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Dating: the Ultimate Goal or a Heavy Burden?Dating Survey Reflecting Changes to the Way We Think about Love
Nguyen Thanh Huong 기자  |  huonghn1504@gmail.com
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승인 2016.05.16  15:05:03
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     There is a Korean saying: “No tree will not fall if you try to take it down ten times” meaning if you ask someone out for a date ten times, chances are they will eventually say yes. Such symbolic expression exhibits the consistent determination and the tremendous interest in romantic courtship of people. Interestingly enough, in the 21st century, dating is no longer a one shade color. There have been numerous evolutions in the dating field created in the new millennium. With countries opening their markets to foreign investment, imported music, oversea cuisine, cross-cultural dating has also arrived in South Korea. After conducting intense interviews and surveys on nearly 500 CNUians from diverse age groups, various fields of studies and different mindsets, the Chonnam Tribune investigated one of the most prominent popular cultures that seems nearly impossible to escape from: Dating.

▲ A cross-cultural couple, Klemen from Slovenia and Mun-yeong from Korea in Balsan Village, 17-13, Cheonbyeonjwa-ro 108 beon-gil, Seo-gu, Gwangju on May 6, 2016

Watch Out for the Couple Virus!
     Yes, we cannot seem to miss the sight of dating, or the idea itself, as it is presented almost everywhere. Kakao users do not just see the famous cartoon emoticon couple – Brown Dog Frodo and Blue Cat Neo on their messages but also printed on posters, water bottles or pencil cases. In trendy restaurants and coffee shops, “couple sets” are offered instead of a meal for two. Options for single diners rather sound odd.
     In K-dramas or movies, we rarely see a portrayal of protagonists who do not have a partner. More often, main characters and even back-up actors are programmed by the scripts to fall in love with somebody. For instance, the TV series ”Descendants of the Sun” has couples’ love stories of not only Yoo Shi-jin and Kang Mo-yeon’s, but Seo Dae-young and Yoon Myung-joo. Moving our viewpoint to touristic destinations across South Korea, couples dressed in matching tops, couple rings, identical shoes, taking selfies and being lovey-dovey are easily spotted. Nationwide, particular days such as White Day, Valentine’s Day, Rose Day, Peppero Day, Christmas and so on are commercialized for couples. Even in a socializing context, after questions regarding examination marks, certificate accumulation, the topic of having a boyfriend or girlfriend will eventually be approached. The dating fever is real.

Korean Dating Scene
     In the results of the Tribune’s survey on CNU students, from March 21 to 31, nearly 90% of the participants want to be in a relationship. When it comes to the process of dating, it is needless to say that there is no one-size-fit-all procedure for every couple. On the other hand, there is a typical period that is well-acknowledged which is called “some” in Korea. “Some” is a relationship before two people decide to be boyfriend-girlfriend. Both parties know they are having “something” with each other but they are not actually 100% engaged or committed to one another. When enquired about how it became clear that your dating partner is your boyfriend, Kwak Da-in (Sophomore, Dept. of Polymer & Fiber System Engineering) said, “When I felt that he really loves me by his actions, the way he looks at me and his words. I was sure that we started to be in a relationship when I realized that I think of him in my happiest moments. Also, when my shortcomings are filled by him and when we share our feelings with each other.”
     One of the most well-known aspects of the Korean dating scene is the “100-200-300 days anniversary tradition”. More than half of our survey participants celebrate their relationships at the 100 days milestone. For some people, the celebration does not need to be glamourous. Kwag Ju-hui (Sophomore, Dept. of Chinese Language and Literature) and her boyfriend send each other love letters, flowers and head to a restaurant together. 

▲ Key chains are also made in a set for couples

     One surprising discovery found in our investigation is that Korean couples’ dates are not always paid entirely by the males in the CNU community. 78% of students split their bills with their partner while only 16% says the men take care of it. While males paying it all does not seem to be as common as we thought, couple culture domination is a real deal. Statistics shows that about 70% of daters have matching items with their partners. While Ju-hui and her boyfriend bought wooden rings they saw in a K-drama “Discovery of Love”. Da-in and her boyfriend wear couple shirts and travel together. When most students are willing to be in a relationship, they are also open-minded when it comes to having an intimate one. 84.8% of survey partakers have done more than kissing with their partners and believe that intimacy happens when it is appropriate for both parties.

Cross-cultural Dating
     With about 70,000 foreign residents in Gwangju, according to the Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs’ 2015 Statistics, along with yearly increasing numbers of international students at CNU, cross-cultural dating is expanding its existence. Realistically speaking, the most significant concern is cultural differences. One such couple met at CNU in early 2015 and have been together since, Klemen Šutar (Slovenian, Exchange Student, Faculty of Business Administration) and Baeg Mun-yeong (Senior, Dept. of Public Administration) learned how to embrace the other’s mentality through shared experiences. “Klemen got to know a Korean female friend of mine through a group get-together in my class. One time, she texted Klemen to ask for a picture we took altogether. Since then, from time to time, I noticed Klemen and her chatting casually which made me really upset even though he was just being friendly with her. In Korean culture, your female friends are not supposed to talk to your boyfriends privately. You should be the messenger between the two”, said Mun-yeong. This was clearly a culture shock to Klemen as in Slovenia, being nice to girlfriend’s friend is considered an appropriate behavior.
     Moon Sun-woong (Senior, Faculty of Business Administration) might have experienced a similar intense situation which was somewhat comical. He recalled, “We met up with her close friends for the first time in Russia and one of them introduced me to Russian Vodka. Although my girlfriend expressed her worry about my alcohol tolerance limit, I did not want to be rude to her friend by rejecting him so I ended up drinking half of the 40% bottle. I was vomiting like no tomorrow in the bathroom later on. My girlfriend then got super mad, and declared she would abandon me until I get myself together.” Sun-woong’s girlfriend expressed her affection by being hard on him which blew his mind at first. Fortunately for him, his hangover was tolerated with her cooking and caring for him when the anger had passed.
     As lessons were learnt from the two stories above, sometimes what is considered common sense in one culture might not be so in another. Then again, that’s what is beautiful about mixed culture dating. Learning to embrace the differences and making compromises with your partner from another cultural background are the keys to a happy relationship.

▲ Couple rings are super popular in the Korean dating scene.

Single Surfers or Single Sufferers?
     While couples are dominating the population, others might find it challenging to enjoy their single life in Korea, the so-called ‘Wonderland of Couples’. Think of the dating scene here like a gigantic hamburger. With Korean daters and cross-cultural daters being the burger bun, single people are the meat stuck in the middle. It was literally what happened to Alvina Joanna (Indian, Former Exchange Student, Dept. of Statistics) in Lotte World. “As my friend and I were waiting in line for our last ride, we happened to be in between two extremely affectionate couples who were making the most of the wonderful magical air there. My friend and I felt so out of place that we laughed till we had tears in our eyes. After which we spoke of the most random topics that came to mind, just to distract ourselves from what was happening around us,” Alvina retrieved.
     That is merely one of the many similar stories this Tribune reporter heard from our bachelor interviewees. Ubiquitous Public Display of Affection (PDA) in a heavily dating-themed society puts a great amount of pressure on single surfers. Lim Hyeong-cheon (Senior, Faculty of Economics) shared his concern, “On regular days and especially couple days like Peppero day or Christmas, I feel really frustrated because couples are everywhere. It is not like I don’t like dating. I just haven’t found the right one yet. On the other hand, as I’m a student, dating costs a lot, plus I will need to get a job after graduation so I wouldn’t have time for it.” Although the unsaid rule where guys pay for dates is getting more flexible, in the beginning phase, the male is expected to do so which is undoubtedly pricey on a student’s budget. Moreover, time investment in preparing to enter Korea’s competitive job market turns dating into a luxury. Not just Hyeong-cheon, Phoent Seng Thai (Cambodian, Freshman, Faculty of Business Administration) and other interviewees from both Korea and different nationalities are also worried about this particular issue, “It’s hard to go on dates when you’re a student and don’t have a lot of money”.
     In addition, when it comes to interracial dating, our survey results indicate 50% of bachelor students prefer dating international people while the other half says it doesn’t matter. This is a positive finding signaling today’s CNU generation having broad-minded thinking and progressive attitudes towards exploring other cultures on a romantic level.

Healthy ‘I’ for a Healthy Relationship
     According to an interview with counselors at the CNU Student Consulting Center, one of the current most urgent issues among couples is lacking of or difficulties in communicating with their beloved ones. One piece of advice the Center provided suggested a way to have a healthy relationship is trying to care for your partner’s personal problems tactfully but only to some extent as they might need some space to tackle certain problems by themselves. Scott Findlay (Professor, Dept. of English Language and Literature) who has lived in Korea for over a decade and is married to a Korean recommended being tolerant and sympathetic towards each other as there will definitely be moments of misunderstandings where open-minded communication would be the solution.
     In the spirit of having a healthy relationship, the first question to ask is not how you love the other person, but rather how you love and understand yourself. Even if you don’t feel like ending your bachelor life, that is fine too. Thinking it is a must to be in a relationship because popular culture dictates you to do so is the fastest way to stress yourself out. You will be more likely to have a healthy relationship when you are mentally stable and in the best version of your true self. Invest time to explore and discover who you are by spending more time on activities that help you grow as a person and engaging in helping others who are in need of your skills and talents when you can. When you know that you are ready, love with all your heart. Just do not forget that the goal is for both people to be happy and be better versions of themselves, not worse or less. Happy loving!

By Nguyen Thanh Huong, Tribune Reporter

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