Couples in Korea (101)

Being a Couple 101

(South Korea)

I’ve always enjoyed identifying couples. It’s a personal affinity that stems from a few things, namely jealousy. My college girlfriend also scarred me.

Couples have been an interest of mine since I stopped being one. A lot of my questions and observations are product of personal experience. What do couples that make it work do differently? What didn’t I do? What makes good couples easy to spot? Why were most of her friends guys? What sets apart good couples and keeps them going? Did she not like my poems? These are the heavy hitting questions I like to ask, especially when I drink. As a believer in the social sciences, I work to observe and answer. I’ve become adept at romantic observation.

Back in the States I can recognize a couple within seconds. After a minute I can tell you how long they’ve been together and within five I’ll tell you which tattoos she hates and how long he’s been wanting to slam her best friend. I know this because couples do things to reveal themselves. Whether it’s through intentional design or a product of the subconscious, couples do things in certain ways that let you know they’re together. I love watching it.

Korea has been exciting because couples do things differently here. It has taken me time–two months–but I’ve now noticed the revelatory actions of Korean couples. And, as you would expect, in comparison to America, there are stark differences. I’m going to explain what I’ve seen that is both culturally noteworthy and makes me laugh. If you are interested in the specificity of Korean interpersonal relationships and intimacy then this is the post for you!!!

***I know it’s slightly creepy I notice things like this. I’m ok with that. Social dynamics appeal to me.

***This is just observation. Things are funny to me, but I am not making fun. I love Korea and I love Korean people.

Matching Clothes

Matching clothes needs to be mentioned first. This caught my eye immediately. Couples adorn matching outfits, down to the fabric and manufacturing country. Outfits that match–or at least of the same color/fabric family–denote a new relationship. This is their coming out party, if you will. The same way couples in the states let people know they’re together via status update, Koreans go to dinner and they wear denim. (I conducted a study. I had my friend Alex, who speaks Korean, ask several different couples wearing the same thing how long they had been together. Every couple reported that they had just begun dating (three weeks or less). Three of the couples interviewed similarly giggled and/or tickled their partner.)

Elementary PDA

  • PDA stands for public display of affection, if you’re stupid.
  • Due to the culture, I think, couples are hesitant to engage in overt acts of PDA. I say overt because their actions are not aggressive. Rarely will you see a couple suck face or partake in any type of over the pants–overt–activity. But that’s not to say they don’t display affection. It is more of the elementary variety, and it is adorable. Here is a list of what you may see from young Korean couples:

Petting: Done by both the male and female involved. Typically the female strokes the male top-head-hair. He smiles. Sometimes he reciprocates with a wrist and/or elbow stroke. This is done on subway rides and escalator trips.

Palm Reader: Almost a subset of petting, but not quite. Typically over a meal of food, the female will reach across the table. She will idly rub her index finger over his open palm. I don’t know if she is interpreting future events. She might be. This is prevalent amongst young adults in Korean Restaurants. Talented couples simultaneously eat with their off hands while soothsaying with the other.

Baseball game “Kiss-cam”: This is my favorite. The couple is portrayed on the big screen. The crowd cheers and the female covers her face and giggles. She is nervous, and slightly embarrassed. The crowd loves it and so do I. Sometimes they kiss. Sometimes the giggle is too strong and the camera goes elsewhere.

Close proximity sitting/standing: Limbs tend to overlap. When couples sit next to each other, the female generally places an arm, or leg, or both, over her significant other. This is most apparent on subway/train rides or restaurants. My observation leads me to believe that this is what couples do after they have advanced from the matching outfit developmental stage.

Hand-holding: This isn’t unique to Korea. Not really. The only thing different here is that they don’t speak in English when talking and holding hands.

Shared entrée: Initially I didn’t think this was noteworthy. Everyone shares apps when they eat; that isn’t exclusive to couples. But sharing actual meals (entrees) is unique. Couples here do that. They take bites in successive unison, respective of their partner’s portion intake. I’m not against this or disparaging it. I just couldn’t do it. Sure, I would eat off my ladies plate, but if she touched mine, unsolicited, I’d be forced to sleep with one of her close personal friends.

Open communication.

  • I have a Korean friend here who is in a relationship. If he is not with his lady, he is updating her as to his moves and whereabouts. Always. Again, I am not making fun. I actually respect it. It is something I can’t/couldn’t do. Her constant badgering would have annoyed me and when asked for the fifteenth time what I was doing I would have sent her a pic of a turd–probably with a caption like “shitty day.” But again, this is why I’m single and I admire/observe couples so much. They can maintain relationships. In Korea, if you’re dating someone and you’re not with them, your phone is out and communication is open. Kakao Talk is preferred form of communication in Korea.


  • American couples aren’t usually even split when it comes to “couplistic” actions–couplistic isn’t a word, if you weren’t sure and are the same person who didn’t know what PDA stood for. Typically the woman is more of the catalyst when it comes to these type of actions. She hugs and holds and kisses, and, when he doesn’t, she revokes privileges, so he will hug and hold and kiss. Korean couples seem to be on an organic 50/50 split. Guys here seem just as inclined to shower their partner in affection. It’s actually pretty neat seeing a guy want to be with his lady. Neater than that is that it seems like he wants you to see him wanting to be with his lady, if that makes sense.
  • I say neat, now.

Girls alone at bars send confusing signals.

  • In America, when girls are out at bars and they are solo or with other girls, you can still typically tell if they are in a relationship. It’s not too hard to discern–body language and the ceasing of conversation after you purchase her drink. In Korea girls without guys are more difficult to read. They are out, with friends, wearing nice clothes and seemingly intent on a good time, and yet, when you approach in spontaneity and attempt gesturing conversation, they giggle and shy away. This has happened to me several times. I attribute some of it to an un-manicured beard and average face, but I also am led to believe that this is part of Korean culture. My typical gimmicks and shenanigans don’t work. Fun stops when I “boop” her nose. I hope it is part of their culture and not me. I hope.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s