Love is so palpable. So beautiful. The harmony between two firey souls dancing in an inflamed world. Couples holding hands or with arms around each other, strolling in the dewy midnight evokes feelings of loneliness and joy ripped straight out of 2016’s LalaLand. Finally, seeing couples makes me miss my partner – the feeling of being a world apart from her forcing me to tears on a nightly basis. I am infatuated with love and the emotions it stirs within me. But man, Seoul sure does make me feel this way a lot. Every minute, the intimacy, the smiles, the starry eyes. The laughter shared between couples wandering the streets of Hongdae, clutching each other closely against the darkness of the night. What is love in Seoul?
In a country of constant high-speed connection, many aspects influence and push the dating culture forward in Seoul. Love forms quickly, as most couples mark their officiality after only a few dates. A demonstration is crucial when dating in South Korea, as pairs often wear matching outfits. Rings, flowers, and chocolates are heritage gifts for new couples, and consistency is key. Anniversaries populate a couple’s timeline, with 22-day anniversaries celebrated confidently by teens. 100-day anniversaries are marked by matching rings between couples, and subsequent 100-day increments are celebrated. On the tip top of all these displays of affection, on the 14th of each month, there are tailored holidays specifically for couples. That is a heck of a lot of Valentine’s Days. Walking around Hongdae, especially at night, I see hands held. Couples cuddle under umbrellas and drunkenly stumble together under neon lights. It is cute but overwhelming. I am excited to feel the palpable affection between couples, but at the same time, I’m surprised with the frequency.
Personally, the feeling of being in an intern cohort, some partnered and some single, aggravates the feelings born from South Korea’s infatuation with love. While myself and a few of my close friends are in relationships, I hear the complaints and struggles of constant exposure to affectionate undertones. My close friend, we’ll call her Kimmy, struggles with heartbreak and mourning the loss of a partner. “I desperately want to get over this girl,” she says, “but there are so many people in love here that it’s hard not to feel lonely.” A first-year in Uni, her heart was broken quickly by a bright but finite lover. The intimacy shared between them is something she cannot forget. Another close friend, we’ll call her Laura, wants to find a mate here. “The clubbing scene is easy, only singles go to the club here, but men here are terrible kissers,” she says. The libido in South Korea certainly seems to be robust, but strict conventionalism influences it, with few outlets for sexual expression contributing to the overall affectionate tone expressed on the streets of Seoul.
The dating culture in Seoul is equally confusing. Blind dates (소개팅) are a common means of dating here, though dating apps such as Tinder and OkCupid are also quite popular. Clubs are traditionally frequented by singles, and are thus, a reliable place to find a partner for the night or something more long-term than a rave bae. Regardless of what you’re looking for, love in South Korea functions similarly to love in your affiliated country. People are lonely and want company and affection to help navigate the choppy waters of growth.