4.1 Spring 2022

June 15, Marriage dates

I was asking Yana for some grammar help while making plans with a blind date man MJ set me up with. MJ is friends with the head teacher whose younger sister has a single coworker. She proposed the idea last week and I agreed, because I’m an extrovert and a masochist.

“Oh, I got set up on a blind date so I’m trying to figure out the details but we’re texting in Korean since he doesn’t know English.”

“Oh, do you want to date a Korean man?” She asked. I mean, I’m not too specific.

“I think that would be hard here.” She added, and we both understood that as the local single population of our small town is essentially zero.

“My friend is a lawyer and recently moved from Seoul back down to Changwon. She’s 38 and having a really hard time finding men. As in, there just aren’t any.”

Small towns everywhere are filled with people who got married young. They’re not places for older singles. Or maybe singles in general.

I nodded in sympathy.

“I figured if I stay here I’ll need to move to Busan or Seoul for more work opportunities anyway.”

“Do you plan to stay in Korea for a long time?” She asked.

I thought of the pandemic, the current war, global warming, inflation, US political changes, ever-changing Korean visa policies, and how literally nothing in the last three years has been very promising for stability anywhere.

I shrugged, which was the only gesture to encompass the enormous unknown of our current situation.

“We have to be cognizant of that when we’re offering to set someone up.” She said, not unkindly.

I understood what she meant. However, a part of my American brain has always assumed if you love someone from another culture, you can make it work anywhere. You’ll cross borders and apply for visas and figure out a new life together. It’s all a part of the grand romantic struggle.

Maybe it’s because I grew up around multi-cultural families and saw many friends fall in love with foreigners. Maybe it’s because North and South America are places filled with people crossing borders to and fro all the time.

I always optimistically thought you could take your lover with you to the ends of the earth, if you both simply tried hard enough.

The thought stuck with me for a long while, though, throughout planning hours and another doctor’s appointment.

Is it possible to date without the imminent expectation of marriage in Korea? Is it possible to date casually at all? Am I taking away a nice Korean woman’s future husband by going out with someone? If I got married here would I be shackled by the prevailing assumption that families must stay forever in one place?

Sometimes I am forcefully reminded that I am the stranger here, that though I crossed many borders to be where I am, those around me have not and are comfortable being exactly where they are and have always been. And perhaps that small towns everywhere are exactly the same.

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