Dating South Korean Men Showed Me I Have to Be Free…from Myself.

by

I see myself as a lively, bright and sociable girl. I love to interact with new people and have no problem making new friends. I’m not exactly quiet, and I’m definitely not the ‘submissive girl’ that many people see South Korean girls as.

There’s nothing wrong with who I am. But somehow, my personality became a problem when I started dating men in South Korea at the age of 20.

Many men approached me, expressing an interest in my outgoing personality. “I like your optimistic character,” they told me.

But sooner or later, they started to complain about things that energize my life, what I think are important, like interacting with people and having fun at interesting social gatherings. Here are some things I heard from my ex’s:

“Why do you have so many male friends?”

“Do you really have to go to all those social gatherings? All those parties?”

“Are all those things so important to you?” (Read: “More than me?”)

I was confused. I thought, is my outgoing personality — which was attractive to them in the beginning — an obstacle to developing a stable relationship?

I soon found out that I was not alone. A bunch of my girlfriends had similar worries when dating South Korean men. The biggest source of complaint was the irony of men applying different standards on their female friends and “my girlfriend.”

Some guys I knew loved hanging out with girls whom they called cool and funny — for example, girls who could drink two bottles of soju straight. But the same guys would get angry when their own girlfriends tried to drink more than one can of beer. They wanted to date a girl who was smart and independent enough to handle her own life, but also dependent enough to respect their choices, rely on them to make decisions, and get advice from them when faced with difficulties.

You can see this contradictory expectation in female heroines of many K-dramas. The beautiful female protagonist is independent and savvy at her office, but in front of a guy she likes, she’s one step behind, submissive and gentle. She should be resilient but needs to be rescued when hardship arises.

Isn’t there a contradiction here? I could concede that independent and dependent tendencies might coexist in a person, certainly, but often they don’t go together. I thought it more a fantasy of men who craved unequal power relations with their girlfriends than a reality.

It’s an old battle: fighting against the chasm, between the expectations of South Korean men (and even women who embrace these expectations) and the real, live selves of South Korean women.

As a young woman, I kept wondering about how I should act, and how much of myself I should show men. It’s strange: In struggling, I sometimes found myself trying to do naesung and aegyo.

Aegyo and naesung are two modes of behavior young women are expected to engage in when dealing with men. Aegyo is more explicit; it’s acting in a cute, flirty way, usually with funny faces, shrugging one’s shoulders and shaking one’s head in a child-like way, or often answering questions in a higher-pitched voice. Naesung on the other hand is acting coy, not being outright honest. For example, if a guy asked me how many bottles of soju I could drink, I would say “half a bottle” instead of “two bottles.” That would be me “doing naesung” or naesung hada in Korean. (Both terms are rarely used to prescribe how men should behave.)  

And yet I couldn’t bring myself to do either aegyo or naesung in the proper way. I wanted men to accept me the way I truly am, complete with my outgoing, straightforward personality which I thought didn’t go together with girlish behaviors.

Then in my late 20s, I met someone. He was in finance, in his first job after college. (I had already been working for several years by then.) We dated over a year. For a long time, he never commented on my social gatherings or asked me to see him as my sole source of emotional support. He gave me space — and he gave himself space. He was considerate, and accepting.

Then a miracle happened. I found myself voluntarily doing the so-called girlish actions, especially aegyo. (It was harder to do naesung — hard as I tried, it just wasn’t in me). I acted like a cute baby, even without trying. I even gave him hand-made chocolate on Valentine’s Day. I was in love, of course, but what was happening to me?

Many of my friends started to point out that I had changed a lot. I stopped going on different social gatherings because I wanted to be like him — being considerate and focusing on our relationship. Through him, I learned relationship is like a mirror that reflects one another, because I realized it was he who had first engaged in some form of aegyo. (By the way, men’s aegyo is much more attractive, it’s killing!)

Gradually, I started to feel that maybe naesung and aegyo in reality had been a part of my nature all along. Maybe this “me” comes out when I meet a guy who makes me relax, and I don’t have to think too much about what he thinks about me. Maybe I was finally enjoying a moment of repose, showing who I really am, in a safe space free from conventional definitions of gender roles.

I finally had an answer to the question I had first posed in my early twenties: My outgoing personality, which attracted men, was not an obstacle to developing stable relationships. I had never been the problem; I was fine the way I was in my entirety, whether independent, outgoing or girlish, and I could express myself fully if I was given space, without judgment. I just needed to have the right opportunity, and the right man, to let these ‘girlish’ traits show.

I realized that I might have forced myself until then to be this independent, outgoing girl with an “optimistic character,” fixing problems by myself without relying on my man. Maybe I had been trying to prove something, in this society where people expect girls to be quiet and submissive.

It’s been two years since our relationship ended. I wish I could say my realization brought me complete freedom from gender norms or expectations of others, but it didn’t. I had doubts about whether I was good enough a girlfriend to him considering that I was keen on remaining an outgoing, independent woman. The more we talked about our future, the more afraid I became that I might not be his perfect life partner. I kept on worrying about whether I could satisfy his friends or parents’ expectations of a “good woman.”

My fears were not the only reason we parted ways, but they were certainly a factor.

Dating him, and others before that, has allowed me to see my self-contradictions and insecurities. I am self-conscious of my independence and womanhood. I am full of contradictory desires, wanting to be my own self, whatever that may be, but also wanting to meet South Korean society’s standards on what a proper woman should be. All the people I have met at school, at workplaces, even at home have influenced me. It dawns on me that my battle isn’t just about fighting South Korean men’s expectations of how women ought to behave. I learned that I need to fight my own expectations for myself, too.

I’m still learning about how to balance society’s demands on women and my internal traits. However, now I know I don’t need to suppress my ‘girlish’ impulses in trying to be an independent woman. It’s Valentine’s Day, and I am enjoying making chocolate on my own. I no longer categorize this activity as a womanly activity. It’s just a hobby, that’s all. I also recognize that so-called girlish behaviors like aegyo and naesung are not the preserve of women. Men can do these things just as well as women.

The revelations on my part may be uncomfortable for some South Koreans to bear. (They might say making chocolate is a woman’s hobby and men never do aegyo or naesung.) But I must thank the South Korean men I have dated — even those who have been so critical of me — for leading me down this path of self-discovery. And I look forward to meeting the next man who will help me learn more about who I truly am.

Eunsaem Lee works in the IT sector, and has dated South Korean men for over eight years.

  • David Kim

    1) I thought “Korea Expose” was about raw and hard-hitting journalism. Now we have some Korean woman in her late 20s rambling about dating Korean men? I’ll go to Cosmo for that, thanks.

    2) “Why do you have so many male friends?” Men are “friends” with a girl so they can eventually have sex with her. A girl with a boyfriend who doesn’t keep these male “friends” at a suitable distance is being extremely disrespectful.

    3) I have a feeling “independent” “outgoing” and “optimistic character” are just euphemisms for loose behavior and/or attention-seeking with men.

    4) aegyo/naesung? It’s called the madonna/whore dichotomy. Men love “fun girls” and “party girls” and “outgoing girls” for short term flings and cheap sex but only certain girls are worthy of long term commitment and they’re not the “party girls” that have tons of guy friends.

    That said, both men and women are free to act as they want.

    5) “Many of my friends started to point out that I had changed a lot.” Women are so predictable. It’s called “putting on the nice girl act” since it’s time to snag a husband. Depressing now that your early 20s are over and the attention from men is a bit less than it used to be? Gone are the free drinks, the cutting ahead of line at the clubs, the guys doing your homework for you and jumping to get your attention. Reformed party girls suddenly turning into virginal nice girls as they approach their 30s are a dime a dozen.

    6) “The revelations on my part may be uncomfortable for some South Koreans to bear.” I got a good chuckle out of your all too common story of an ex-party girl whose looks and social capital with men are fast fading but I didn’t exactly squirm in my chair.

    7) “And I look forward to meeting the next man who will help me learn more about who I truly am.” I guess this guy didn’t get to “know” you back in your fun partying late teens and ealry 20s but he gets to possibly marry you and slave away at a thankless corporate job for you.

    • J

      “2) “Why do you have so many male friends?” Men are “friends” with a girl so they can eventually have sex with her.”
      I wonder what kind of person are you, mr. David Kim?? For you to have such a disfigurated and biased view on friendship between man and women, because i am very sure my close guy friends don’t want to get layed with me… Or have they ever thought about it. Gross.

      “A girl with a boyfriend who doesn’t keep these male “friends” at a suitable distance is being extremely disrespectful.” Are you implying that women are whores by the mere fact of having a male friend? Because what gives you the right to automatically assume that we these girls with these guy friends while in a relationship are not being respectful of their boyfriends?? Having a close male friend DOES NOT mean there is something going on between the boy and the girl.

      “3) I have a feeling “independent” “outgoing” and “optimistic character” are just euphemisms for loose behavior and/or attention-seeking with men.”
      Again, NO. Wrong, wrong, wrong. You do know that women’s world do not revolve around men, don’t you? Stop the stereotypes. “Independent”, “outgoing”, “optimistic” in no way are synonims of looSe behavior or attention seeking.
      It is actually quite curious how you managed to turn a story about self-discovery (which, yeah, it might have not been written in the best way, imo) into this whole typical macho point of view… It should make you have a conversation with yourself…

      • David Kim

        1) “Are you implying that women are whores by the mere fact of having a male friend?”

        The original writer portrays a specific type of girl with many many male friends who really seem to enjoy hanging out with her drinking soju.

        One would be incredibly naive to think there is ZERO possibility one of these soju benders doesn’t lead to “yi-cha” and end up with a trip to a secluded noraebang. The next morning the girl makes the excuse to her hapless boyfriend: “I was soooo drunk and one of my oppas was just trying to be helpful and I totally blacked out.”

        Sorry, but if I’m in a relationship with a girl like that and her excuse is “we’re just friends,” that’s incredibly disrespectful and a HUGE red flag and I will no longer see this girl as worthy of long term commitment. Apparently with the original writer, her past BFs quite possibility came to the same conclusion.

        The writer even talks about “The biggest source of complaint was the irony of men applying different standards on their female friends and “my girlfriend.”

        Duh, because so-called female friends are potential hookups for every red-blooded heterosexual guy with a normal sex drive. On the other hand, a guy considers a girl his “girlfriend” because she is worthy of commitment and she is expected to reciprocate. It’s the old “madonna/whore” dichotomy.

        2) “because i am very sure my close guy friends don’t want to get layed with me… Or have they ever thought about it. Gross.”

        GROSS? Wow, do they know you feel like that about them? Poor pathetic guys. It’s not like they’re your cousins or brothers.

        I admit I am oversimplifying. Men and woman can be “friends” at work , school and church and interact with each other on a platonic level. But trust me, if a female is young and not FUGLY, her male “friends” want to get into her pants. Even the nice guy at church eventually wants to have sex with her, except he plans to do it in a religiously sanctified way (i.e. after marriage).

        But especially if a young woman is attractive or a known slut, all the guys orbiting her like moons around a planet want to have sex with her and will take the opportunity if it presents itself.

        Either these young women pretend this dynamic doesn’t exist or they’re fully aware but pretending it doesn’t: “Oh he’s just a friend of mine, an oppa who loves to do things for me, buy me things and we LOVE to get drunk together.”

        There are two kinds of men: men who use “friendship” with a young and attractive girl as an excuse and take advantage of any opportunities that come up.

        Or, hapless and clueless men who circle and circle around a girl like an airplane in a holding pattern and get nothing in reward from the girl. They’re total eunuchs to the girl, “GROSS” males she would never have sex with but use for car rides to clubs, emotional support, attention or other platonic needs.

        3) “a story about self-discovery”

        Well, “Siddhartha” it ain’t. Her all-too-common story can be summed up thusly:

        a) Wow, I’m so young and carefree and I love having all these guy friends and male attention and drinking and partying.

        b) Oh, I’m now in my mid 20s and my relationships seem to go nowhere. Time to act innocent, more aegyo.

        c) Grrr, I’m approaching my 30s and aegyo isn’t working (Editor’s note: Because men can recognized jaded and reformed party girls from a mile away). I’m really trying to put on the nice girl act and “discovering” this sweet quiet side to me with my new potential husband. Trust me, I’m no longer the pretty college freshman that told my boyfriends to “deal with it” when they complained about my many male friends and drinking with them.

        d) Now I’m slowly developing this sense of social justice which I didn’t have in my clubbing and drinking days. Korean society is unjust and patriarchical! Korean men are sexist pigs who demand their women act all childish. SEXIST!!!!

        Then after she turns 30 and is still single:

        e) Korean men are pigs! They only like young and pretty girls who drink and party and are “optimistic” and “outgoing!”

        So predictable.

    • girlcallsun

      I pity any woman unfortunate enough to cross paths with David Kim, including any woman in his family: his mother, sister, girlfriend, wife. Even a one-night stand or a woman standing behind him at the store will be infected by his toxic air. Must be nauseating. Too bad he is not a rare douchebag, in Korea and around the world. The good thing is, there are some non-douchebags out there, and if it weren’t for them, all the women would have turned lesbian by now. I would ask him to rot in his misogynistic black abyss. Stay on the Internet, jack off at home and not to get near any women in real life. God forbid he starts to reproduce more of his kind. And if he already has, I pity them too, even if they are rich. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.

      • David Kim

        “The good thing is, there are some non-douchebags out there”

        Oh, you mean nice guys that get “friend-zoned” by commenters such as “J” who things it is “gross” to have think about having sex with them or imagine them trying to have sex with her?

    • Jason Lee

      David Kim, it would do not just us readers a favor, but you yourself would benefit the most from getting over whatever has gotten under your skin about women. Asian men like you do a disservice to all Asian men everywhere.

      I hope your life’s journey takes you to a happier place.

      • fortheloveoflife

        second it. somebody seems just so unhappy. this kind of person makes me wonder the kind of family, childhood, and people he got in his life.

        -if you hangout with chickens, you’re going to cluck, but if you hangout with eagles, you’re going to fly.

    • Jason Lee

      David Kim, it would do not just us readers a favor, but you yourself would benefit the most from getting over whatever has gotten under your skin about women. You do a disservice to all Asian men everywhere.

      I hope your life’s journey takes you to a happier place.

    • fortheloveoflife

      1) one very bitter reader.

      2) nope, not all men are like you. and i thank God for that.

      3) your feelings are not always spot on, aint it?

      4) it’s like david kim/troll dichotomy. having lots of male friends does not make women unworthy of long term relationship.

      5) what makes you think that women in their late 20s are “putting on the nice girl act” to snag a husband? cause your friends are? your exes maybe? are you in your late 20s trying to snag a wife? or are you still in the mid 20s partying it up with “fun girls” “outgoing girls” and party girls”? or is the time already up for you to snag anyone? stop generalizing women.

      6) somebody knows a little bit too much about “an ex-party girl.” had too many of hookups with a few before? or all of the females in your life are these girls? glad you didnt squirmed like i did on your comments.

      7) ditto with the people in your future. i hope they wouldnt slave away for you and forced listen to your negativity all the time.

  • SweetCuppinCakes

    Men do aegyo? Like, Gong Yu’s occasional ‘aww shucks, I’m falling for this girl’ moments in Guardian/도깨비? Something else? YouTube links please!

    Also, on aegyo – a harmless way to make men swoon that borders on annoying if overdone (or not done right), or the infantilization of women that compounds their objectification and gendered status, opening the door to pedophilic tendencies among some men? Discuss!

    • David Kim

      “Infantilization?” “Objectification and gendered status?” How much of your parents’ money did you spend on your Gender and Womyn’s Studies Degree at UC Berkeley?

      • SweetCuppinCakes

        Full scholarship!

        OR,

        what are you on about?

        Take your pick, Mr. I Know the True Nature of Those Behind Anything Written on the Internet.

      • David Kim

        A lock that can be opened by any key is useless; a key that can open many locks is priceless.

      • Natalia

        Not to worry, Mr. I had to say the most cliche thing ever…that’s why right now people use codes to open their doors…you welcome someone in and after that you just change the code…and it’s as good as new, the key/lock dichotomy has become obsolete much like yourself!! …simple and easy. I welcome you to the 21th century LOL

  • Park JT

    And the cliche remains…When considering marriage in Asia, children are merely employees of their families in East Asia. Behaviors like aegyo and naesung are part of the interview skills required to begin their careers.

    Most East Asians will forever defer to their parent’s acceptance of the relationship they are in when considering or being considered as a spouse. Even in the face of modern self discovery as indicated above, the overwhelming desire to please ones future parents sense of “family employability” is the driving force behind matrimony in most Asian families. Marriage is a business merger of families in Asia and has very little to do with long term happiness and fulfillment of the individuals in the marriage. Duties and responsibilities still prevail in marriage and family.

    When will the day come when the children of Asian parents will not be treated as employees of their families, to be vetted and judged on variables that have nothing to do with long term marriage happiness and everything to do with economic stability as employees?

    • fortheloveoflife

      did you experience this?! oh im so sorry. marriage should NOT be a “business merger of families, ” it should be MUCH to do with “long term happiness and fulfillment of the individuals in the marriage.” i feel sorry that you experienced the opposite of it.

      “the children of Asian parents will not be treated as employees of their families, to be vetted and judged on variables that have nothing to do with long term marriage happiness and everything to do with economic stability as employees” You could do this for your children 🙂

      • Park JT

        ???

  • John Spartan

    You had me up until you started talking about doing aegyo. I can never respect a woman who does aegyo. Act like an adult, not like a child. What kind of closet pedophile likes woman who act like children?

  • David Wolfe

    I am an American male working here in Korea. I really liked your story. Thanks.

  • J

    This was an amazing thing to read at this point in my life 🙂
    I have always considered myself an outgoing, bright personality, positive girl; someone who enjoys meeting new people and going on new adventures. I have been dating this guy for a little over a year, and i had never really had an estable relationship before now…
    I had this HUGE psychological break downn last year, as i was struggling to adapt to this “new me”. Because just like you mention, i suddenly found myself doing all this things that in my mind had this negative meaning, because they are “stereotypical of dumb girls” according to the imaginary constructed in my mind. I started spending more time with him than with my friends (because i got very few opportunities to see him and i missed him~), i started prioritizing him over so many things (duh~ i love him!)… And many othey little things that made me think this relationship was toxic for me. And i was sooo scared, so afraid. Thinking things even like “this is obssession, not love… See?? It is a toxic relationship” until i went down in a never ending spiral, having to go to counseling and therapy and going into depression… When i had an amazing loving man next to me, who did nothing but care for me and back me up. Something insode me kept telling me i needed to let go of my own restrictions and expectations… And here i am, after 9 months of my first crisis, almost at my best, with a loving guy that never let go of my hand during my darkest moments… All cause i was being stubborn thinking change meant NO. Change is good, cause you learn, God knows how much i have learned! 🙂

    • David Kim

      Did this relationship of yours end with a rabbit in a pot?

  • Anon

    Nice to see some healthy discussion in the comments area.
    I can’t help but align with David Kim’s thinking.
    oops..time to start having kids before it is too late.

  • steveb

    meh…just find yourself a nice American or European guy. Problem solved.

    • David Kim

      Yes, that would be the next step. Because Korean men are so obviously sexist and judgemental. It has nothing to do with the fact the original writer squandered her best years partying and flirting with her (by her own admission) many many guy friends, none of whom saw fit to keep her for a long term relationship. Well, I guess for her there’s always the option to go hang out at Itaewon bars and find a literal white knight, preferably one from a rich Western country such as Australia or the US. Because of course foreign expat guys in Korea from countries such as Pakistan or Russia are probably just as sexist as Korean men. Obviously.

      • fortheloveoflife

        David Kim,

        may i know what is your nationality? are you a korean being adopted at baby to the western countries? or are you an immigrant from S. Korea? I mean, if David Kim is your real name, then you are a korean by hereditary, no?

        thank you very much.

  • girlcallsun

    “Because Korean men are so obviously sexist and judgmental.”

    At least one of them is. His name happens to be David Kim.

    “Well, I guess for her there’s always the option to go hang out at Itaewon bars and find a literal white knight, preferably one from a rich Western country such as Australia or the US.”

    Finally, it comes out. The butt hurtness over Western men dating Korean women. It was lurking there all along.

    Well, it’s about time to stop feeding the David Kim troll.

    • David Kim

      Me? I’m the troll when one of your previous posts consisted mostly of ad hominem attacks on me, along with a crude reference to masturbation? All I did was take facts supplied by the original writer, namely: 1) She’s a reformed party girl who used to have many male friends 2) Spent her mid 20s in relationships that went nowhere 3) Now, it’s Valentine’s Day and she’s all alone making chocolates 4) Korean men are demanding and sexist in their expectations of gender roles. I provided my own interpretation of these facts with some reading between the lines and embellishment.

      So far the bulk of the responses seem in line with yours, namely that I’m a misogynistic pig. I have yet to see any responses that address whether the type of behavior described by the original writer is admirable. Please, any guys out there with real-life dating experience, chime in.

      -Do you really want your girlfriend to have many many guy friends and “having fun at interesting gatherings” (author’s own words) to the detriment of your relationship with her?
      -Do you really want to marry a girl that can chug 2 bottles of soju in one sitting?
      -Do you guys realize many girls (in Korea and elsewhere) quickly put on the “good girl” act when it’s time to snag a husband? Time to reset the notch count to zero!
      -What does it say about a girl she’s spent her prettiest, most desirable years (early 20s) flirting with many guy friends and chugging soju with them but couldn’t get long-term commitment from them?
      -Or how about a female commenter who thought it would be “gross” to even consider having sex with her male friends who aren’t even related to her?

      “The butt hurtness over Western men dating Korean women. It was lurking there all along”

      Can’t stop with the crude vaguely homophobic references, can you? And I’m the troll?

  • fortheloveoflife

    Davis Kim,

    may i know what is your nationality? are you a korean being adopted at baby to the western countries? or are you an immigrant from S. Korea? I mean, if David Kim is your real name, then you are a korean by hereditary, no?

    thank you very much.

    • fortheloveoflife

      sorry for that. *David Kim.

  • Jay

    An interesting piece and vibrant discussion…I have enjoyed reading them.

    “Do you really want your girlfriend to have many many guy friends and “having fun at interesting gatherings” (author’s own words) to the detriment of your relationship with her?”

    – Probably not. Once you develop an exclusive relationship, i.e. boyfriend-girlfriend, you would expect your girlfriend to keep a respectful distance from her male friends, just as you would do from your female friends. But wouldn’t this be that any sensible guy or woman in a relationship do? Maybe I am naive. But I would also think the author, who seemed thoughtful and sensible, would have known the boundary, when it comes to interacting with her guy friends, once she had a boyfriend.

    “Do you really want to marry a girl that can chug 2 bottles of soju in one sitting?”

    – Well… why not? As long as you are attracted to her. It would be just as much an issue to me as a guy drinking two bottle of soju would be to a woman.

    “Do you guys realize many girls (in Korea and elsewhere) quickly put on the “good girl” act when it’s time to snag a husband? Time to reset the notch count to zero!”

    – This, I don’t, though I have been long suspecting. Seriously, though, it that right? I’d love to hear woman’s God honest take on this. I’d hate to admit, but I guess I would be one of those “clueless guys” (you mentioned in an earlier comment). And I am tired of being clueless. I know what is supposed to be and all that. I just like to know (and am curious) what the heck women are really thinking and “operating” in the real world out there. So predictable, you said? I have no earthly idea. South Korean women, in particular, feel like a completely mystifying species to me, defying any logic and reason. It almost feels like every Korean guy gets it, but I don’t. Was there a class or something I missed growing up?

    “What does it say about a girl she’s spent her prettiest, most desirable years (early 20s) flirting with many guy friends and chugging soju with them but couldn’t get long-term commitment from them?”

    – The strategy seems right. Maybe a tactical mistake? Too many buses arrive at the same time. Stop gauging too long, pick one — before all gone.

    “Or how about a female commenter who thought it would be “gross” to even consider having sex with her male friends who aren’t even related to her?”

    – The guys may be not attractive?

    As for David Kim, he is not a troll. He is expressing his opinion freely and clearly, without disparaging and crudeness (however one may disagree, disapprove, or feel offended). Do we really want people to say what they are supposed to say? Cynical and sarcastic as he may be, David Kim is exercising freedom of expression respectfully and rather eloquently.

  • goodbyeapathy

    This article could have had a lot more depth to it but I feel like it fell just short of the finish line, yes, even for an opinion article.

    My two-cents…

    After living in the U.S. for most of my life and moving to Korea – I actually found it really difficult to have friends who were guys that were Korean-Korean, not Korean-American or foreign. Found a lot of them to have ulterior motives vs the friends I found in the States who really… are… just friends. They viewed being friends as that middle step before a potential relationship but this could also be because I’m Korean-American, so bias on their part?

    As a woman seen as independent – I noticed less of a need for aegyo and more of a commentary on how “fierce/strong” I was (ssae, ssaeda) – and this wasn’t usually a positive nuance. Sarcasm also doesn’t translate well into Korean culture so I was told quite a few times to ‘stop being so negative’ by men. Friends would comment on how intimidating my fierceness was, for guys.

    The ssae-da included the following, on how one can be too ssae :

    1) Behavior : can go places by oneself and drink coffee (alone! gasp! horror!), may even travel to other cities alone, okay with being single (if I can count all the times I heard folks lamenting about being single… I’d be rich), is assertive with opinion (I think you’re incorrect vs going about it in a roundabout way), etc.

    2) Appearance : wears more defined makeup (red lips vs pink/natural, darker nail polish), slight cleavage (cleavage seems to be a no in everyday Korea, while short skirts and fishnet stockings are totally okay for work), but is also okay with wearing sneakers on the subway with a business suit (have you SEEN those stairs? there’s no way I’m hiking in heels) – a general lack of following the current fashion trends.

    So the combination of various aspects of 1 & 2 made me a ssaen-yeoja (strong woman) and therefore not-dateable or, date and attempt to make more Korean. Aegyo seemed to denote that you follow the norm while ssaeda means you are a trend-bucker or, like me, you don’t give a damn. Marriage is still such a big end-game in Korea that folks will use all the arsenal available to achieve that but I hope this will change for future generations. Do you!