[Junior AJA] Dating Culture in South Korea: from dating to marriage

For foreigners living in South Korea, the dating culture is something that cannot go unnoticed. Being a couple in Korea is quite a big thing! So, when young Koreans reach the perfect age, mostly the last years of high school or in college, the first search for a date and a possible life partner can begin.

Dating

Most Korean youngsters prefer to date someone who is from the start a potential match, rather than to meet somebody by chance and risking any awkward situations or mismatches. It is here that friends and family turn out to be quite useful. Rather than through a chance encounter, young Koreans often find a partner after they have been sent on a ‘blind date’ (소개팅, sogaeting). The person who one is supposed to meet in such an occasion is carefully preselected and introduced by either family or close friends. Other common ways of finding a perfect match is through a ‘meeting’ (미팅). It is an event where (mostly) a group of college students collectively go on a blind date. A group of male friends will then meet a group of female friends to hangout and have a good time. In this way a ‘meeting’ gives Cupid plenty of time to do his work. Besides blind dating and college hangouts, seon (선) is another –however less popular– way to meet potential dating partners. Seon is a blind date arranged by parents. It is a very serious date, where both parties, including the parents, have high expectations of marriage right from the start. In case neither of the above mentioned methods can bring love in the air, enrolling in a hobby or sports club (동아리, dongari) is yet another safe way to find a potential partner.

Gentlemen and cute girls

If the blind date or meeting goes smooth and two people become involved, there are certain patterns that reoccur among South Korean lovebirds. First of all, bills are often shared. For example, guys will probably pay for the first ‘round’ (1차), let’s say dinner, while girls will offer to pay for what follows after that, which could be a coffee in a fancy establishment. A man who is dating in South Korea is supposed to be a gentleman and is expected to treat his girlfriend in that manner. In extreme cases, he will end up being the one who will pay for most of the bills, carrying his girlfriends bag around (no matter how pink or girlish it might look like), holding doors open, walking her to the bus and so on. Girls on the other hand have to raise their appearance and ‘cuteness factor’ once they start dating. A typical Korean girl knows how to address her boyfriend in a cute and childish way: “Oppaaa!” (오빠, meaning ‘boyfriend’, but also ‘older brother’) This is believed to help in significantly reducing the chance that he will become mad at her when she comes late on a date or when she wants him to buy something for her.

Couple stuff

Many young South Korean people who are dating tend to prefer not to publicly display their affection. Instead, a couple likes to wear clothes that match, an easy way to clearly show that the two people belong to one another. So rather than visually kissing and hugging in public spaces a couple might wear the same shoes, or same cute sweater. In short, whether it’s in the same color, the same pattern or totally identical… as long as the outfit is matching, a couple is good to go! However we must mention here that in recent years, the unwritten rule of non-display of affection in public is getting less strict.

Besides wearing the same clothes, there are plenty of occasions in South Korea to show your love without publicly displaying affection. For example on Valentine’s Day a girl is supposed to give chocolates to someone she likes, while on White Day a guy gives candies to someone he likes. Also, Christmas is not necessarily a cozy family day, but another perfect day for couples to go out dating.

A couple advertising couple shirts (커플셔츠). Note that the shirts don’t need to be identical. (Photo: www.couplemotion.com)

A couple wearing a couple outfit (Photo: www.couplemotion.com)

Celebrating each 100 days

In South Korea, rather than celebrating anniversaries it is common for youngsters to measure the length of their relationships in units of 100 days. A couple will likely meet every 100 days and give gifts to each other. Buying or making a cake and blowing the candles representing how many hundred days a couple has been together is also a popular way of celebrating this. On the portal website Naver there is even a calendar that helps couples to remember and count exactly how many days they have been in a relationship. For the interested ones who know some Korean, try the 100 days couple calculator!
It is often mentioned by non-Korean people who have experience dating in South Korea that time appears to go faster than in their home countries. That is to say, once a couple starts dating it is possible to get to the same level of intimacy and seriousness in merely two weeks, while in other countries months or years are needed for this. A possible explanation for this could be that once a young Korean person decides to date someone, all the criteria for being the perfect match are believed to be met. Therefore, when it comes to dating: there is little reason to take it slow!

A homemade ‘100 Days’ couple anniversary cake (Photo: Han Jaeran)

No, it’s not grand-grand-grand-granddad’s birthday cake but a Korean ‘500 Days’ couple anniversary cake. (Photo: Jung Seung-Ho and Kim Jiyeong)

Outdoor dating

Since many young Koreans still live with their parents before graduation or before they are able to sustain themselves, they prefer to meet outdoors in order to avoid nosey parents. The best places to spot many couples in Seoul, for example, are the busy shopping streets of Myeongdong or in the many fancy coffee shops. Since showing intimacy in public places is not done and meeting at home could possibly lead to awkward situations, young couples can go to the many ‘karaoke rooms’ (노래방, noraebang), ‘DVD-rooms’ (DVD방) or ‘multi-rooms’ (멀티방, multibang), which are semi private rooms where one can sing songs, rent movies and spend some quality couple time.

Marriage

Once a couple has successfully been dating for a reasonable amount of time, the last stage of the dating process is an engagement followed by marriage. For young Korean people it is important to first get the approval of their parents to get married and become financially independent. Enough money should be saved by the couple (and mostly the parents as well) since the costs of getting married are high. The groom traditionally has to buy the house, while the bride has to take care of the furniture. Seeing the skyrocketing real estate prices in South Korea, it is often the groom who bears the financial burden.

This article is written by using my own observations while living in Seoul for the past two years, and with the help of both foreign and Korean friends who are dating someone in South Korea at the moment.

By Lara Chung Deboeck

2 Responses to [Junior AJA] Dating Culture in South Korea: from dating to marriage

  1. Pingback: This South Korean app just for couples is taking off – Quartz

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