By Kim Sun Oh(firstname.lastname@example.org) Kim Jung Ik (email@example.com), Byun Bo-Kyung (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Do you recall the Korean drama Rooftop Prince that aired just last year? Starring Park Yoo Chun and Han Ji Min, its plot revolved around the story of a Joseon Dynasty prince who travelled across time to meet the love of his life, a woman of the 21st century. It was but one of the many leaping-across-time-to-find-true-love dramas that were televised in the year 2012 alone, along with Queen Inhyun’s Man and Faith. But as romantic as the notion of love that overcomes all barriers may seem, and as entertaining as the dramas all were, whether two people from two completely different centuries would be able to identify with and ultimately fall in love with each other is rather questionable. After all, the general attitude toward love has evolved over the years, especially in Korea. One need not even go back to the Joseon Dynasty—the past century alone is more than enough to demonstrate the drastic change in the way people view love and relationships.
Evolution of Views—Past
To begin with, the idea of “romance” was practically nonexistent in Korean society up until the early 20th century. Conservative Confucian values disapproved of extra-marital contact of any sort from a young age, as summed up by the statement “a boy and a girl should not sit together after the age of seven.” Thus, naturally, choosing one’s own marriage partner was something unheard of. Most of the time, the first night a newlywed couple spent together would be the first time they saw one another’s faces. Romance was but something that could be experienced second-hand through novels.
However, with the Korean War in the 1950s, such conservative views began to be challenged. Foreign soldiers who came to fight brought along their liberal values toward romance, marriage, and relationships, and Koreans who interacted with them were naturally influenced. Of course, this certainly does not mean the majority of Korean society suddenly became open-minded toward relationships. Madame Freedom, a novel published serially in The Seoul Newspaper in 1954, was one of the paper’s most popular publications, but also aroused public backlash for its portrayal of a professor’s wife who commits adultery. Quite a number of people, especially those from academia, formally protested for the suspension of the story from the publication, saying that it was an insult to professors in general and tainted the minds of readers. In this way, new ideas concerning relationships were being introduced, albeit not all accepted.
Whereas free love was hushed up in the 50s, conservative social conventions that viewed it negatively were continually challenged in the 60s. This pertained especially to the well-educated, who were more exposed to Westernized systems of thought. As a result, the origin of what university students now call “meetings”— couple parties—was the brainchild of a group of Seoul National University (SNU) students and Ewha Womans University (EWU) students. Though meetings are regarded casually nowadays, at the time the idea of 700-or-so couples gathering together to party was shocking, but it was only because such people took the lead in opening up public opinion concerning dating and marriage that contemporary Korean society is as it is today.
In contemporary society, free love is a given. Over the past few decades, waves of Westernization have not only changed who we love, but how we love. Couples tend to be much more liberal toward physical intimacy and dating in general. “I’m okay with the idea of Public Display of Affection (PDA) on campus, as long as it’s not too over-the-top; a simple hug or a kiss seems acceptable,” said Shin Jae Won (’13, International Studies). Though not so remarkable now, just a few decades ago her statement would have been scandalous—after all, even holding hands on campus was considered daring.
In this way, up until a few decades ago, Westernization was the dominant factor in changing the way people viewed love and relationships. Changes in people’s views are still continually taking place even here in the 21st century, but for different reasons. Nowadays, the mass media is a crucial factor that molds the way people view love. What with its tendency to glorify specific intimate scenes in dramas or movies, it encourages people to develop a curiosity and a vague desire to follow after what they have seen. This, coupled with the plethora of R-rated material accessible online, may explain contemporary trends like one-night stands. The media has also played a role in fuelling lookism. In a survey of 800 male and female students at Korea University (KU), 45 percent of people surveyed replied that looks played positively in their choice of a love interest.
In addition, the development of technology has changed the playing field altogether. The internet provides solos with a vast number of ways to meet new people. Online dating sites such as Eeum and Cocoabook set up blind dates for its users, for instance. “Meetings,” originally arranged through a friend or an acquaintance, are now often arranged by matching up postings on internet cafes. “I heard that guys from Hanyang University College of Engineering were hot, but I didn’t have any personal connections to arrange a meeting myself, so when I found four of them looking for a group of four girls to meet up with on a meeting-arranging site, I naturally jumped at the opportunity,” confesses Kim (’13, Foreign Languages and Literatures), who wishes to remain anonymous. Even other than providing the initial link, technology is crucial in all stages of a developing relationship. Social networking sites are considered a prerequisite tool when first getting to know a potential love interest. Only 10 percent of KU students surveyed replied that they did not rely on technology, including Facebook and online chatting. Technology also keeps couples more connected than were couples of any other decade, with the ability to text, call, or message instantly at their disposal.
Trouble Arising on the Surface
In this way, our generation’s values toward dating are becoming increasingly more open. Cohabitation and international dating, once considered scandalous, are now more or less accepted modern-day trends. Half of KU students surveyed answered that they think cohabitation is a positive thing, on the premise that some sort of agreement was made beforehand. The approval rate is even higher in countries such as the United States (U.S.). The famous TV show Foxlife reported that more than 60 percent of women surveyed over the age of 25 were open toward the idea of living together with a loved one before marriage. It attributed the high approval rate to the various benefits that come with cohabitation, including the reduction in expenditures for necessities and being able to get to know one’s potential marriage partner better.
Similarly, international dating also enjoys a high approval rate among modern-day people. Approximately 91 percent of KU students expressed an either affirmative or neutral stance regarding international couples. This can probably be attributed to the prevalence of international couples in present Korean society; couples with different colored skin but matching t-shirts are not such a rare sight when walking through the streets of Hongdae or Gangnam. Song chang-min (36, Busan), a renowned love coach, affirmed this trend, saying that “many people are becoming flexible about who they date, due to the notion that there are no boundaries when it comes to love.”
Another recently-developed trend is “conditional meeting.” This is a type of prostitution that differs from its original version only in how the service provider and customer are hooked up—they meet through the internet. Although illegal, conditional meetings have gained so much popularity in the 21st century that it has become a blue-ocean industry, attracting people who want to earn quick money. The majority of the prostitutes are homeless teenagers who have nowhere else to go or penniless college students who are struggling to pay their tuition fee.
Although some would condemn the notion of selling their body to earn money as shameful, statistics show an ever-increasing number of students entering into the industry by the day. According to the Chosun Ilbo, the number of conditional meetings has skyrocketed by 40 percent within the past five years. This reflects the current woeful situation, often ignored by society.
One-night stands have also gained in popularity, what with the increasing prevalence and accessibility to clubs and bars. People say they visit such places to relieve stress through drinking and dancing. Coach Song said it is from such a loose attitude that people make mistakes they regret for a lifetime. He further added that the emergence of room cafes, where couples are given the liberty of locking themselves in to secure privacy for sex, reflects the current generation’s light perception on physical intimacy. “The original purpose of room cafes has been defiled— nowadays, it is no longer a place for people to simply drink coffee and relax. It’s an outlet for people to have sex without having to worry about any outside interference.” Likewise, having physical contact with a random male or female in the club is tacitly allowed due to the congested characteristics. All these factors that were originally created as a means of entertainment paradoxically accelerate the trend that permits the nonchalance on dating.
“If this situation continues, the value of love will be lost because people will think of their lovers merely as sex partners. This will in turn wreak havoc on our society by amplifying the divorce rate and inducing our community to be sex-oriented,” said Song.
Apart from the issue of negligence toward sex, many young people nowadays are involved in passive dating (also known as Digital Dating), a situation where couples simply look at their phones to check Kakaotalk and Facebook instead of having face-to-face conversations with each other. This incident highlights the changing perceptions of dating that people nowadays do not feel the strong need to dedicate themselves to their lovers. Around 33 percent of KU students confessed that SNS negatively influence their relationship.
All in all, our generation is facing an ideological crisis since their perceptions of love are utterly misguided. “Digital Dating and trivial sentiment are mutually inclusive and related. Due to the light-hearted nature, more and more people do not feel the necessity of having a conversation with their lovers. Similarly, lack of conversation makes people only pursue a life of debauchery,” says Song.
“The prospect of our generation’s perception on dating is not promising. The era of solitude will come by very soon,” insists Song. He firmly believes that in the future, there will no longer be such thing called view of love since fewer and fewer college students are having a loving relationship. Unlike the past where men were audacious enough to ask girls out, male students these days lack braveness and confidence when it comes to dating. “It is very unfortunate to observe the current trend where few people are involved in authentic love. Our society glamorized the notion of temporary love such as one-night stands too much.” Just like Gucci and Prada, the process of dating is now reckoned as an extravagant affair. Song advises that, in order to cherish the value of love, our generation should have diverse experience that could happen from dating, such as breakup and obsession and a further examination of their inner self. This way, our generation will be able to hone flexible thinking and successfully overcome any difficulties they will encounter in their course of lives.
▲ A KU CC on campus. Photographed by Kim Sun Oh.
Changing Landscape of Marriage
As the young generation’s view of love relationships constantly undergoes changes, their philosophy of marriage has also begun to change. Various changing aspects of today’s society—women’s increasing social roles, a change in family structure, increasing individualistic sets of values, and increasing open-mindedness toward dating and having a relationship—have resulted in shifts in young individuals’ views of marriage.
Till the recent past, it was considered natural for every unmarried person to find one’s life partner and get married when one reaches a certain age for marriage. Most people viewed marriage as one of the essential stages of life. Marriage was indeed believed to be one of the most significant events between two separate families rather than an affair between two individuals.
However, the significance of finding a life partner and forming a family has been reduced among young generations. While unmarried ones’ futures usually led on to a uniform, standardized pathway—getting married and raising their children in the past—today’s unmarried ones face diversified options. Depending on their values or what they consider to be important in their lives, some get married early, others plan to be married later after they attain their goals and careers, and yet even others decide not to get married at all.
▲ Love coach Song Chang Min. Provided by Song Chang Min.
The survey evidently demonstrated young people’s changing perception of marriage. It is true that a lot of students still believe that getting married is an important part of their lives. Nearly 60 percent of female respondents and male respondents answered that although they do not see marriage as a mandatory, must-do rite of passage, they still think getting married and having a life partner will lead them to the better, more stable future than living by themselves for their whole lifetime. Also, it is evident that quite a number of respondents—175 out of 800—do not see the necessity of marriage. The decreasing perception in the necessity of marriage is a predominant phenomenon shown in the survey. Marriage is no longer an essential stage of life for many students.
Career Comes First,
Marriage Comes Later
When KU students were asked whether they will get married even if they have to give up their dreams and quit their professions, 56 percent of male students and 46 percent of female students responded that they would choose to fulfill their ambition rather toward professions than toward marriage. 40 percent of the overall respondents gave an uncertain response toward the question. The result illustrates that students, a great number of male students as well as female students, prioritize personal goals and achievements to marriage. Satisfactions toward their competence and individual lifestyles are highly emphasized among college students.
Among various reasons of this phenomenon, broader opportunities for women to pursue professional careers and young people’s individualistic sets of values have led young people to become more free and open-minded to love and relationships. Baek Young Mi, a manager of a wedding consulting agency, Wedding Concert, claimed that men also prefer women with careers to ones with a conventional good wife and wise mother image. “In what field women are working is not an important issue for men. What matters is the fact that women have jobs and show their abilities display sincerity, independence, and an endeavoring image of women,” said Baek. She also remarked that about 80 percent of men visiting the wedding consulting agency are highly willing to help their wives with household chores. Baek stated, “Men today want their wives to grow and succeed in their professional fields. They came to appreciate wives’ ambition and passion toward their work."
Young people’s changing notion of marriage has resulted in various social phenomena, such as a rapid increase in the number of single women. According to statistical data gathered by the marketing research institute of Cheil Worldwide Inc., the number of unmarried women between 25 and 29 years old increased from 145,000 in 1975 to 465,000 in 1990, more than tripling in 15 years. The number of unmarried women between 30 and 39 years old also underwent a rapid increase in that period. It was estimated to be 10,000 in 1975 and became more than 40,000 in 1990. Such statistical evidence displays an idea that living single is no longer a temporary stage of one’s life cycle, but rather a modern type of lifestyle.
The fact that the optimal age for marriage is on the rise also reflects the new perception of marriage. When KU students were asked at what age they plan to get married, 52 percent of male students responded that they would get married in their early thirties and 12 percent answered mid-thirties seem to be the right age for them. In the case of female students, 41 percent said late twenties and 25 percent chose early thirties for their age for marriage. The fact that the average age of marriage among college students has increased displays that, for many, a concern for marriage comes after they attain a certain social status and achievement.
New Marriage Life
As an individual’s lifestyle is appreciated, young people anticipate their lives after marriage to be similar to their single life patterns. Meeting and developing a loving relationship with someone on campus or at the workplace has become widely common. Those who extend their relationship to its final destination, marriage, expect to appreciate each partner’s individual life and maintain their individualistic lifestyles.
Ko Young Bae (34, Seoul) met his wife through his colleague and dated her for about two years. Being married in 2012, Ko said, “It is true that married life is followed by many new responsibilities. However, my wife and I try to live together in a similar way we had been dating.” He explained, “I appreciate my wife’s life as a career woman and I hope that our married lives are not to hinder my wife’s work life and our individual values.”
Love—Finding Your Life Partner
Then who is an ideal life partner? What factors should be satisfied for a future life partner? It is undeniable that unmarried ones become realistic when it comes to marriage. One’s external conditions—such as job, family background, financial condition, and age—are still important factors in determining one’s life partner; however, Manager Baek emphasized the importance of sharing internal, congenial spirits with each other. “How much a couple loves each other, and respects and cares about each other are the most crucial, never-changing factors about marriage,” stated Baek.
Young people’s view of love and marriage constantly changes. Nevertheless, the core concept of love relationships remains stoic. Regardless of different times and places one meets a loved one, regardless of external conditions one fulfills, sincere love and respect to a loved one should be carried in men’s and women’s complicated relationships. Fawn Weaver once said, “The greatest marriages are built on teamwork. A mutual respect, a healthy dose of admiration, and a never-ending portion of love and grace.”