Efficiency of Dating & Weddings in Korea

Korean dating practices and weddings are in stark contrast to western ways. A friend forwarded me an interesting article about Korean Weddings in the NY Times and the unique practices that go along with them. Which got me to thinking about what I've witnessed in my time here, and I think by mapping out the whole process, you'll be entertained (of course, this is an overall generalization, but I'd say it represents 90% of what I've seen):

First, dating here is amusing. I really do think that sometimes this country is what America must have been like in the 1940s and 50s. Most people (especially the majority of women) live at home with their parents until they get married. The ideal marrying age here is probably sometime between 26 and 32 for women, and maybe 28-35 for men. After that you're considered too old to get married. Oh, and of course these are in Korean ages, which means western age is probably 24-30 and 26-33, respectively. So, dating is pretty much of the utmost importance to almost everyone because they have to meet that target. Occasionally you will find the random forward thinker who's focused on their career, is looking for love, or who just isn't focused on marriage.

Anyway, being that everyone lives at home for the most part, there are hundreds of places called "Love Motels" all around this country. And they're just that... a safe haven for those who need it for, uh, "activities" that can't take place in the home out of courtesy and respect for parents and rules. You'd think with a moniker like Love Motel they'd be the seediest places on earth, but I can assure you, they're actually quite clean, and very nice if you can get past the fact that there's free porn in every room, and that they hand you a toothbrush, soap, and maybe a condom when you check in. I have stayed in quite a few (sometimes while traveling in this country they really are your only option) and they're just basic motels...with character.

As for me personally, I had an American boyfriend the majority of the time I lived in Korea, but once that ended I did attempt to date Korean men of curiosity and slight interest. And what I found was kind of laughable. A first date cannot be just the boy and the girl. It must be the boy and his guy friends, and the girl and her girl friends. Right there I was kind of at a disadvantage because I'm not the type to have a bunch of girl friends hanging around. Subsequent dates can and will be alone if the first goes well, but it's very cutesy and there's a lot of texting involved. And it's not the sweet single text of, "Had a great time" or "Thinking of you" or whatever, it's the Asian cartoon type text of "kekeke <3 <3 <3 Fun!!! ;) :) ㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋ ㅎㅎㅎ" all the time. Not cute. My experiment was very short lived.

Here is a classic example of Korean Dating Efficiency of someone I know:
A 32 yo Korean guy wants to meet a girl. He has his friends set him up on dozens of blind dates. Nothing really interests him over the course of a couple of months. He goes to his bank, which also has a matchmaking service. The bank system is kind of like match.com and asks for your personal profile, information, likes/dislikes, etc. The interesting part of this, is that it also asks you for your assets and income. Then it cross references everything and finds you the perfect partner. So, the man does this, and bam, it sets him up with a 30 year old woman who happens to also live in his same apartment building. They actually have a lot in common - both educated in the States, both have advanced degrees from prestigious American universities, and have a multitude of interests. They met in August, two weeks before she went back to the States to finish her Masters degree. They keep in touch, and she visits once, and they discuss marriage. He tells me her sole purpose in returning to Korea when she finishes school in December is to get married because she can't wait as she's considered too old. The guy has a choice to make, marry her or not marry her. He also wants to get married, because he is also considered to be getting too old. And literally, they are perfect on paper. He told me he will probably propose in late December/early January (by just asking, not doing anything romantic, and will be married by the end of summer next year.

No where in there do you hear him tell me of love. In fact, when he showed me a picture of her and I said she was beautiful he told me she wasn't (trust me, she was). It's kind of nothing short of being a business transaction.

Ok Ok, so this is a BIT on the extreme side, but it's not too far from the norm. In fact, once Koreans do get married, another sad fact happens a little later on down the road. What happens is that children usually come VERY fast after a marriage. The idea could come from the woman or the man, or even both, but it happens fast because that's the point. The women stay home and tend to every single thing in the home. More often than not they also quit their jobs to do this. In order to provide for the new family the men now will work from early morning until well into midnight. The sad part comes in here... since dad is spending so much time in Seoul working sometimes he will go to one of the many "massage" places here, or, even frequent one of the many love motels while the wife turns a blind eye or worse, really just doesn't know. I had a student tell me once, "I don't see dad often because he spends some nights in Seoul. My mom says his company pays for a hotel." Doubtful. I even knew a guy once who actually went all the way to divorce his wife, but still stay in the same apt for the sake of the kids because they didn't know, even though he was oftentimes out with other women.

Now this clearly isn't all Koreans, as family really is very important. Many go off to be very very happy. And their weddings are big, lavish affairs to start off their happy lives. In fact, a wedding is one of the best times to show off everything you can. Korean weddings are kind of great in the fact that they take at most 3 hours and they combine the ceremony with the reception. You say hello to the bride and groom as you enter the reception hall, and there's a giant alter in the middle of tables set up for probably 500 people. EVERYONE is invited to the wedding - business partners, every relative, colleagues, every friend, anyone the entire family has ever come in contact with. The ceremony starts up, and a few minutes in, dinner is served. The ceremony ends, and you're probably into course #2. Then the married couple and the parents of each side make their rounds to each table. That's it. There are some traditions afterwards for the smaller family, but the wedding does not take up the whole day. It will end up costing you a pretty penny though. I attended one high class wedding this year that was about $150 per plate. Luckily I did not have to pay that, as to have a foreigner at your wedding ups your status by about 50 cool points. Each guest is supposed to bring an envelope of cash as their present to help offset the cost of the wedding. Which this is the very subject of the NY Times article, as this has been considered a means for bribery to happen amongst elected officials during times of weddings and funerals.

It has been an absolute pleasure to really get to know how truly different another culture can be in the arena of love. In so many ways its better than what I know, and in so many other ways its worse and limiting and holds women back. I gotta tell ya though - and this is purely personal preference - I'll be holding out for love and happiness, and be pretty happy for a chance at a wedding with all the bells and whistles (as long as its small, and a destination wedding, ha).