Reader Request: Korean-Western Relationships and Gaining Acceptance from the Korean Parents

Korean-Western Relationships(Sources, edited: left, middle, right)

The following was originally posted as a short comment to Korean Sociological Image #78: Multicultural Families in Korean Textbooks; for the sake of giving it more exposure, and thereby hopefully more chances of finding a solution, I encouraged the author to expand it into this separate post. If anyone can give her advice, especially those who’ve been in similar situations (please post anonymously if you prefer), and/or can direct her to helpful websites, she would be very grateful:

*********My name is Jess.  My backstory is a depressing picture of humanity, so we’ll skip it.  I complete my schooling and earn my certification in 8 months.  My grandmother owns a massage therapy and alternative health shop, and I am set to join her in her practice.  I hope to expand the business and hopefully retire her (if I can convince her to) before continuing my formal education.  I have two beautiful, bright little girls.

H grew up in Southern California.  I don’t understand the “generation” terms very well, but his parents moved here from Korea.  He is a nurse (or a murse, he jokes), and works in the ICU of a hospital in the city he lives in.  For the sake of anonymity, I’ll skip a lot of his backstory as well.  I live midstate, he lives in the Northern part of the state.

We met in a bar.  It’s a very funny story, but I can’t seem to tell even a bit of it without writing six pages.  Basically, boy meets girl, boy hits on girl, girl tries to scare off boy with picture of her offspring and fails.  Miserably.  I spent the first half of our friendship trying to put him off.

The first time he ever called me, we talked for three hours.  And this set the precedent. We had regular, lengthy conversations about immediately relevant things:  who we are, what we do, how our minds work, etc.  I’ve never felt so picked over in my life.  I don’t think he expected to find a person like me in the stereotype I inhabited… just as I didn’t expect to find someone like him.  Neither of us expected it, and I think that’s why it happened.  We fell in love by accident and were fighting it all along for various reasons.  He seemed terribly conflicted all the time.  He would ask me repeatedly to date him—which I would decline—then turn around and insist that I not get attached to him.  It never made sense.

Long story short, 6 or 7 months ago, we started seeing each other more regularly.  The more I saw him, the more I found that I was falling for him.  I was careful.  I wanted to be sure that what I was feeling was real and not a byproduct of a past failure or the fact that he was a challenge.  When I was certain of what I was feeling, I began to try to understand what was going on in his head.  Eventually, I realized that his mixed signals weren’t purely because of him.  It wasn’t because I wasn’t good enough in his mind.  I realized that he wasn’t ALLOWED to have me.  That didn’t make sense.   The end result was the same, though, I wasn’t an option for him.  Shortly after this, he admitted that he didn’t like me seeing anyone else.  In short order, we were exclusive.  Not only was I seeing him more, but now we were only seeing each other.

Over the year that we had known each other, our relationship shot through so many levels unimpeded, I’ve never felt anything like it.  It was honest, right from the beginning because neither of us expected ANYTHING to evolve from it, let alone an exhilarating friendship or compatible romance.  I knew all along H couldn’t have a relationship with me, but it wasn’t until after I was good and head over heels that he hinted at the real reasons why we couldn’t be together.  When he did, our relationship started shifting.  We began mourning.  It got to be too much.  It wasn’t fair.  I tried breaking it off multiple times.  The first time, he didn’t call me for three weeks.  After nearly a year of talking to him regularly, it was a stark adjustment.  I resolved myself to letting it go and getting on with my life.  Then, I think it was the end of June.. he called me in the middle of the day.  He had a long drive ahead of him.  He was alarmed by how much he missed me.  I was alarmed how high my heart soared hearing his voice.  I didn’t even realize how badly I needed that.  He “accidentally” told me he loved me.  I gritted my teeth and brushed it off, just immensely soothed that he had no intentions of disappearing, still.  That was all it took, though.  One phone call and we were right back to seeing each other.

Over the next few months, we just had to admit to ourselves that we did love each other.  There wasn’t anything we could do to change it.  He finally told me in detail the reasons why his family wouldn’t approve of me.  I began making every attempt to understand it.  I never stopped.  We never stopped seeing each other, but we were always worried about the anvil of his family hanging over our heads.  Even if we found everything we needed in each other, when that anvil dropped the bond was doomed.

It unraveled when he went to his cousin’s wedding.  He noticed that his uncle was so proud and happy looking at his son and new daughter-in-law.  He remembered the way his father looked, at his brother’s wedding.  H realized that he wouldn’t have that if he stayed with me.  None of this was fair.  He was torn.  He felt he was wasting my time.  He broke it off with me.   I was shocked.  He had changed gears again.  He had gone from needing reassured that it wasn’t changing for me, to disappearing.  It lasted a day.  I was a mess; he called me hoping to help me out of it, and ended up worse himself.   In my attempts to cope, I had started writing a letter.  I knew my letter wasn’t going to change anyone’s mind, but I just wanted to know WHY it had to be this way… I didn’t tell him about the letter.  But his mind (as always) was in the same place mine was.  He asked me if I wanted to send one.  I’ll state for the record, that this was a stupid idea born of two distressed minds, but I did.  The letter was just as positively received as he imagined it would be.  His mother cried.  His father jumped to conclusions that were so far from possible that it let me know just how shocked and appalled they were.  This was extremely upsetting for them.  But… they did tell him that they couldn’t control him.  He decided to stick to his guns and call it over.  I was left coping.  I had a simple birthday gift I’d had waiting for the next time I would see him.  I almost didn’t go, but I took it to him, deciding that I was going to leave quickly.

I’m not sure which of us asked to talk, but we ended up curling up to talk about it.  In my attempts to not be emotionally manipulative or force my needs on him, I had not told him how much time I’d spent researching the issue.  I hadn’t told him that I’d looked up language lessons in the area, how far ahead I had thought and how prepared I was to sustain this effort for as long as it took, if he wanted me.  I’m not sure if I was right or wrong, but it meant that he was unaware.  He asked me to stay.  I took him to the place that I grew up.  I showed him key places from my childhood and teen years. He took me to a Korean restaurant.  His fortune cookie read, “Discover your companion’s world.  Two worlds are better than one.” Which is exactly what he had spent all day doing.  Mine said, “Time is precious, but truth is more precious than time.” Which is exactly what I had been trying to explain to him all weekend.  We had an uncomfortable laugh.   By the end of the weekend, his thoughts and emotions were scattered again.  He wanted to call his brother.  I didn’t know what that would solve.  I just wanted him to stop and think about what he was doing for once, because the whole time he had just been making it worse by getting ahead of himself and freaking out.  If he wanted it to work, he needed to be calm and sure.  If he didn’t want it to work, there was no need to alarm his family more.  I would just leave.  I made him stop and think about what he wanted to accomplish.  We pulled out our schedules to figure out when we both had a good chunk of time.  We made tentative plans for me to meet his brother (who lives out of state).  He told me not to get my hopes up.  To just calm down and be chill for a while.  I couldn’t agree more.  This has been taking up entirely too much energy.  It’s time to get back to bantering, laughing deviously, outwitting each other, and discussing things of no import until we have to worry again.

I’ve spent a long time pondering, reading, and learning, trying to find a way around the problem.  It’s not really about who I am as a person.  I feel no pain from the absoluteness of how they look at me.  It’s what I am.  I’m not Korean.  I have children.  I am not at all what they would want for their son, their family.  I can’t change what I am, but I know we are not the only people in this situation.   I haven’t found many articles about the problems in my particular situation.  Usually, racism is full of hatred and cold-hearted callousness.  I have found MANY instances of couples overcoming and succeeding despite situations like that… but I haven’t been able to find many stories about families like H’s–just enough to have hope; not enough for a thorough understanding.  Their disapproval isn’t like that.  They aren’t hateful.  They aren’t callous.  This causes them pain.  I have a lot to offer, but to say that I’m not what they expected… that’s an understatement of epic proportions.  The advice that I seek is how to bridge that kind of a gap.  I’m looking for anything that might help.  I’m looking for people who’ve been in a situation like this and found success, I want to know what they’ve DONE or avoided doing.  Even if not exactly (his parents are individuals, too, there’s no tried and true approach), each success story I can find could offer a pearl of wisdom to guide me through this. (END)


Again, any specific advice readers can provide would be appreciated, and/or links. For the latter, off the top of my head I would recommend Speaking of China, AMWF Love, and possibly Texan in Tokyo, the last found while searching for images to accompany this post (and failing — unfortunately, I don’t like to use “ordinary” couple’s pictures without their permission!). Also, there are of course a great many blogs by Western women with Korean or Asian partners out there, some of whom may have written about meeting his parents at some point — if anyone knows of any specific posts, again Jess would be very grateful. Thanks!

Update: Speaking of China has provided a round-up of links with dating advice for Chinese-Western couples here.

22 thoughts on “Reader Request: Korean-Western Relationships and Gaining Acceptance from the Korean Parents

  1. This is a great read! I think as Korea becomes more multicultural with foreign ELTs and other immigrant workers coming, Korean parents will have to understand that multiracial marriages do exist and that they are okay. Their child is not giving up their “Korean-ness” by marrying a foreigner; in fact, a few of my foreign teacher friends have married Korean women. Their wives’ parents seem to be okay with it.


  2. I can’t thank you enough. I can’t even think of a proper response, except to thank you SO MUCH! I mean, H and I don’t see a lot of Asians here in our area. That’s why he ended up here; he applied to a college that would have to take him because they had maybe 3 Asians on campus. So of course we don’t see other couples like ourselves. While we were at the restaurant that day, a couple walked in that was the exact opposite of us. A white guy and an Asian woman. I didn’t think much of it, but he seemed to really take note. These blogs are exactly what I was looking for, how in the WORLD did they not turn up in my searches? I’ll be busy pouring over these after work…


  3. Wow, my boobs are NOT that big in real life. If it’s any consolation my husband is not a typical Korean and his family are not typical either. His parents divorced when he was a teenager and he’s not close with his father at all. When we married, he didn’t so seek approval or permission from his parents, he simply announced it as a done deal. I think because of the divorce his parents worried that he’d never find a nice Korean girl to marry. I was lucky that they both accepted our marriage and have never expected me to fulfil the role of traditional Korean daughter-in-law.


  4. Some comments from FB friends. First, from “N”:

    “This was interesting. I think that it was unfair not to tell this girl Jess up front about his family and their opinions on such a topic; especially once they started down the road of exclusivity. I know a few girls that were in this situation and who knows maybe one day I will be there, but I also know interracial couples with accepting and loving inlaws. It really comes down to if both parties are willing to make the effort, be open and honest with each other, and take the time to communicate. On the other hand, that is all relationships it is just more exaggerated in interracial relationships.”

    The commenter adds, after I asked permission to pass her comment on:

    “…please just let her know every situation is different, this is simply my opinion and that she has to do what is best for her. ^^”

    Next, from “J”:

    “I feel for her situation, but am I the only one who finds it galling that these parents would move to the U.S. and basically deem Americans (or perhaps just non-Korean Americans) unworthy of their son?

    It reminds me of the friend I have who is engaged to a Korean girl whose father has a business that revolves around dealings with foreigners. He apparently tells his daughter that foreigners are fine as friends but no good for marriage.”


    “I mean, she is talking about bridging the cultural gap, but it sounds to me like they are the ones who should be adjusting, not the other way around.”


  5. First, regarding the writer’s problem:

    It’s not actually clear to me that the parents really are being a problem. She says that they aren’t happy she’s not Korean, but also mentions a litany of other things they aren’t happy about, including having children from another relationship. But beyond them not being happy, they don’t seem to be doing much – If I’ve understood the story right, they’ve given the boyfriend permission to date her, even if they’re withholding their blessing. Meanwhile, the boyfriend seems to not be sure whether he wants to pursue a relationship with her in absence of that blessing, and has periodically broken up with her. In any case, there doesn’t seem to be much she can do to make the parents like her beyond basic courtesy and kindness when she encounters them. Instead, it seems like her problem resides more with the relationship itself, and she needs to have a serious conversation with her boyfriend, who is the one who will ultimately be the one making the decision.

    On a more general note, I’m wary of the idea that it’s not legitimate for members of an ethnic minority to have a preference that their children marry within the group. It may not be laudable (by mainstream American cultural norms) to express that preference, but it is a comprehensible desire. We do not, for example, generally tell Jewish people that the desire to contribute to the persistence of Jewish religion and culture by marrying other Jews is somehow a bad thing to want. I also think that the Korean and Korean-American cases are different for multiple reasons, and want to note that even in Korea, I don’t know personally know of any non-Koreans who encountered substantial resistance from their spouses’ families specifically because of their foreignness. I don’t want to create the impression that all is welcoming and wonderful, or that nobody experiences pushback from families, but in my experience it is more often the partner deciding that they don’t want to face mediating between the partner and the family, or simply not considering their foreign date a real long-term marriage prospect in the first place.


    1. It’s not actually clear to me that the parents really are being a problem. She says that they aren’t happy she’s not Korean, but also mentions a litany of other things they aren’t happy about, including having children from another relationship.

      I agree to some degree. Which forms the basis of my advice for her, actually:

      Firstly: forgive my bluntness, but this guy sounds to me like he has no backbone. Are you sure you’re really ready to throw in with someone who dumps you because his mommy and daddy are disappointed at your race? That might sound harsh, but I learned from experience that a lot of people parented by Koreans have a kind of codependent relationship with their parents, and that their parents’ reactions and expectations can exert an unhealthy power over their life choices. Whether the person is worth braving all that is up to you, but there surely are men who are just as wonderful, but who actually have the balls to just tell their parents, “This is it, and that’s it.” (My wife is a Korean who had the guts to tell her parents to back off often enough that by the time I was in the picture, they knew better than to try that crap with her. Even so, there were a few nightmarish months there before they backed off significantly.) Were I you, I’d be thinking more about the guy, and whether he cares as much about you as he says (and you think) he does… or is even capable of caring about you that much regardless of what his parents think. If he did, would what mommy and daddy think really matter so much?

      If he were a drinking buddy of mine, I’d have told him off by now, and told him to either man up and make the decision for himself, or to dump you and let you find someone who had the guts to know what he wanted. Were you my drinking buddy, I’d ask why you were so committed to someone who seems to worry so much what his mummy and daddy think. What can I say? Life’s short, and bullshit is toxic.

      And you’ll have to forgive further bluntness, since I don’t know you, but… I’d say that like most people searching for the answer to a question, you’re looking at the wrong question. This isn’t about him and his parents’ Koreanness, would be my guess. It’s about you and your willingness to hang out with this guy and ponder and worry and spend time on trying to figure out how to bridge and all that, because that stuff is all, well… might it not be much easier (and more interesting, and more dramatic) than just facing the fact the guy isn’t really committing to you, for whatever reasons that he himself probably has a terrible handle on, and that maybe the uncertainty and the worrying is more comfortable and easier than shrugging and saying good bye to someone who, maybe, loves you, but doesn’t love you enough right now to step out of his parents’ shadow (or, worse, who uses his parents’ shadow as an excuse for the instability and his inability to commit)?

      The most important question I’ll ask in this comment is this one: Is it possible–even remotely–that you’re both just maybe using the so-called unviability of this relationship as a way of perpetuating a degree of unavailability to one another on some level? Because emotional unavailability is kind of pandemic in our culture, and people find a million ways to excuse it and stay in relationships built precisely on a foundation of of tacit mutual agreement to a degree of unavailability and “safe distance” that would be maintained in perpetuity. (And yes, I’m speaking from experience here, and there are a lot of little things in your description of your relationship that set off alarm bells for me in this direction.)

      Another hard question to consider: are you sure this has anything to do with Koreanness at all? If he was from some other ethnic group–say, the same one as yours–and he was refusing to be clear with you, and constantly pressing the pause button like this, would you accept “parental disappointment” as an excuse?

      But assuming that, no, you really do love one another and the above is offbase, then:

      Well, his parents are emigrants to Korea, but the thing is: Korean society is (not exclusively, but largely) made up of many very unhappy and dissatisfied people. I mean, more unhappy and more unsatisfied than most people in the developed world. The stratospheric suicide rate is a good rule-of-thumb metric demonstrating that.) No matter what is going right, many Koreans will talk about what’s going wrong. (I’d put it at roughly half the Koreans I’ve known; my [Korean] wife would likely suggest it was more) And as a Korean sociologist friend of mine noted, many Koreans tend to react badly to anyone else being “too” happy, especially when that happiness is seen to result from breaking perceived rules or strictures… “understandably” since so many Koreans live with so many nested restrictions and strictures imposed on them. Add in perhaps a lifetime spent as an outsider and a racial minority in America, and I’m guessing there’s even more unhappiness and complaint to be heard.

      Which is to say: even if you were an ethnic Korean supermodel-looking master chef, his parents probably would complain about this or that: about your being too tall, or not having a good enough job (or too good a job, that might impede your reproductive duty), or you went to the wrong university, or not Christian enough, or too old, or too famous, or that dating scandl about you on TV five years ago, or otherwise simply not being good enough for their lovely little baby boy. It’s not really a function of anything to do with you: it’s a function of maintaining control, but also of a certain kind of socialized negativity.

      What I’m saying is that your race isn’t necessarily the issue, as much as a handy, useful hook for the folks to hang that disappointment on, as is your child from a previous marriage. My race was one of the hooks my now-in-laws used. Another was my atheism–they’re Protestants, and oh, my, was my atheism an affront. (When I didn’t put on a reverent face while they prayed, it was as if I’d urinated on the True Cross.) Yes, that sounds crazy. It is crazy. If it is a comfort to you, I’ve heard countless stories of Korean parents refusing to “let” their son marry the woman of his choosing, even when the woman was Korean, employed, the “right” religion, and so on. Hell, one of my first memories after arriving in Korea was witnessing a massive family brawl in a fast food joint in a small town, where the son was threatening to kill his mother because she insisted that his marriage proposal to his girlfriend was unacceptable… and the rejected girlfriend sat there trying to calm the son, and trying to placate the would-have-been mother-in-law. It was pure powergame, obvious to everyone else in the place, and man did that mom get off on it. It was sick.

      (Hell, the mother-in-law stories I’ve heard are enough for me to say sometimes the campaign for control continues well after marriage to the son… for a Korean woman. Foreign women, though, usually don’t have to put up with that. But maybe that’s because a lot of foreign women wouldn’t put up with the stuff you seem to have accepted so far.)

      Not all Korean families are like this. A certain degree of bigotry is normative, but usually they get over it, as Gomushin Girl suggests. (Though not, in my experience, anywhere near as easily as she suggests.)

      If you do patch things up and continue, expect that they may continue to try assert control, and subtly undermine things, possibly until the very day you’re married to their son. Then they will back the hell off because you’re crucial to the Confucian task of genetic replication, and they (usually) become more tolerable.

      Next: there’s the fact that, like parents everywhere, Korean parents aren’t finished growing up. Part of growing up as a parent is letting go of one’s sense of control over one’s offspring. This is something somewhat less expected of (and relatively less normative) in Korean culture, where many parents micromanage to extremes, until their child is married. (“Helicopter parenting” is basically common and normal in South Korea.) So Korean parents struggle perhaps harder than Western parents with letting go, and allowing their kids to make their own decisions. I could dress it up as Gomushin Girl does, and try to justify it, but I think it’s unnecessary. Plenty of Koreans I know well regard it the way I do: as socially-enfranchised overbearing childishness.

      Now, to what Gomushin Girl wrote:

      On a more general note, I’m wary of the idea that it’s not legitimate for members of an ethnic minority to have a preference that their children marry within the group. It may not be laudable (by mainstream American cultural norms) to express that preference, but it is a comprehensible desire. We do not, for example, generally tell Jewish people that the desire to contribute to the persistence of Jewish religion and culture by marrying other Jews is somehow a bad thing to want.


      I don’t know for a fact about Jewish-American moms and their tactics for ensuring a purely Jewish grandchild, but I would be surprised if they engaged in the dirty-fighting tactics I’ve seen Korean moms and dads use. And if you really, truly haven’t encountered stories of substantial resistance, I’m surprised. I know some hair-raising stories… including parents threatening suicide, or flashing a knife at a child, or vowing to disown their child and cut off all communications.

      So in any case, I’m dubious about this. It seems like an intellectualized rationalization of selfishness, specifically because it involves imposing on another human being one’s own priorities: my desire for the Jewish/Korean/white race to be perpetuated is more important than your decision to share your life with this specific person. To me, it’s not about politics, but about the simple respect of another human being’s dignity. Anyone who disregards that to satiate their own anxieties and hang-ups is someone I have no problem telling to, ahem, f*** off.

      The fact that this involves parents imposing their preferences on their offspring cuts to the heart of why people have kids… which, well, I can’t speak for everyone, but whatever you think of his anti-natalist position, Thomas Ligotti is unarguably right (in The Conspiracy Against the Human Race) that a great lot people have kids in the first place for reasons not so much laudable as selfish, socially-enfranchised but no less ill-considered or ill-understood.

      He actually argues that a lot of people have babies for the same reason they have bowel movements: an irresistible pressure builds up, though with kids it’s partly socialized, and partly instinctual. The desire for satiation of that instinctually-reinforced drive becomes irrepressible, and they reproduce. Even if you argue the choice to reproduce isn’t necessarily selfish (his reasons for saying that it is so in the main are much too complex to get into here) I’d classify the instinct to prefer one’s child marry this or that sort of partner as extremely selfish: all too often unthinking, instinctual, and something the individual might have plenty of ready made–but ultimately hollow-justifications for.

      (The fact that it’s impolitic to tell someone this is selfish to their face doesn’t mean it’s not selfish, any more than the correlation of higher rates of cancer to obesity is false just because telling this face to an obese person is rude. And yes, that is the implicit argument you’re making.)

      I, for one, am far too committed to, for example, the legalization of gay marriage or the enshrinment of interracial marriage as within the realm of “normal” to brook any valorization of parental dictates of their offspring’s marital decisions, much less the expression of those preferences. Parents who cannot handle their emotional bowels should not be praised or given a politically correct excuse for their emotional incontinence: they should on the contrary to expected to grow the hell up and accept the reality that their children are not the same as themselves. And if they cannot accept that, well… what can I say, growing up always hurts.


  6. I myself am in a mixed marriage. I am an (American) white female and my husband is of Chinese descent. He is also a first-generation child. His parents emigrated to Canada from Taiwan and Hong Kong. My husband not only had to get used to having a relationship with someone of another race, but also adapting to a different country and its culture (even though America and Canada are on the same continent, he did have a hard time adjusting to Southern American culture.)

    I am sure his parents had their skepticism when he started having a relationship with me. His father, in particular, thought he was going through a rebellious “phase” when he met me, since I was a littler older, taller, and not a skinny little thing. He certainly had his misgivings about me. I am positive my husband’s mother did as well. However, they moved to a new country and new culture and raised their children in a Western environment, speaking English at home and trying to make sure their kids were average Canadians.

    I am sure Jess is in the exact situation. H’s parents emigrated to the United States from another country. He has grown up surrounded by people of various cultures, religions, etc. They most likely raised him with traditional Korean family values and that is why he is completely torn by their expectations, but found love with someone and didn’t care what she looked like or that she had children or not. I think H’s parents need to realize they are in America, and not Korea. Didn’t they come here to offer the best opportunities for their family? Wouldn’t they expect their son to be a product of the country he was born and raised in?

    It is wonderful that Jess is making efforts to learn the language and culture of H’s family. This has certainly helped me when we visited Taiwan to visit my father-in-law;s family. It makes it easier to relate to another culture when you understand its traditions, food and language. However, the effort should be made on both sides. H’s parents are really losing out if they are judging Jess and her children by how they are on the outside, and not the loving people they are on the inside.


  7. That’s quite interesting cuz I myself am only 19 years old girl studying Korean studies at university and I was currently looking for these kind of experiences. I’m sorry that I won’t provide any helpful experience of mine nor advice, I rather want to know whether it’s good for me to think about relationship or possibly in the future – marriage.

    I’m reading a very interesting book this week which I’d recommend: Voices of Foreign Brides: The Roots and Development of Multiculturalism in Korea, written by Kim Choongsun (김중순). It’s about multiculturalism in Korea and you will also read through numerous exciting stories of foreign women who married to Korean men.

    I’d be curious wheter here’s somebody caucasian who is strongly interested in Korea and korean culture (the same or similar as I am) and whether the person experienced a relationship, marriage with Korean man/woman and finds it easier to cohabit with korean habits and family than other people who can’t speak Korean at all or don’t know a lot about Korea. (This might sound insulting to those who are not studying korean culture. I haven’t meant to insult anyone.)

    Thank you :)


  8. Yes, our ambivalence has been the only problem we’ve had in the relationship. I changed my mind about getting emotionally invested four times before I crossed the line of no return. His flip flopping came later than mine. What you point out is true: he has to make up his mind about what he wants. We need time to be realistic. That’s why I wanted him to be calm and think about what he wanted before calling his brother. The ambivalence had to end if I was going to continue. I’m all in. He decided to call his brother. He’s pursuing this, too. There’s no doubt left there for me.

    Which moves me to another point: I don’t care whether what his parents feel is justified or not. Personally, I understand why it would be upsetting. I get it. I am more frequently told that I SHOULDN’T get it, that there isn’t a reason for it; but nonetheless, I do. And all the reasons are irrelevant if we are in this together. What is relevant is the effect it has on him and the family. What I am looking for is advice on how to navigate this. If there is any to be had out there by people who have been in this situation. What to expect… the more you understand a conflict/problem/issue, the easier it is to navigate or weather. Defuse if possible.


    1. I would like to share the story of my current relationship and I hope it will help you. :)

      I am a Korean-American woman and the eldest of three in my family. You could say that my family is pretty traditional. As the eldest, my parents had an expectation of me to go to college and have a great career as well as marry a Korean or Korean-American man. Of course, this is common in many Korean household.

      I’m not going to talk about my back story, but I met R in college. We were friends. He liked me. I liked him. We knew we liked each other, but didn’t do anything about it. Him because he felt I was too good for him and I because of my back story and my parents. However, when he did ask me out on a date, I couldn’t say no. Oh, and R, now my fiancé, is of Spanish and Latino descent. When we told our friends and family about our relationship there were some disbelief, eyebrows raised, and/or denial. In particular, our parents. (The story about his parents and I are another story)

      My parents, at least my mother (My father is one who doesn’t disclose his thoughts or feelings unless very necessary. You can also deem him as a very Joseon period man) only thought of us as friends and our relationship will not get serious. However, it did. The first two years, I was walking in egg shells whenever the topic of R was brought up. R was indifferent if my parents like him or not. However, I cared. Why? Because my family, as well as R, is very important to me. So, R won my parents over very very slowly. How? I shared my culture and heritage with R as long as if he was open to learn and experience it. He loves it. If anything, he loves it more so than his own culture. Even with the communication barrier (as my mother’s English is limited), my parents and R managed to get along. The more they saw him, the more they got used to him and saw his character.

      It was also easier with the support of my younger siblings. Without their support and telling my parents how R is such a great guy not only to me, but to them also, it would’ve taken more time than necessary for my mother to approve our relationship.

      Last year, my fiancé asked my parents for their blessings and permission to marry me. My mother was reserved but acquiesced, but at this point it wasn’t because of him and who he was. She saw that he was my other half and we truly loved each other, and we’re happy together. However, my mother wanted me to finish my PharmD before we marry. So, instead, they compromised.

      To this day, I’m engaged to the best man I could ever ask God for. R is still deepening his relationship with my parents whenever he visits during the weekend. (R works and lives in DC and I live a little over an hour away from DC)

      My advice is this…
      At first what my parents thought had an effect on me. I tried to make them happy and gain their approval because it’s one of many of what a filial child was supposed to do in a Korean household. (I even agreed to meet another guy they tried to set me up with to their standards. But backed out at the last minute because I couldn’t go through with it. If anything it confirmed my desire to overcome this obstacle.)

      Now, you and H have to reflect and talk about what you want in this relationship. How serious is it? If both of you feel and have the same vision of what the relationship is and what it will be, then both of you will have to stick together. Don’t give up!!!!

      The more support you have from his side, the better. So try to gain the support of his brother. If his brother is fine with the relationship, the easier it will become whenever there is a discussion between H’s relationship with you among his family members. This was the case with my siblings as well as my mother’s best friend (her and her husband were quite supportive of my relationship and tried to convince my mother).
      Finally, your presence and openness to the culture will be beneficial. The more exposure you have of meeting his parents (if both you and H feel that this relationship is worth it to fight for) and show yourself that you are willing to immerse and understand your boyfriend’s heritage and culture, the better it will be in the long run. Meeting his parents often will allow/force them to SEE YOU AS A PERSON AND YOUR CHARACTER. In the end, they love and care about their son. If they want the best for their son, they will see why their son fell in love with you and eventually (hopefully) approve his relationship with you.

      Not sure if I gave enough help, but if you have any questions, let me know. :)

      Good Luck!


  9. My heart goes out to you Jess! I am very lucky to have very open minded in-laws. I have been living in Korea for about 5 years now. I met my husband here. His father actually introduced us because Aaron (my husband) was moving to Australia for a year and his father wanted he to practice speaking with a foreigner so he could get used to it before he moved, hahaha. We kept in touch and eventually started dating long distance. I think one of the things that helped our situation (other than his parents being very laid back about us being together) was that I got to know his family more through his sister than him. While he was in Australia, I hung out with his sister and she would invite me to their house for dinner…I also worked with his father. So his family got to know me, not as their son’s foreign girlfriend, but as a friend of their kids and as a co-worker. Do his parents already know you are seeing each other? Maybe there is a way for you to get to know them first as a friend of their son. As terrible as it may sound, it might be less threatening to them. Then they could get to know you with out focusing on the fact that your a foreigner trying to date their son. In another situation…A friend of mine ended up marrying a girl from Seoul…they worked together there and he would go spend time with her family. Her father didn’t mind them dating, but her mother said she liked him only as a friend for her daughter and wouldn’t approve of them getting married. Eventually, they decided to move to America and just tell the mother she was only visiting for a few months. They got married in a court house and waited until he had a job to tell her mother that they were getting married. The father knew, but they just waited to tell the mother. I think she probably knew it was going to happen and just got over it. Her family all came to America for the real wedding ceremony. I’m sure she wasn’t too thrilled they got married without her approval, but what could she do? As far as I know everything is fine between them…she didn’t do anything drastic like say she was no longer her daughter or never to return to Korea. Anyways, neither of those stories are exactly like your situation, but I hope they can give you some encouragement and some ideas about how you might be able to handle the situation. Wishing you two the best!


    1. Wow, I should have double checked that before posting it…sorry for all the grammar and spelling mistakes. I’ve been living here too long!


  10. First of all, I want to thank everyone who has replied here. You’ve all given me much to consider. I want to thank James for posting it, because it has really allowed me to see it outside my own perspective. I especially want to thank those of you who shared your experiences. I was looking for that exactly.

    I will be visiting when there are more comments, but I probably won’t be piping up as often. Things are going well. I have never seen him quite as peaceful as he has been the last two times we’ve been together. Especially this past weekend. That’s what it’s going to take. This is amazing.

    And yes. It’s totally worth it. Eventually, I’ll be back with an update. For now, I’m going to chill the h out, learn what I can, and watch what happens.


  11. So… I don’t know if there is ever any traffic on this article or not, but I think it has been long enough that I can update.

    The input was really valuable. I didn’t fully understand the emotionally wrenching ordeal it would inevitably be when he told his parents. I will state for the record that I would NEVER–EVER–speak to my children the way I heard his mother speak to him when she finally called him after finding out. He had to tell them over the phone, they live so far away. My kids would have to commit some horrible, unspeakable crime for me to rip into their hearts the way she did his. I finally understand now that there isn’t much I can do here. It doesn’t matter how much time I spend learning about the culture they identify with, doesn’t matter how proficient I may ever become in their language, doesn’t matter how much I conform to what they expect of my religion, I will NEVER earn their approval. I am what I am, and it has NOTHING to do with who I am or what I offer. I am a young, white, divorced mother. Worse than trash. Despicable. Foul. Oh well. I can live with that. The only thing I want is for them to be loving to their son again. If I never exist to them, I just don’t want him to suffer.

    I was searching for something to help me understand this problem. His parents wouldn’t accept me. I didn’t belong to their culture. I am not the quality nor KIND of woman they wanted for their son, and it wasn’t just some small problem. It was a strongly, turbulently emotional matter. I didn’t understand how a grown man could let their parents make such decisions for him, limiting matters of the heart with their small-minded judgements and expectations and racism. I SERIOUSLY underestimated the gravity of it. My opinions on the matter may feel more true to me, but no matter how WRONG it seems to most of the world, this was a legitimate crisis. If your significant other shows real distress about introducing you to their parents, despite seeming level-headed and logical in all other areas in life… there’s probably a reason why. The most important bit of information that I got out of him was that his mother said she would not see him anymore if he remained with me. If he continued on with me, she would not see her son again.

    And that’s all I could get out of him. I never want to see him like that again.

    They still aren’t talking. He can’t talk about it. I won’t ask him to talk about it. It hasn’t been long, but I will update this when it changes. The experiences I was looking for to help prepare me… this was it. The emotional atom bomb she sent through the phone and the implosion that followed… I’ll update when there are new developments with them, simply for the sake of putting them out there on the web. It’s what I needed a year and a half ago, maybe I’ll be lucky enough to help someone else.

    As far as our relationship? Things are wonderful. We have our spats like any couple, but we have such a rich future planned out together. All he had to do was give it a chance. Give it time to find out if this is what he really wanted, and once he accepted that he did want it… well. That’s the dream we’re chasing now. We’re moving to another part of the country to further his education and career. Turns out my grandma had other plans for her business. Instead of me helping her out, I took it over entirely so she could also leave the state. I’ve had all her clients for the last 8 months. I won’t have to worry about retiring her because she’s already done it herself! Everything is going almost exactly like we dreamed it could. We’re making it happen, and a lot of it is because of his efforts. The minute he made up his mind to give this a real shot, it all fell into place. Now my girls love him as much as I do, and he’s wonderful with them. Not a bit of his effort is wasted, and not a day goes by that I am not gratefully, steadily, and happily in love with him.

    Everything I went through, all the chances I gave him, and all the hoops I had to jump through to earn just a chance…

    Worth it. Absolutely.

    And I’ll keep at it until this is all behind us.


    1. Thanks for the update. I’m sorry to hear about his mother’s reaction, but glad everything else is going well for you.

      You’re right that this old post gets very little traffic though (sorry!), so I’ve scheduled a tweet and FB post later today to help draw attention to your comment.

      All the best,


  12. Hello,
    I remember reading your article a few years ago. I’m glad that everything is working out for both of you.. even though the mom is not okay with it, at least you’re together.

    The reason I started reading articles like this was because I got in a interracial relationship with a Korean man and I was trying to understand his culture…

    I’m a 24 y.o. peruvian girl who ramdomly met a 34 y.o. Korean guy (we were 20 and 31 at the time), we met at a party, discover we were neighboors and then became friends.. a thing lead to another and we began dating, like every other couple we had our differences.. but we worked them out.. until now.

    6 weeks ago he traveled to Korea to visit his parents and family, we lost comunication after the 3rd week.. and when he came back 2 weeks ago he told me that we had to break out because we didn’t have any future, I was in complete shock because I’ve asked him before if we had a chance to be something more serious and he always told me that we did, that he wanted to live in Perú and be with me. and marry me. but suddenly things changed. He told me that he asked his parents for permission to marry me and told them everything about me and our 3 year relationship, but his parents didn’t aprove the relationship because of the age – gap (wich, here in my country is a normal thing) and because I’m from another culture and another race, they told his son that our children would be discriminated and that they didn’t want me as a daughter in law and they wanted him to give up his work in here and get a job in Korea (even though he earns a lot more in here than what he could ever earn in Korea)..

    So, with teary eyes first and then crying he told me that we had to broke up.. I’ve never seen him crying like that before, I felt like my heart broke in a thousand pieces not just because of me but because I didn’t want him to suffer..

    This whole situation is crazy for me, just remembering the man that I adore crying because he can’t be with me and saying that he loved me and wanted me to be happy with a “white, well educated and rich man from a good family” (There’s also racial issues here in my country.. I don’t mind them) because with him I will only live up to suffer and that his family will reject him forever if he stays with me .. it kills me, is just crazy.

    A few days later he talked to my mom and explained everything to her also with teary eyes and a broken voice, my mom told him that she is supportive of our relationship and asked him to reconsider it..

    2 Weeks have passed and I have see him two times already, he has lost a few pounds.. and I’ve lost at least 10 pounds, we both have a sad look in our faces and barely can talk to each other..

    I don’t know what to do, I don’t know what to say to him .. I know I’m really young and that I cand find another man that will make the things easier, but I just don’t want to let him go like this, I just love him so much..

    Should I give him time to think? Should I do something? Or should I let go? Things will ever change? ..

    I don’t know any Korean person who I can talk to or relate to, sorry if I bored you with my post..

    Sorry for bad english.


    1. Elaine,

      I could write a much longer response, but I’ll just say this:

      I can understand why you might want to change his mind and salvage the relationship, and it might be possible. You might be able to live happily together in the long run. But…

      This man kept your secret from his family for three years. The first thing his parents did when they found out about you was to demand he break up with you. And he obeyed them, despite obviously not wanting to do so. He *could* stand up to them, even if it’s not the most usual response in Korean culture; lots of Koreans do eventually stand up for themselves when they really want to.

      (And usually they learn that their parents are bluffing. The threat of, “We will reject you forever,” or “We will never talk to you again,” usually evaporates within a few months or years, and almost always evaporates by the time the couple’s first baby gets born. In the cases were the parents still don’t back down by that point, the parents are usually really horrible people, and the kids (and grandkids) are better off without them. That’s just what I’ve seen, anyway.)

      But whether it’s because he puts his family higher in his priorities, or because he’s given in to emotional blackmail (and it sounds like it’s the latter), he’s obviously made a decision of some sort. Even if he changes his mind later, that decision says things about his relationship with his parents. It says things that you need to carefully think about for your own sake.

      Specifically, I think you should consider two things:

      1. From both my experience and that of friends, the kinds of parents who try to be micomanaging and controlling of their children usually make terrible, inconsiderate, rude, and pushy parents-in-law. This can be manageable from a distance. It is much harder if you live near them, especially close enough for them to be constantly involving themselves in your lives. If your boyfriend does change his mind, for heaven’s sake, insist on meeting his parents before any sort of engagement; at the very least, you deserve to know what kind of mother- and father-in-law you will be dealing with during your marriage. Also, my advice would be, insist on not living anywhere near them, unless you are willing to risk this kind of emotional drama being part of your life on a constant basis.

      2. If, after three years with you, after being independent and living abroad for years, after reaching middle-life, his primary emotional loyalties are *still* with his mommy and daddy and he is willing to give a strong, established relationship because they demanded him to do so, then even if he does change his mind eventually and decides to be with you, you need to think very carefully about whether he will stand up for you in situations of family conflict.

      I say this because it’s not just a Korean TV thing: some Korean mothers-in-law actually are ridiculously abusive to their daughters-in-law. (I’ve heard many stories that are flat-out insane, and usually it’s controlling moms and sons who regularly give in to their demands.) I’ve also heard a lot of stories whether the husband, instead of protecting his wife from his abusive mother, sides with the abusive mother, to the shock and horror of the wife. Trust me, you DO NOT want to be in that situation. It will poison and destroy your relationship in the long run. So you need to make sure he understands that if you’re his wife, you need to be protected from this kind of controlling, abusive relationship. (Which, well… if he isn’t willing to protect himself, I doubt he’ll do it for you, but I could be wrong… or he might change his priorities if you make him understand it.)

      Anyway, I hope everything works out for the best for you.


  13. Oh hon… my heart aches for you. I know what you’re going through and I know how deep it goes.

    You should show him this. And tell him that you two aren’t alone in this. H’s mother already called him. It wasn’t too long after I posted this update either. Not that any one set of parents is the rule, but please let him know that it doesn’t last forever.

    I saw the agony in my man’s eyes, heard it in his voice, and saw how he shrank into himself… but he didn’t give up. He just waited. He told his parents he was with me and it took some time but eventually his mother called him. She’s pretending nothing happened and not acknowledging it, but that’s a huge difference in a short time.

    Talk to him if you need to. H told his parents we broke up, and didn’t tell them when we got back together. That gave us the space to be together and decide, and let him come to terms with the consequences on his own time. And he did it. And it will get better. Not that I think lying is good, but honestly no worse than what they’re doing to him. Keep us updated?


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