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.