[Discussion] Dating and Love vs. Like in K-Dramas

So I’ve been watching k-dramas for a while now, probably over a year, and I’m still a little bit fuzzy on how dating works in Korea (or Asia as a whole). I’ve noticed that in translation, “I like you” is often used when the context in an English show would have used “I love you”. In Western dating, I like you means, at least, I want to date you, but I’ve seen it used in that context and in the pinnacle, show-ending scenes where the leads get together.

Also, watching Go Ho’s Starry Night, I noticed that the female lead got a promise ring after she met a man through a marriage set-up and they had been dating. It was a part of the whole “confessing his feelings” thing. Further, I just finished Ode to Joy (Chinese) when one of the main characters was asked to be someone’s girlfriend via a whole proposal-like event then was taken home over new years and introduced to his family as a potential spouse.

I think something must be getting lost in translation here. Granted, I have no experience and/or knowledge of the Korean/Chinese dating scene so there may just be something I’m missing. Is the Korean language like French and has several different words for various kinds of love that just don’t translate well to English? What do you guys think?

In my personal opinion, cultural differences aside, the whole thing depends on certain characteristics of rom-com kdramas as a product (exceptions apply, of course, I’m talking about the specific dramas that follow this recipe):

  • A love line in the story is mandatory, BUT
  • Love has to be “pure”. (Because of audience expectations, the heroine is pure etc. I will refrain from ranting about it.)
  • There is no way a drama of this kind will depict characters dating around (which would be the equivalent of sleeping around), since it might literally ruin an actor’s/ actress’s career in some cases. We might have a first love and a true, mature love, but that’s about it. And the last one will hint to marriage and kids.
  • What’s the point for the audience to watch the story of a couple, with “will they-won’t they”, noble idiocy, etc, if this couple is just going to date and break up? It needs to be marriage for life for them, or it feels anticlimactic. They can’t use love and kisses and real dating, because it ruins the “pureness”, but that’s what they mean. For example, Descendants of the Sun had a very mature, current romance, but they had to insist they characters barely touched beyond kissing until the end, because they wanted to market the drama to China, and censorship is really strict. Of course Chinese people procreate, as all humans do, but it’s not “proper” to show it, I guess.
  • It’s such a part of the recipe, that people expect the kiss on episode X, the hand grab in episode X+2 etc. It’s just the same story over and over, because it was the trend in kdramas for a long time and it stuck. Yes, there are arranged dates and marriages, but that’s true everywhere, to a certain extend. It’s a bit more conservative country, yes, but not to that extend. Their entertainment industry is based on that “pureness”, though.

There’s a handful of dramas that depict more realistic love stories (yes, I know, cultural differences etc, but what I’ve seen about regular Koreans, outside dramas, they’re not as stuck in the previous century as dramas wants us to believe), but it’s not that common. Suspicious partner is a nice if reserved example, it’s obvious all couples involved had real relationships before.

Long story short, this kind of story is the recipe for these kinds of dramas; it might touch on some cultural characteristics, but it’s not representative of true life situations.

P.S. I think the word they use literally means “like”, but I’m not sure about nuances.

I have also noticed it. “Like”(chwa, chwa-yo) in Korea means not only “I’ve fallen for you”, “I have a crush on you” as elsewhere, but also “I sort of almost love you”, “I like you very very much” “I feel crazy attraction for you”. Saying that is seen as “confessing” and is enough for dating.
They do reserve “I love you” (sarang he, sarang he yo, saranga da) for the very very end, as a pinnacle. But, as you say, sometimes they stick with “like” to the end which is very weird.
I’ve also seen a couple of cases when the two are used together and it’s clear that one is much over the other: “I like you… no, I love you!”

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Okay, see that’s pretty much what I’ve gotten from the context. I know that dating is very reserved when shown on TV in China/Korea. Ironically, that was one of the things that attracted me to K-Dramas to begin with. They are all very cute and innocent for the most part, and focus more on the personality/intellectual compatibility of the leads and not just physical attraction.

So what you said makes total sense. Admitting that you like someone, in this context, is probably a bigger deal than it is in Western culture. Well, it’s a kind of big deal for us too, but it’s definitely not like telling the guy you like “I think I may be, sort of, kind of in love with you.”

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They don’t usually show that, though. It’s just that the leads are brought together by a life situation and they end up attracted to each other. Very rarely is there any other reason given apart from that.

We tend to say it’s just physical attraction in Western culture, but I don’t necessarily agree (for normal people, not for magazines, celebrities and shallow a**holes). People are just more open about themselves and their character. Kdrama heroines are just cute and adorkable, but there’s rarely any other personality other than being the female leads. All they have to show is that they are cute and innocent. That’s not compatibility, that’s even more superficial, because it caters to certain beliefs about women (and men).

In regards to most dramas, I’d agree with you. However, it does depend on the show. I really enjoy shows with a strong female lead, the ones that don’t fall into the stereotypical shy, cute, and awkward roles (although I will watch those too). IMO, the ones that break those barriers, like Ode to Joy (China) or Doctors (Korea), are my favorites. They are the ones that make me willing to sit through the light and fluffy ones.

That being said, most dramas do fit that “culturally ideal, Asian girl” stereotype. But that’s not surprising. Hollywood does the same thing, it’s just instead of being petite, pale, and innocent looking, the ideal woman is tall, blonde, curvy but thin, tan, and doesn’t have a life outside of her equally attractive boyfriend. But there are occasionally shows that break those molds too.

@sophie2you what are your thoughts here as a korean speaker?

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Of course there are good dramas that don’t follow these rules, I watch them! :slight_smile: It’s just that the specific genre (which I’m obviously not a fan of) usually does. I liked My Love from the Star, it’s not like a don’t appreciate a good romance line! Hollywood does the same thing in most rom-coms and dramas, but there are equally good series there, too. It’s just that the statistics show people really prefer those kinds of stories everywhere, unfortunately. For example, Lookout has a very dynamic, female antihero lead, and online comments say that basically it would be a perfect drama if they changed nothing else, but the lead was a man. Because the woman fights and climbs and risks, and she shouldn’t, it’s not “cute”. It’s ok if she’s spunky, but God forbid she actually fights bad guys- and wins.

I’m not against escapist fantasies (I watch fictional murders to pass the time), it only bothers me because it creates unrealistic expectations in the real world.

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There is a fine difference for korean expressions, not just I like you or I love you. You’re right like je t’aime, je t’aime bien, je t’adore etc.

joah - 좋아 or more polite joahyo - 좋아요 can be used to say, that you simple like something or would like to do something - I like it! If you say this to someone it means I like you. It means, I see you as a woman/man, I’m interested in you, I have feelings for you. That’s the first step.

saranghae - 사랑해 or more polite saranghaeyo - 사랑해요 means literally I have love for you - I love you. This means a pure, but also passionate feeling. The very polite form is saranghabnida - 사랑합니다 - you hear it spoken as saranghamnida. All 3 forms have the same meaning, but you only use the first one, when you are very close and speak very informal (banmal). The second form is the usual form and if you are not so close and speak more formal, or you want to express, that you kind of love and adore someone, you should use the third form.

There are the forms sarang hada - the infinitive of the verb, sarang handa 사랑한다 which means sarang haeyo, but is a delicater expression and normally used in books or letters and sarang handago 사랑한다고 which is often used for a quotation. Say that you love me - sarang handago marhae jwo 사랑한다고 말해 줘

If you want to emphazise, that you love someone sooo much, you can use neomu - noreul (means I) neomu saranghae - 너를 너무 사랑해.

And dating can be very different. There are couples, dating for years and have never slept together, barely kissed or had skinship. If someone goes to blind dates for marriage, they probably marry within a short time, without much skinship. Official dating means to consider someone as a potential marriage “material”. And brings a kind of responsibility, because the man has to pay for nearly everything and should have the money. While the woman nicely accepts and maybe pays him back with skinship or she spoils him with food. If you introduce your partner to your family, you officially announce the upcoming marriage!

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Excuse me?? I mean, I know how the world works, but to put it so bluntly, it’s infuriating. That’s not a relationship, that’s a profession!!

EDIT: I’m not directing this at you, but to the people with such mindset/ expectations.

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But this is how dating in Korea works! Many korean guys are so sick of this, they feel just utilized. It’s common, that the guy has to pay for food, for tickets, for everything while dating, He has to pay for expensive brand bags and shoes and as a result, he never knows, if his girlfriend will ever allow him skinship or not.

Many korean girls want boyfriends, who are tall, minimum 1,80m, University graduates, have a good job at a big company like Samsung or LG, have a car and enough money to pay for everything.

My eldest daughter studies Korean, she has many korean friends here in Germany. And many girls are fired up for tall guys and academics. The guys may be ugly like hell, but as long as they are tall enough, those girls don’t care.

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Wait, the GUYS are wronged in this situation??? You can’t be serious.

If you love your boyfriend, skinship is one part of the relationship. Not the main part, but without skinship it’s not really a relationship. If the girl only demands for expensive brands and never allows skinship, she utilizes her boyfriend as a money bag.

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There is no healthy relationship of this kind without sexual relations of some kind.

That a fraction of girls uses their charms for money, as I said, is a profession. The guys who choose to have beautiful girlfriends in that way, are just garbage. Nobody’s forcing them to order “the girlfriend experience”. They choose to pay to date a pretty girl, that’s the simple truth. There’s million other men who don’t.

And saying that women are only good for sex and cooking and men for earning money, I feel sorry for anyone who has these opinions, especially if they are women.

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I second this :slight_smile:

Yes, but also, I think the line we are trying to draw here is the difference between girls who want their significant other to be able to provide for them (financially) in a marriage in addition to the emotional aspects versus the girls who seek out money and status as the primary objective of their relationship hunting.

Dating is expensive, especially if it falls to the man to pay for everything. But I agree, society would label a girl who only dates guys to have their ways paid as gold diggers. I think what @somejuwels is saying is that if the relationship is not mutually beneficial to both parties (whichever way they decide that it should be, i.e. expectation of physical or emotional intimacy) then one of them is just getting used. Which is never okay.

Which type would you use for love, but not for a person? “I love chicken”, “I love football”, “I love kdramas”.

Would you use joahyo in Korean?

Yes, joah. For example Do you want to eat chicken? - Joah! - Yes, I like it.

Or I really like this song - Noreuleul (I) norae (song) neomu (really) joah-hae.


What about guys who are the breadwinners and guys who are the sponsors? Why don’t we draw the line there?

Dating is expensive when either party wants it to be a status symbol.

I personally label a person who exchanges money for sexual favors a prostitute and the other part a client. Equal parts responsible. This is an acceptable exchange, factually, if not morally. That society tries to label it as “relationship” makes me angry. Especially when marriage cleans up any stains in that aspect.

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Yes, that’s a good way of putting it. There is a distinct difference between a breadwinner and a sponsor.

I used to say that to my classmates and they said I was weird. Of course it was in the '70s so it wasn’t really sexual favours, just skinship and kisses. Some girls did go beyond that (not in the, er… usual way, because they had to be technically virgins when they married) and we labelled them as “whores”.
I was talking to this girl, who said she had broken up with her boyfriend and needed to find another quickly. “Why quickly?” I asked. And she said something like “Someone has to pay for my cinema ticket on Saturday evening”. It’s been 40 years and I still remember that conversation! Exactly the situation we’re describing here.
Fortunately this has been changing in our country. But still I’ve heard my son’s friends complaining that if they don’t have a car or bike and cannot pay for the outings, they stand no chance to have a girl - no matter how nice, good looking or otherwise desirable the guy is.
Of course I always tell them that not all girls are like that, and if they are after such shallow girls, then it’s a good thing they don’t get to date them, because they will never be happy with them.
Maybe those flashy shallow girls attract guys more? Because I’m sure there are some nice girls with tender hearts out there; but they are not “high-profile”, fashionable and glamorous, with a model body and lots of makeup.
So in my opinion the fault can lie with both parties.

I’ve had my most exquisite dates while taking walks along the waterfront, watching the silent yachts anchored at the marinas, sitting on benches looking at the twinkling sea lights, talking, not talking, holding hands and just feeling overwhelmed.

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