Four foreign female teachers talk about the dismal prospects of dating in Korea. They are from four corners of the earth, four different skin tones, all attractive, and all native English speakers. And all without prospects for relationships.
Four foreign male teachers in the same room, or any other room in Korea, have multiple prospects. They are from all corners of the earth, all skin tones, some attractive, some who would be totally rejected in their home countries yet find themselves not wanting for company here. Many have not only multiple prospects but take advantage of all of them.
The disparity is glaring. And maddening.
It’s not like we’re not trying, either. The common consensus is: Korean men tend to have reservations about relationships with foreigners. (this isn’t even factoring in the language barrier) This is for at least two reasons: 1) they are accustomed to the highly restrictive and prescribed Korean dating etiquette they must employ with Korean women, and 2) what would the family think? On top of all that, I suspect western female independence tends to get confused with being libertine, so that puts us into the negative half of the virgin/whore dichotomy. So many will dip their feet in the pool out of a sense of adventure, but respect became a missing ingredient the second intent sprang into action.
I’m having one of those, “what just happened here?” moments after a date that went too fast. My Migook friend has been having one of those, “when is this ever going to happen?” extended moments after her dates never evolve into something meaningful.
It just feels like dating in Korea is like taking all the most difficult aspects of dating in the west and then multiplying the difficulties times ten. Foreign women must carry around this burden of being not-actually-viable candidates for relationships, or being relegated as only-viable-for possible flings.
For the former, that can mean endearing and sometimes unbearably never-ending sweetness and awkwardness that fatalistically will never reach fruition, (some women experience a kind of puppy love from Korean men that borders on stalking) which can be deliciously maudlin for the Korean man but crazy-making for the foreign woman. For the latter, that can mean a serious lack of quality in all things. There just doesn’t seem to be any need to bother with finesse here. A man’s energies are poured into the dating etiquette, and a woman’s needs here tend to focus on position and things and not the quality of a kiss. Outside of those parameters, there is no interest in putting energy into alternate possibilities. Here in Korea, sex is for taking and not giving, and even “players” could use a road map and instruction manual.
It’s definitely gender-based, and all about the dominant gender. This could explain why there are so many Korean women willing to work outside of their culture’s rules with foreigners, and why so many Korean men can’t-make-it-compute. Because the women want the hell out. Hell, if I was raised here and saw what it means to be a woman in Korea, I’d be chasing after foreign men too.
So why don’t you date foreign men, you might ask? Because I’m not a “real” Korean, so I have nothing cultural to exchange= rejected. And the foreign men who would consider a Korean in-looks-only, are of the pitiful remainder who are unable to get anywhere with any women on either side of the ocean.
Unlike in America, where I was oblivious to connections, repelled by dating, and content to serendipitously let relationships happen to me, here — in order to remain a human — I must actively seek connections. Here in this land where only strumpets live alone, where divorced women are viewed as selfish damaged goods, where adoptees are viewed as deficit in family values, where age is the measure of everything, and married men choose NOT to wear their wedding bands, here I must capitalize on the fraction of a fraction of a sliver left me to touch base and exist beyond the ephemera of this blog and these thoughts between my two ears and hollow eyes.
Living in Korea as a single foreign woman means living as a lone castaway on an island. My foreign friends and I, we can make a place here, find rewards in our work (sometimes) and manage in society, (sort of) but none of us were prepared for this chastity. The prospect of never again having meaningful romantic relationships, human touch, and affection has us all considering leaving earlier than we’d planned.