Dating is Hell in Korea
By Lola Moon

"There will be no men in your life for one year – get used to it." Those words of my ex-roommate have proven far too true for myself and many other foreign women in Korea. Dating – or the lack of it – takes on very strange dimensions in Korea. 

First the relationships that do commence here seem to be characterized by a frantic kind of intensity; everything is speeded up here. One friend of mine explained it in this way. She had been seeing a man of two weeks and told me that it was the "equivalent of two months on the outside." By that she meant that that heightens all of the emotional baggage we all bring into relationships in Korea. Because we are in a foreign country, especially a country that is not always easy to live in at times, we enter into relationships that with slightly skewed perspective. All the stages of a relationship that normally take several months back home can happen in several weeks here. 

Second, there is the realization that most foreign men are only interested in Korean women, and for many teachers that was their whole reason for coming to Korea. That is certainly understandable – Korean women are exotic and beautiful. And while many Korean women are intelligent and mature, there are also many that idolize foreign men simply because they have white skin and are from the same country as Brad Pitt. Many of these creepy white guys seem to have a touch of misogyny in them – probably because every woman in the Western Hemisphere has shot them down. But Korea is the land of opportunity, especially if you can find a Korean woman who doesn’t speak very good English – she’ll think I’m a god! 

On more than one occasion I have heard white men completely denigrate everything about this country, and then proceed to try and pick up Korean women. I like to call it the "Heart of Darkness" syndrome. Western men don’t have to watch what they say or do when they come to Korea – they don’t have to pretend that they believe in that feminist rhetorical crap that was shoved down their throats back home. Life is so easy for them here and the most of the women are so much less demanding than they were back home. 

So what options does that leave foreign women? If one night stands with the American GIs at Dallas isn’t exactly your coup of tea; there’s always what I consider to be the most attractive option – Korean men. That is, of course, if you can find a Korean man who a) speaks English, b) isn’t afraid of you, or c) isn’t dating you because he thinks you’re Meg Ryan or Sandra Bullock. This task is not as easy as it sounds. 

If you happen to find an eligible Korean man, you then have to put up with the negative reactions from not only the Korean community, but from the foreign community as well. The aforementioned white guys may be only interested in Korean women, but that doesn’t mean they want Korean guys dating their women. It’s like a dog with a bone that it’s not chewing – just because it doesn’t want that bone, doesn’t mean it wants another dog to take that bone. 

On the Korean side, if the relationship remains casual (confined to adventures in the front seat of his Tico) then the whole thing can be pretty cool. Of course, god help him if the family ever found out. But Korean men can also be deceiving. Many foreign women delude themselves into thinking that Korean men are all innocence and naiveté. But that would be a big mistake – Korean men play their own dating games, we just don’t understand the rules. 

But if you can have a few laughs and a good time, nobody gets hurt. Unfortunately, the relationships often go much further than that and it is the foreign woman that ends up with the broken heart. Dating a Korean man is a great way to understand the culture, and to understand that you will never be a part of it. While it is also difficult for foreign men dating Korean women to be accepted into Korean society – it is next to impossible for foreign women to achieve acceptance. 

Historically, women are always expected to give up their family when they marry, and sometimes their country. However, men can not and will not do the same – their first priority is their family, especially if they are the only son. 

So what is the answer? I wish I knew. My only advice is to be careful, regardless of whom you date. If you thought dating was difficult back home, you’ll soon discover it’s hell in Korea.