Unrequited Love…or Stalking? The Pitfalls of Dating in Korea

How to deal with a stalkerIn Korea, it is accepted practice for men to relentlessly pursue the objects of their heart’s desire, sometimes for many years, and despite if said objects clearly, repeatedly, and vehemently express their disinterest.

Far from being viewed as stalking however, it is generally viewed as both a sweet and noble sign of one’s love and dedication. There’s even a proverb specifically for this: “열번찍어 안넘이 가는 나무 없다,” which roughly translates as “There is no tree that can withstand being chopped 10 times.” (Image source, right.)

It’s not that I can’t see those sweet and noble elements, nor how many Korean women would surely exploit the practice, in a playing hard to get fashion (some more Korean that comes to mind is “희망고문하다,” literally to “hope-torture [someone],” or to repeatedly string someone along and then break their heart). But I think that the consensus of most Westerners is that if the woman says she’s not interested…then she’s not interested, and hence that the man’s behavior after being told is stalking, regardless of how sweet or noble his intentions. Unfortunately, in a society that already accepts women being physically dragged into nightclubs, then foreign or Korean, women can probably expect little sympathy when dealing a stalker.

This probably won’t be the first or last time you’ll read about this subject: navigating different expectations when it comes to dating are an integral part of the expat experience, and with my limited dating experience then I can’t add much that hasn’t already had gallons of virtual ink spilt on it. Two useful things I can do though: first, mentioning that of all the guides to navigating those dating minefields out there, that this one by Michael Hurt at Scribblings of the Metropolitician is by far the best, and with many things that informs even my marriage of 6 years; and second, and which was frankly the real inspiration for this post, that over at Sociological Images there is a post that discusses the fact that:

Various journalists and scholars have pointed out over the years that movies and TV shows often portray as romantic behavior that is fairly indistinguishable from stalking.

And then a video created by Jonathan McIntosh of Rebellious Pixels, who:

…edited together scenes from Buffy the Vampire Slayer with scenes of Edward Cullen from the movie Twilight to show how behavior that is depicted as protective and romantic in the film (and book) could also be seen as disturbing

For more, see the original post here. Not that I think that the humorous stalking in, say, There’s Something About Mary had much of an effect on my own opinions of it, nor that seeing it in pop-culture somehow renders real-life examples in any country okay, but still: the next time we feel a sense of righteousness and indignation about hearing Korean examples, it is certainly worth pondering the mixed messages that Western pop-culture provides.

21 thoughts on “Unrequited Love…or Stalking? The Pitfalls of Dating in Korea

  1. Here is a good post by the creator of the Buffy vs Edward about why and how he made the remix. Some of the same points you talk about – via Women In Media & News: http://bit.ly/4syQC

    He is also asking for help with translations for the subtitles if anyone here wants to help out, 20 language so far, but did not see Korean yet: http://bit.ly/4kRvp


  2. While I can’t remember the exact saying, I do recall a couple of Korean women saying it was a somewhat standard practice to make a man ask her out three times before they accepted. Do that to any Western women and yeah, it’s stalking.

    The point of it, supposedly, is to make the guy try. While some Korean guys are keen to play the game, I wonder what would happen if the majority of guys (read: better-looking / better catches) STOPPED playing the game and only dated girls who were more straightforward…


  3. That remix video of Twilight and Buffy is excellent! Now I have a new video link for my continued stance of “Twilight promotes creepy stalking, overly controlling, obsessive relationships as romantic when it should not be.”


  4. There was a time in Western culture when women were expected to play hard-to-get, though. It wasn’t even that long ago – I have friends who won’t ask a man out themselves. And having strongly differentiated gender roles where women do one thing and men do something very different seems tough on both.

    In other news, the irony of the Buffy/Twilight clip is that a number of Buffy’s reaction shots are her talking to the vampire boyfriends she had on the show. It’s still a great demonstration of why one franchise sucks, though.


  5. I loved the bikki video. It should be mentioned that the guys are pretty indiscriminate when it comes to sex. They’ll drag in anyone under the age of 50. Also, they’re aggressive, but it is a little bit of a game. You really don’t get dragged in if you don’t allow yourself to be dragged in. And nobody goes without being dragged – that’s part of the image you’re going for. Nobody wants to be seen as willingly, wantonly, entering a night club! Most of the bikkis are rather charming. That’s their job.


  6. Yeah, I’ve noticed this as well. Has anyone seen the Korean drama “Princess Hours”/”Goong”? The passed-over crown prince keeps on stalking the crown princess, interrupting her married life over and over again, setting them up for divorce and being quite blunt about his intentions. Never mind the fact that the Princess explains she doesn’t like him in that way, he keeps on expecting the day they’ll run off together. Yet we’re supposed to like this guy and admire his good intentions.


  7. @Sarah – The creator of Buffy vs Edward put up some of the original scenes from Buffy and Twilight on the site criticalcommons.org so people can see for themselves the comparisons between Buffy’s vampire stalkers and Bella’s: http://bit.ly/cnZQ8

    He also talks about Buffy/Angel in his post on WIMN which I linked above (the comments are also good on that post talking about Buffy’s vamps).


  8. Several commenters have already mentioned the fact that women often refuse men’s advances repeatedly, despite intending to ultimately accept the offer of a date, but we should remember that this sort of “courtesy refusal” is part of broader Korean (and many other) culture(s). Too quick acceptance, be it an offer of a glass of water or a date, is seen as rude and too aggressive/forward. By repeatedly offering and repeatedly rejecting the participants establish the offer and the acceptance/refusal as genuine. And it’s not something absent in western culture, either . . . I used to have lots of conversations like the following:

    “Would you like some sweet tea?”
    “Oh, no, thank you I’m fine.”
    “Are you sure? I have some already made up.”
    “In that case, sure.”

    How many refusals, and how emphatic they have to be vary significantly, but these courtesy refusals are pretty widespread. Where I grew up, they were fairly rare, but when I moved to the South I found many, many people expected and used them in far more situations. They’re socially a way to let people politely off the hook for extending hospitality and courtesies that they’re really not willing or able to really offer, without blatantly refusing. It puts more of a burden on the recipient of an offer, but since it’s mostly verbal sparring and repetition of the refusal, it’s hard to argue that it’s very onerous. So, in the end, the more persistent solicitations of many Korean men fit contextually.

    Re: Bikkis . . .I have to agree with Scott and say although it seems awful and aggressive to us, and is in fact annoying to women who don’t want to be pestered, I doubt the women who go into the clubs thanks to the intervention of bikkis are being really coerced. Scott’s right in that the bikki’s job is to persuade women to go in, but the women also rely on the bikki’s aggressiveness as a social cover for their eventual entry. It’s really fairly easy to shake off the bikkis, who usually are very quick to understand when you’re not interested and quite targeted in who they ask in in the first place. Nor is the approach unique to clubs ~ watch outside any of the cosmetics stores like Face Shop, Han Skin, Skin Food, etc. for increasingly agressive doumi girls. The one’s in Myeongdong make bikki’s look shy, and have moved more and more towards physically pulling potential customers into the stores.

    I notice you didn’t touch on another aspect of persistence in Korean relationships: the post-breakup pester. The same need to repeatedly ask/refuse that goes on before a relationship begins often repeats itself again after the breakup, with one partner (and not always the one who got dumped) repeatedly and often aggressively asking that the relationship be reinstated. Again, this seems almost ritualized and an expected part of dating patterns. Several of my friends have had boyfriends show up at their apartments, schools, or offices repeatedly to ask them to resume dating. My Korean friends were fairly blase about the whole thing, and just told the guys to get lost, but my foreign friends were far more disturbed and their exes were often quite stunned and disturbed with the results. One guy was very upset to find himself physically removed from the premises by her friends. He seemed to feel she should expect it and not worry about it, especially since he knew already she wouldn’t take him back. Guys are also on the receiving end of this, and lots of male friends have had ex girlfriends who just wouldn’t go away without substantial shunning (which also seems to be an important aspect. Meeting them “one last time” to “get closure” seems to make the stalking temporarily worse)


    1. Apologies for not having the time to comment earlier, but thanks for all those: I learned a lot from most of them. Especially those about bikkis, as I confess that until I read them my knowledge of bikkis was entirely confined to what I read on that post of Roboseyo’s I linked to. We just don’t seem to have them down in Busan, at least not in the university district 10 minutes from my house (one of the main, albeit probably cheapest nightlife areas here).

      Not having seen Buffy or Twilight unfortunately (I had a deprived childhood), I wouldn’t really have been able to add anything to the discussions about the remixed video though!


      1. I realize this post is old for for those who are saying the bikkis behvior is not really bad because the girls are willing, you really don’t know that, and it normalizes being physically agressive with women in public. I have had my arm grabbed more than once when I was walking down the street by some guy who just wants me to drink with him and his friends. This type of behavior should be completely unacceptable. No one should be a grabbing stranger’s arm, trying to drag them somewhere.


        1. Thanks for your comment, and no problem about it being on a very old post: at the very least, *I’ll* see it, and an other readers and/or commenters who have subscribed to the comments too.

          That said, I don’t really have anything by way of reply sorry. Just that I completely agree, and that by coincidence “The Seven Types Of Catcalls (As Explained By Ariel, The Little Mermaid)” appeared in my inbox just before your coment. I’ll let #5 speak for itself:

          5. The Grab & Go: I’ve been grab & go-ed by strangers the last three times I’ve been to Times Square: The first grabbed me to “compliment” my hair (see #2), the second informed me that I have a lot of tattoos (see #1), and the most recent one gripped my elbow to ask me where I was going (#4). Hi, I’m a human being, not a piece of sushi on a conveyor belt. You don’t just get to grab me if you like the looks of me. No. You do NOT touch me, stranger, unless you are a literal, actual, canine dog. Then you can lick my face and tell me I’m pretty (#2).


          1. Thanks for the response. I just don’t want people to think that because it’s normal or a lot of girls don’t mind, it’s not a problem. While the bikkis probably have a decent sense of when to back off, a lot of drunk men in Korea (and elsewhere) exhibit the same behavior and do not know when to back off.
            The first time it happened to me I was at a campus festival and had only been in Korea for a few weeks. I had no clue what to do when the guy grabbed my wrist, other than (ineffectively) try to pull away. The guy’s friends told him to leave me alone eventually, and if they hadn’t I guess I would have been more forceful, but the fact that a guy could just grab my wrist and, when I was obviously trying to get away, squeeze it so hard it left a big bruise in the middle of a crowded festival, and no one did anything for several minutes- that’s a little scary.
            When this behavior is normalized, it makes it less likely for someone to come our aid, and it makes it less likely for the victim to fight back or ask for help, because they don’t want to overreact.


  9. To follow up on Scott Stout’s and Gomushin Girl’s comments about the Bikki video,

    Its not unusual to see the same kind of marketing strategy in the streets of NYC. It is less ritualized and less physical but depending on the the nightclub, they will hand out fliers and invitation cards to the target audience they want to attract. This may include hipsters, specific ethnic backgrounds and most certainly women.

    Something similar to the Biki dudes were very common on 42nd St. back in the 70’s thru the 90’s before Giuliani became the Mayor. Men and scantily clad women would stand outside peep show clubs trying to attract customers. The women would grab and grope the pedestrians, not all of whom were there for the peep shows. Back then Times Square was not tourist and family friendly but it was not exclusively a red light district. Other less salacious businesses such as huge video arcades, non porn movie theaters, ticketrons, etc. (anything that took advantage of big spaces) were intermingled in the hood.


    1. Thanks for adding that Alex. By coincidence, I was walking home from work in the university/bar district close to my apartment this last Friday and was greeted with numerous women standing outside various bars advertising them and so on, at least 30 on one or two blocks. Of course, I’ve seen 1 or 2 doing so before but never so many for so many different bars all at once: it was quite surreal. I wonder if there was some special promotion was going on that I didn’t pick up on, although I’m pretty sure there wasn’t. Regardless, they weren’t exactly dragging me into their clubs and, fortunately for the sake of my ego, nobody richer and/or more attractive-looking than me either!


  10. Much of what makes Buffy’s life can not happen.
    However, the movie is good. Attraction of the soul generates friendship. Attraction mind begets respect. Inclination of the body generates passion and desire. The combination of the three drives generates love. Here it is a true sense!


  11. why do those girls smile? they should kick those bikkis (or whatever it is spelled) right there, where the sun never shines, like every single mom with a bit of salt in her mind teaches her daughter to do when that type of harassment in public happens:
    a kick in the scrotum, then scream with all the breath you have and your lungs to call the police’s attention and then run as fast as you can.
    and since almost we all have a camera in our purse, take a pic of the bastard and report him to the police. or better, post his photo on all the social networks so that even his mother can find out what type of worm she has put on the planet.


  12. Quick question. How acceptable is it in Asian culture for a young woman to stalk a young man who does not desire her attention? I know this is a blog about stalkers in Korean culture. I am posting my question here because I have found zero (0) blogs that raise the issue of female stalkers in Asian culture.


  13. I forgot to check off the box that notifies you of new comments by email.

    If anyone reads my above comment, and cares to share their experience with female stalkers (if it is a common thing in Asian culture/pop-culture) please reply to THIS comment. Not the one above.



  14. Most Korean woman are use to that and some of them (not all) like it because it’s telling them “Your pretty please come into our club” and they don’t have to pay much at all. Korean men have to pay a lot.


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