Dating in Korea

Recently, I had conversation with a few Korean and non-Korean friends about dating. And a few interesting points about the differences between dating in Korea and dating in Canada came up during the conversation that I thought were worth sharing. Hence, today’s Korean Culture post is on dating in Korea – or rather it’s about dating Koreans and things many foreigners (including Kyopos) find interesting, different or difficult. 

Let me first say, I am by no means an expert on dating or dating Koreans but I do have some experience from my three years there. And in addition to my limited experience, I also love people watching and I have plenty of experience listening to friends – guys and girls, Korean and non-Korean – talk about dating and their relationships. Plus, I’m a student of culture in general and Korean culture in particular and I read (a lot). And like I said, some interesting points about dating came out during a completely non-related conversation so I thought I’d share them with you (along with a few others). I’d also love to hear any of your observations!!

When I started writing this, I did some quick research on Google on the topic and came up with some interesting hits. The majority of the websites I visited were either advice for Western/foreign guys who wanted to or were dating Korean girls or were written by Western/foreign girls about dating in Korea (in general or some cases, they were more of an online journal of her dating experiences). There was often surprise in the comments on western girls dating (or wanting to date) Korean guys which I found/find funny.

And as a side note, I always love the surprise I often hear in new Korean friends’ voices when they hear that I dated a Korean guy. Really, I did live there for three years. Plus, while I don’t really have a physical type – I do prefer guys who have dark hair (easy to find in Korea unless they dye their hair) and who are bigger than me (a little harder but still fairly easy to find, I’m only 167cm). And I know I’m not the only non-Korean girl who finds Korean guys attractive 🙂 My online search proved that!

But back to the topic 🙂

Cross-cultural dating is always interesting and comes with additional pitfalls, especially if neither of you are entirely familiar with the other’s culture. Add a different language into the mix and it becomes even more interesting – and the chance for misunderstandings multiply. That all being said; go for it! There’s absolutely nothing wrong with dating someone different and it virtually guarantees that you won’t be bored. Will it be a little extra work? Of course! You’ll both have to make an effort to learn at least a little about your partner’s culture and language to give your relationship a chance. Can it work? Of course! There are lots of examples. And I’m going to help you a little with some interesting tidbits about dating a Korean. Most of my tips will be about dating a Korean guy but some will be general tips.

Dating in Korea

1. Korean guys are more attentive and communicative than their western counterparts. I loved this as it made me feel like he cared but I know some of my friends had problems with it. A few of my female Korean friends who dated western guys would ask why their boyfriend wouldn’t call or text all the time so this tidbit is useful for everyone to know. Expect a lot of texts and calls – some to just say “hi” or to check and make sure you arrived home safely.

2. Korean guys will carry your purse and shopping bags. At first, this seemed a little odd but sweet. But after a while, I loved it! I like shopping a little too much so it was nice to have help with my bags 🙂 However some of my female western friends didn’t like it because it made them feel weak.

3. Parent’s opinions matter, a lot! For most Canadians, it’s their opinion of their partner which is the most important. But in Korea, the parent’s opinion is paramount. Most Koreans won’t marry (or even date) someone their parents don’t approve of – especially if they are the eldest son (whose is responsible for caring for his parents in their old age). I dated a Korean guy who broke up with me because I was both western and the “marrying kind of girl” and his mother told him he had to marry a Korean girl.

4. Men pay, going dutch is very unusual. Going dutch in Canada (or the U.S.) is fairly common. In fact, many girls insist on it as a way to be independent. In Korea, it’s almost unheard of.

5. 100 day anniversary – an important date in the relationship. Actually, 100 days is just plain important as there is a ceremony for babies at 100 days too. Expect a gift on your 100 day anniversary! Dating = being in a relationship. In Canada, you can go on several dates and still be dating. In Korea, the second date often means you are in a relationship. Remember 100 days is an important anniversary so the relationship starts early.

6. Liking Korean guys. Koreans (guys and girls) are often surprised that western girls might like Korean guys but not that western guys like Korean girls. I’ve never understood this and none of my friends could explain it. But nonetheless, it’s true. This means guys might be less likely to ask you out even when they want to because they think you won’t be interested. And you’re not suppose to ask him (too forward). Smiling at him shyly works a lot of the time. Who knew that my being shy would be a good thing!

7. Matchmaking. If you are over 26 years old, expect to be asked if you want to be set up by friends, co-workers, and pretty much anyone else. I even had a taxi driver offer to do it once.

8. There is still a lot of pressure to marry by a certain age. While the concept of having to be married by 30 or 35 is pretty much over in Canada, it’s still alive in Korea. One of my Korean guy friends was given an ultimatum by his parents that he had to marry by the end of the year or they would sell the apartment they had bought for him. He was 32 (western age) at the time.

9. First dates are often group dates or the girl will bring a friend on the date. This is normal. I went on several dates as the plus-one for my female friends and they returned the favour a few times for me. This is especially true outside of Seoul!

10. Couple outfits. This is the one thing I could never do. It’s very common in Korea for couples to wear matching clothes – anything from matching t-shirts to jackets. And it’s kinda cute on teenagers but not so much on anyone over 25. The most popular explanation is that in the past, even holding hands in public was a no-no so couples would dress alike to show they were a couple. Matching bracelets, okay but matching outfits, not my thing.

Bonus point

1. Korean guys are just guys; some will only be interested in you for sex. This is no different from Canada (or anywhere else for that matter). There’s an expression, “riding a white horse” that made a lot of my female western friends angry in Korea (and I didn’t particularly like) but there are guys like that everywhere.

So, that’s my bit of information on dating in Korea. Do you agree or disagree with me? Anything to add? Did I get anything wrong? I would love to hear from you!!

For more information, here are some of the articles I read (or watched):

  1. An interesting post on using language exchange for dating, and one I can relate to as I was pretty sure some of my language exchange partners in Seoul just wanted a date which is why I often use girls for language exchange partners. I actually want to learn Korean. 😛
  2. A bunch of funny videos from a Korean-American guy who’s learning how to date Korean girls in Seoul and making videos about what’s he’s learnt.
  3. A very good article from an American girl who ended up marrying a Korean guy, more serious in tone than most of the others I read.
  4. An article/interview about dating between Koreans in 2012 and how things have changed.

Cindy Zimmer

Live life to the fullest everyday - this is a the philosophy I try to live by and it's taken me on many adventures. I write about Korean culture from a non-Korean perspective as the editor/founder of ATK Magazine and I'm the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Toronto Korean Film Festival (TKFF). Previously, I ran a Korean-English language exchange group (in Toronto) for 3 years to stay connected to my three years living in Korea as an English teacher. I love music, film, food and sports and write about 3 of the 4.

10 thoughts on “Dating in Korea

    • January 13, 2012 at 7:25 pm

      Thanks 🙂

  • January 15, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    Great post!

    I know what you mean by #1 🙂
    (Generally speaking) Korean guys have that. Quite sweet.

    As for #3, I do agree with you; it matters tons. HOWEVER, that shouldn’t discourage a couple who doesn’t have the approval. There are always exceptions and struggles and people who have made it. My parents are an example I know by heart 🙂 My dad is forth-generational eldest son (4대 종손; meaning, my dad is the eldest son, his dad (my grandpa) is the eldest son, and his dad (my great granpa) is the eldest son, and so was his dad (my great-great grandpa)!) from a super rural agricultural area near Pohang (where understanding of a daughter-in-law is very old-fashioned, especially the one with the eldest, eeek!). His relationship with my mom was *viciously* opposed by my grandparents for my mom being educated and same-age with my dad. (well, my mom could be very difficult, personality-wise.. which is a whole another story :p) While my mom backed down from the relationship, my dad fought with his parents and convinced my mom – and they made it! As an old Korean saying goes: 자식 이기는 부모 없다 (no parents win over their children). Like, if the children go “if not this, I’d die”, then parents are supposed to back down. But of course, I’d say, most children in Korea do not have such gut by cultural/educational script. The point being, however rare, however difficult, it’s not impossible to pursue the relationship you believe is *the* one for you. Another example is my friend. She broke up with her boyfriend because of disapproval from her parents. So the couple was apart for a few months, but started to see each other again. Then, the parents realized they could not stop them. They saw their daughter suffered, and perhaps more importantly, they saw that their daughter tried, showing the gesture of her respect to her parents by breaking up with him. Finally, the parents said yes, and now they’re married with two kids and everything’s good after the turmoil 😛

    You see, my issue would be – often it’s a tough call whether a Korean guy is being a 효자 (filial son) or a mama’s boy. The formal, fine, the latter? Ewww.

    Personally, I’m very much in wonder about #6. Really hope they do not do that, but they do, as if they’re not likeable when a girl is white.

    #7, #8, and #9 make the life of single peeps in their 30s very uncomfortable in Korea. Like me. Ugh. Hate that!

    And I know I’m pretty rare to do this, but I go “dutch”, never had a chance for #2 for not being a fan of shopping myself, and #10? God, kill me. Not my thing either. Go Cindy! 😉

    • January 15, 2012 at 7:09 pm

      Hi Yuri 🙂 Wow! I love how long your comment is, so much detail and I really liked your reply to #3. I’m not a big fan of #8 or #9 myself but #7 always makes me curious – who would my friend or co-worker set me up with 🙂

  • May 31, 2012 at 6:15 am

    I really agree! There are definitely differences when dating Korean guys. Some people assume all men are the same everywhere but there are some very real cultural differences that are good to be aware of. I’m married to a Korean guy and I know about the extra work needed for bridging two cultures but also some of the really funny and weird stuff that comes from it too. I recently started a blog about that type of random stuff (I draw comics) because I wanted to do something more lighthearted about being with a Korean guy. ( Anyway I stumbled across your blog- I love it!

    • May 31, 2012 at 10:16 am

      Hi Nic, thanks for visiting!! I hope you keep reading! I’m heading straight over to check out your blog too 🙂 I love discovering cool, new blogs!

  • December 18, 2012 at 2:33 pm

    It’s really interesting how my experience was different than what I usually come across.

    For example, his parents never had a say in our relationship, we didn’t celebrate 100 days, nor any other of those types of anniversaries, and, while we never go dutch, we take turns paying. He’s also very quiet person, and getting a text from him or a call is really difficult. 🙂

    But like the posts says, go for it. I found great love, you might too. 🙂

    • December 18, 2012 at 2:44 pm

      Yay! I love hearing stories about when love works out 🙂

      • December 18, 2012 at 3:02 pm

        Well, we’ve been together for only two years, but without a doubt, no matter how it turns out, this will have been an amazing experience 🙂

        And I am glad I experienced falling in love for the first time. It’s nice being in love.

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