During her early 20’s, Korean author Lee Jin-song was constantly told by people around her on how she can “improve” herself so she can do better in the dating scene.
In an interview with The Korea Herald, Lee recalled how tips telling her how to look and act in certain ways came from almost every direction.
“Some told me to grow my hair longer (so I can look more feminine), some told me not to talk too much,” the 27-year-old Lee said. “Some even told me, ‘Make sure you look impressed when talking to a man — use phrases like “Really?” “I had no idea!” Be sweet when you listen, and pretend you don’t know what he’s talking about even if you do.”
Detailed in her latest book, “The Right Not to Date,” Lee wrote about her life as a young adult woman in South Korea. Like in some Asian cultures, a popular stigma in the country views being single in the 20s, and worse, 30s, as a sign of incompetence.
“I think those who are single can be just as happy — and unhappy — as those who are in relationships,” Lee said. “Just because you are married or in a relationship, it does not make you a superior person to someone who is single. One’s relationship status is not a symbol of success or failure. It’s just one of many choices you made in your life.”
Through her insightful writing, Lee highlighted in her book how staying single is a personal choice that should be respected. She also tackled how social pressure to date and find a spouse, is contributing to the country’s prevalent lookism, in which people judge others based on how attractive they are.
Lee understands that her single-shaming experiences are quite common among South Korean women and believes that almost all of them have experienced it at least once in their lives.
Unwarranted suggestions such as.”You need to lower your standards to see someone” or “You should lose weight to find men.” can often times become very intrusive.
In Korea, women are expected to look youthful, popular, attractive, smart (not “too” smart) and non-aggressive to be desirable to men.
“I think there is this pressure for young women to look desirable to the opposite sex at all times,” she said.
Ironically, the trend in Korea shows more Koreans are setting aside marriages to concentrate on their careers. Lee also pointed out that the new generation of Korean women are ditching the “sweet home” fantasy while their desire to date and get married have simply taken the backseat.
However, Lee sees many traditional beliefs and notions that are still being observed today.
“There’s this rule on what you should be doing according to your age,” she said. “When you are a teenager, you should be studying. When you are in your 20s and 30s, you should be dating and get married. When you get married, you should have kids. This cycle never ends.”
Being a Ph.D. student in Korean literature, Lee is amused how she is often told that her postgraduate degree is seen as undesirable.
“Smart women are not popular among men,” people would tell her. She would also hear similar comments like: “Why do you study so hard? That’s going to make it harder for you to get married” and “That’s why men find you intimidating.”
“But I wasn’t born to be ‘popular’ among men. That’s not the sole purpose of my life,” Lee points out.
“So if your life goals and choices are unpopular among people of the opposite sex, do you have to give them up?”
To end the culture of single-shaming, Lee believes that traditional perceptions about relationships must change and should begin by understanding the diversity of their components. She also points out that some women choose not to date or get married and choosing a relationship partner can fall in a variety of criteria.
“There are many ways to live your life. Often, single people are considered lazy or as not having the willingness to find someone. But life is all about making choices. That person may have chosen to invest his or her time and efforts in something else. That does not mean she or he is an unfulfilled person,” Lee Jin-song said.