Christmas. 😉
    I remember being so amazed and 신기해 upon seeing the parade of couples at Shinchon on Christmas day that we could barely get into a coffeshop, much less walk on the street.

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