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Part 1 of 3

Lame Advice Regarding Dating

Do you ever get bad advice about dating?  You know, the advice that is normally provided by older people or your really attractive friends who effortlessly transition from one relationship to the next.  It’s the crap that sounds good, but doesn’t make you feel any better.

“Love will find you when you’re not looking for it.”

“Just focus on improving yourself.”

“It wasn’t meant to be.”

“There are plenty of fish in the sea.”

Is there some truth to these sayings? Maybe.  But, I’m thankful my family doesn’t spew out this crappy advice.  They are awesome and usually make comments like these after my relationships end.

“She was pretty, but you have a big head and she had a big head. If it worked out, you would have made alien babies.” – My sister

“Brent, she was too tall. When she wore heels, someone might mistake you for her child at the mall.” -My dad

“Honestly, I wasn’t sad when it didn’t work out. She was kind of… nerdy.” – My Mom

As an English Professor in Korea told me, “Relationships come and go, it’s our relationships with our family and friends that determine our quality of life.”  That is, of course, sound advice.  I’m thankful to be surrounded by people who aren’t afraid to tell me the truth. If you stop reading here, this will ultimately be my conclusion of this article. Spend your time building friendships and talents in Korea. This advice will improve your quality of life and it is far more beneficial than trying to fall in love.

Korea: Land of the Lonely Expat

During my two-year tenure in South Korea, I’ve participated in relationships, but I have spent most of my time as a single male.  The isolation from other foreigners and the communication barrier with the locals has easily extended my droughts of singleness. Korea can be, however, a great place to live as a single expat.   After all, being single forces us to step out and experience new things.   In turn, new experiences transform who we are. As an individual learns from watching Into the Wild,

“The core of mans’ spirit comes from new experiences.”

But, don’t let that self-improvement hot garbage fool you; Korea can be a brutally lonely country for expats.  Despite how independent you are, most people hit a wall at some point during their time here.

Why is Korea Lonely for Expats?

The main reason is the language barrier.  Most people cultivate relationships.  What do I mean?  I mean we don’t initiate relationships through purely lustful methods like making out with strangers in bars.  Sure, that happens, maybe even more in Seoul than most cities back home (Hello Cage at Gogo’s); but as an average looking 5’9 male, I can vouch that most of my relationships develop because of exposure and time.  A girl may decide I am eligible for dating within five minutes of meeting me, but if she doesn’t receive adequate water and sunshine, the relationship will never blossom.  The problem is, unless people work together, different schedules and distances apart hinder the necessary time for proper courtship.

For those of us who are not exceptionally attractive expats, this means Korea kills dating possibilities. The language barrier minimizes meaningful conversation and opportunities with the opposite sex.  Gone are the days of charming a girl at Starbucks Tom&Tom’s or randomly meeting a girl while picking up a pack of Corona at Publix E-mart.  In fact, good luck finding anyone who adequately speaks your language when you walk into a coffee shop; much less lying to her about your knowledge of the author of the book in her hands.

When expats do congregate on the weekends, job stress and isolation typically reinforces nasty, if not extreme, drinking habits.  These advanced levels of inebriation typically nullify meaningful conversations and reduce expats to faster and more barbaric standards of qualifying the opposite sex.  If you are not tall and handsome, your personality risks never being put to proper use because people simply don’t have the time to get to know you.

Misconception Mania – As Demonstrated By What I Write

The second reason is misconceptions.  Expat women tend to assume that all expat men have yellow fever.  This is false.  While there are plenty of male expats who reserve themselves for Koreans, I have plenty of friends (myself included) who prefer women who are easier to communicate with.  This doesn’t mean we date people with a certain English proficiency based on a test, but that we date girls who understand the nuances of our language, humor and our culture.  The western-man yellow fever myth is nothing more than an excuse for being single or a coping mechanism for rejection.

There is also a misconception that it’s easy for western men to pick up Korean girls.  I covered why this isn’t true in the Myth of White Men and Asian Women.  Korean women prefer Korean men from within their own culture for long-term relationships.   Korea is still a very homogenous culture.  Furthermore, if a Korean woman is attracted to a western male, it’s more than likely because he is an attractive male, not because he is of western descent.  Korean women are extremely picky when it comes to height, clothing, appearance, etc.

Western women, on the other hand, are a rarity in Korea.  I’m unsure if there are actually less western females who live in Korea, but they are certainly outnumbered by men in Hongdae or Itaewon on a Saturday night.  The competition for western women can be intense among the plethora of western-men living in Korea.

Furthermore, Korean men adore western women.  This is especially true if a western woman is blonde (although she will be confused for being Russian).  Oddly enough, while Korean men are unforgiving regarding the appearances of Korean women, they are much more forgiving of the appearance of western women.  People might crucify me for writing this, but I’m still shocked at the amount of attention Korean men shower on western women who are significantly overweight.  It puzzles me considering the demands they place upon their own women to be comparable to match sticks.  Given the amount of attention western women get in Korea, I would argue they have a great dating situation.

Now, let me flip what I just wrote on its head.  I have to think most women who read the above paragraphs vehemently disagree with my opinions.  I would tell you their criticism is fair, and what I wrote was based on my experiences and misconceptions of dating in Korea.  My point isn’t that my misconceptions are true, but that we all have gross misconceptions based on our experiences.  Korea can be a confusing place for dating as a foreigner.  This leads to an atmosphere of distrust, distractions, and ultimately inaction – all things that diminish the chances of forming a meaningful or lasting relationship.

Korea is a Revolving Door

The third reason Korea is the land of the single expat is because it is also one of the world’s largest revolving doors.  Expats come and go and the average time spent in Korea is around two years.  So, making any attempt of a long-term relationship is usually meaningless.  What’s the point of having a serious relationship if your love interest is leaving the country in three months?  This reality undoubtedly reinforces the hook-up mentality that is so prevalent among expats in Korea.

Knowing is Half the Battle

First of all, dating is the worst reason to come to Korea.  If you have dating problems back home, Korea will only amplify those problems.  Korea severely limits the amount of people you communicate with.  Furthermore, Koreans will not find you more attractive because you are a westerner.  Simply put, if you are ugly back home you might even be uglier in Korea.

Koreans take their appearance very seriously.  They are tall, thin, and dress well.  Job applications often include pictures, plastic surgery is viewed as a way to gain a competitive edge on your peers, and Korean women don’t shop for food in sweatpants; they buy their Captain Crunch wearing heels.

The only exception is if you are an attractive westerner with a poor personality.  In those cases, a language barrier will help mask those inadequacies.  However, the cultural and language differences do not put the odds for a successful relationship in your favor.

In general, if you come to Korea with dating as a reason you are wrong.  Come to experience Korea and meet interesting people.  Come to Korea to save money, teach, or travel.  Come to Korea to teach and use your spare time to pursue a master’s degree or focus on hobbies like photography or writing.  Do not come because you think your dating life will improve.  That is a really, really, stupid reason.

Although I will review ways to meet people in Korea, the best dating advice for any expat is to focus on being in Korea for the right reasons.  Build fantastic friendships with the people who you are blessed to have as coworkers or who live nearby.  Also, focus on your goals and adjust your dating expectations.  Korea provides an exceptionally rich lifestyle to those of us who value our spare time and enjoy pursuing our passions.  Don’t let dating ruin an incredible opportunity.