He smiles at me a lot; he sends cute text messages daily warning me about the cold weather, or wishing me a nice day; he brings a can of warm coffee on cold days for me to warm my hands, and he tells me I am yepoyo (beautiful) because I have a small face and big eyes.
He is a perfect gentleman, always holding the door for me, paying for everything when we go out, carrying my purse, and taking pictures of my cab’s license plate after doing the two-hand wave/bow combination to say goodbye.
He invites me to stroll with him along the Cheonggyecheon and will sometimes very protectively put his arm around me when we cross the street. Sometimes he’ll cook up an incredibly extravagant meal and download a Korean movie without subtitles which he ever so patiently translates for me himself.
If this were a Canadian boy, I would say without shadow of a doubt that he is flirting with me. But… reality check: He’s Korean.
So… Is he flirting with me?
This is the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question my western girlfriends and I chew on over scalding hot coffee at the nearest Paris Baguette. We stare at the heart-shaped foam floating in our mugs longingly and notice that those of us who had ordered cake were given a second fork to share with our imaginary boyfriends.
Being single in such a couple-oriented society is not easy. Every single day looks like Valentine’s day in Korea. Everywhere you look there are couples wearing matching shirts and massaging each other’s backs. Sometimes you see a girl pouting and stomping her foot while making high-pitched whining noises which although hurtful to my eardrums seem to be very attractive to the opposite sex because the guy always responds with a gentle smile and what seem to be apologetic words.
Even when they fight, Korean couples look so cute and in love.
I want a Korean boyfriend… I think as I watch a Korean couple play rock, scissor, paper at the table across from us. She loses and he flicks his lover’s forehead with his finger, making a loud thudding sound that makes us giggle.
I tell my girlfriends I think he’s cute and we all start admiring his Clark Kent dark-rimmed glasses, his built figure, his wavy perm, his deep voice, his straight posture and his high, well-defined cheekbones.
He is suddenly distracted by his cellphone. In amazement we watch him text, his thumbs moving skillfully at the speed of lightning. His super fast texting abilities has us drooling like bulldogs over our lattes. (I know, it’s really weird –and silly- but a surprising number of us western girls find attractive how fast Korean men can text.)
Without looking away I dig one of my two too many forks into my sweet potato cake and imagine he is probably the kind of boyfriend that shields his girlfriend from the sun when waiting at a red light.
I sigh as I look down at my other, unused fork.
I don’t get it. I feel like I’ve gone out on so many dates, but I’m starting to realize that maybe what I call “dates” are not really dates at all in Korea. I mean, it’s not like any of these outings ever culminated with a leaning over for a goodnight kiss, or a passionate profession of the guy’s undying love for me, or a suggestion to go shopping for couple shirts together.
My so-called dates normally just gave way to a piling number of text messages about the weather, with the occasional invitation to yet another friendly (and romantically confusing) outing.
As I enter my third year in Korea, I am decisive about getting to the bottom of this. I corner up all my Korean girlfriends and tell them to spill the beans. I am not willing to put up with yet another year of so much mystery and confusion. I want to know the truth.
“Is he flirting with me?”
For every Korean girl I ask, I am met by the same deeply frustrating answer.
“I don’t know. You have to wait.”
They tell me that they never know themselves when a guy is flirting with them or just being friendly. That a girl just has to wait and, well, basically take a gamble waiting for the guy she likes to one day officially ask her out.
After learning this I release a painful groan. I had lived for several years in South America and discovered that Canadian men were in fact quite subtle and passive when it came to courting in comparison to the serenading, straight-forward, sweet-talking Latin charmer. But this was taking subtlety onto a whole new level. A Korean man is basically Julio Iglesias stuck on second gear. He leads you on with sweet gestures and cute “I miss you” text messages, but can go on like that forever and ever without ever moving beyond that point and putting a “couple ring” on it.
Alright, I guess I sound kind of melodramatic. The situation is not all that hopeless. I have seen the rare western girl walking hand-in-hand with a Korean boy. And whenever my girlfriends and I see that our heads do a 180-degree exorcist style turn and we go “How on earth did she do that?!”
When you see something like that, it serves as blessed proof that having a Korean boyfriend is not impossible.
If you are one of those enviable and enigmatic offspring from the westerngirlswholovekoreanboys sub-culture who has had a Korean boyfriend or husband, I would absolutely love to hear about your experience. Feel free to share your story in the comment space below.
And if you are a Korean boy, feel free to write about your perspective on this topic, and while you’re at it why don’t you tell us:
Are you flirting?
By: Esperanza Maggay (Heemang)