31 Things You Need to Know about Korean Dating Culture


Korean Dating 101 Everything you Need to Know from a Local’s and Expat’s Perspective

Thinking about dating someone from Korea? Go for it!

Dating a Korean is a fun, eye-opening and sometimes frustrating experience for westerners. The rules for Korean guys and girls are super different from what you’re used to. It helps to know how to play it cool and spot red flags in Korean dating culture.

This post will give you Korean and expat perspectives on dating dos and don’ts in Korea and abroad!

Where do you meet someone in Korea?

Lingua Asia_Seoul_Mullaedong_2021

Like most things in South Korea, meeting someone can be either super easy or super hard.

It can happen naturally if you’re going to school or working at a company here, because you’ll get plenty of chances without even trying.

Korean universities or companies host tons of events like orientation, retreats, team building workshops and get-togethers where you can meet someone new and start a romantic relationship.

This is especially true if you live in Seoul or Busan, where you’ll run into five motivated and eager singles from your front door to the subway. People move from all over the country to the big city for job opportunities, and of course to meet a partner. It’s actually a serious problem because Seoul is overcrowded as heck.

Other places where you can meet someone are:

  1. School
  2. Hagwon or Club (동아리)
  3. Company
  4. Through a friend: A.K.A. Sogaeting (소개팅)
  5. Bar/Club/Pub: Probably not going to be a serious relationship. Also, be careful when you take free drinks from strangers at a bar!
  6. Street: You can ask for someone’s phone number on the street in Korea. If you’re good looking or have game, you’ll be successful.

The types of blind dates in Korea include:

  • Sogaeting (소개팅): A one-on-one blind date that’s arranged by a third party. It’s the most common type of blind date where you receive the contact info of the other person, communicate through KakaoTalk, and meet up. It’s safer since you both have a mutual acquaintance, but there’s still a low probability that you’ll hit it off. I’ve found that there’s often an imbalance in regards to looks or personality, since everyone thinks their friend is “cute” and/or “funny”. If you’re super shy, you can make it a double date with your matchmaker and their significant other.
  • Meeting (미팅): A group blind date. It can be 3-on-3 up to 10-on-10. It’s as fun and chaotic as you imagine. They’re also interesting to watch since it’s a royal rumble, free-for-all complete with a long table of up to 10 guys facing 10 girls. In the old days, people would put their own items on a table and randomly pick one to match with a partner. You might see this retro culture in a K-drama or entertainment (variety) show.
  • Matseon (맞선): A blind date with the goal of finding a potential spouse. Matchmakers are usually their parents or someone else’s, including friends of your parents. There are even matchmaking companies like Duo that organize everything. People on these dates are mostly in their 30s, and go straight to serious conversation about stats relevant to marriage such as income, children, etc. Romance is optional.

Hidden Culture: “CC (씨씨)”

There’s a Konglish word, “CC”, which stands for Campus Couple.

Despite the many advantages like you get to spend a lot of time together, it’s good to be careful being CC since it can ruin your other relationships or reputation. It will be also uncomfortable seeing that person if you happen to breakup. Most Koreans recommend CC, but with someone from another major or club, instead of the same major, so you can avoid them if necessary.

An Expat’s Perspective

Not all Koreans want to date foreigners due to cultural differences and fear/prejudice. In my experience, probably only 10 percent are really into it.

Meet Koreans in places that have open-minded crowds. This includes art exhibitions, jazz concerts and salsa clubs.

For men, consider trying things that women traditionally do such as dance or musical instruments. Asking for a girl’s number on the street will automatically flag you as a player in their mind, unless there’s a reason to contact each other. A good friend of mine accidentally bumped into a girl on the subway and broke her phone in a scene straight out of a K-drama. They’re now happily married.

For women, think about gaming both board and other or sports clubs. Western women are considered exotic and liberal in Korea. You’ll have to feel out the situation if you’re looking for something serious.

Language exchange is always a safe choice to start testing the waters, because the people there are open-minded enough to want to improve their English skills. In the worst case, you can improve your Korean!

Where do you meet Koreans in your home country?

Just because you can’t make it to Korea, doesn’t mean you can’t date Koreans. Whether you’re into Korean music, food or just find the people attractive, I say go for it!

Here are some fun ways you can meet Koreans around the world:

Koreatowns/K-towns

Koreans like to stick together (strength in numbers and all that). In most urban areas, you’ll find a concentration of Korean businesses that form a Koreatown. There, you’ll encounter a mix of first generation to third generation Korean Americans (or Korean Canadian, etc.). It doesn’t hurt that you’ll find fun stuff to do like spas, bars, noraebang, restaurants and supermarkets.

If you live the USA, you’re in luck! It has the largest number of Koreans outside the motherland. There are K-towns in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Atlanta, Tacoma and Philadelphia. Smaller ones have popped up in cities like Garden Grove, CA as well.

In Canada, there’s a huge Koreatown in Toronto in Seaton Village. Just head down to the area between Bloor Street and Bathurst Street and you’ll encounter about 55,000 Koreans (hopefully not all at once). There’s also a smaller and newer one in Willowdale on Yonge street stretching from Finch to Sheppard Avenue.

Though a bit smaller compared to those in other English-speaking countries, the UK has decent-sized Koreatown in New Malden. It’s located in the borough of Kingston-Upon-Thames and is home to around 20,000 Koreans. You’ll find another community in Surbiton as well.

From working holidays to study abroad, Koreans love Australia. So it’s no surprise that you’ll find many of them from Sydney to Melbourne. Koreatown in Sydney City is spread out through Pitt Street (between Bathurst Street and Goulburn Street) and Liverpool Street (between George Street and Elizabeth Street). Strathfield offers a newer collection of Korean restaurants as well. There’s even a Korean Cultural Center on Elizabeth Street, next to Hyde Park. Koreatowns in Melbourne are a bit more spread out. On Victoria Street in North Melbourne, you can find many newish Korean restaurants. For grocery stores, check out Box Hill, Clayton or Carnegie.

K-towns have also sprouted up in New Zealand too! Auckland has a nice concentration of Korean businesses along High Street and Queen Street in CBD and Link Drive in Wairau Valley.

Now that you know where to go, you might be wondering what the game plan is. The best thing to do is to have no expectations other than to have fun and experience something new. Go to a spa, sing noraebang, eat delicious food or go shopping. Be interested in the culture and maybe practice some Korean (most will love it!). People will be more open to you if you’re relaxed and in a good mood. Even if you don’t meet anyone, you still enjoyed yourself.

Korean cultural classes

This is the best way to connect with Koreans in your country in my opinion. It allows you to explore a new culture while meeting new people with the same interests in an organic and casual environment. Check out something that excites you like a Korean cooking, archery or music class nearby. You’ll learn something cool no matter what.

Korean associations

Want to get involved in your community while meeting people? These are a good way to volunteer and learn more about Koreans in your country.

Language exchange

As mentioned before, a fun and educational way to test the waters and see how you get along with Koreans.

Dating apps

Online dating has done wonders for connecting people around the world. There are dedicated apps that will connect you with Koreans. You’ll have about the same luck as you do with other dating apps, but they’re worth a shot.

What do Koreans do on a date?

Lingua Asia_Korean Dating Course

The standard date course is a restaurant (mostly Italian or Western style) then a cafe, plus something extra like watching a movie, taking photos at studios or booths, etc.

When either the boyfriend or girlfriend has their own place, they hang out and cook at home.

However, most Koreans live with their parents until they get married or move to another city for school/work. In order to get some privacy, couples go to a motel (A.K.A. love motel) where they can stay for a few hours (15-20 USD) or overnight (50 USD).

For celebrations or anniversaries, Korean couples go on a 2 or 3-day trip to Gangwon-do, Jeju Island or Busan. Before COVID-19, they used to go overseas together as well.

An Expat’s Perspective

This is where your uniqueness can shine through. Take locals to non-Korean locales that mainly expats know about. If you don’t know any, join a FB group for local foreign restaurants and events. There are tons of interesting places in Seoul like sheep cafes, archery cafes and gaming rooms where you can do something different.

The usual dating rules apply in your home country. Feel out how westernized your date is and adjust accordingly. Some gyopos (overseas Koreans) don’t like Korean food while some are interested in getting in touch with their roots.

Who pays for the dates in Korea?

Men pay initially for meals, then women pay for coffee if they like the guy.

Buying coffee is more of a nice gesture. If your Korean girlfriend doesn’t appreciate or pay for anything at all, maybe you should take this into consideration and think before furthering your relationship.

“Dutch Pay (더치페이)” or splitting the bill is also common later on, but still, men pay more for the dates in Korea.

Some couples open a joint account to save together and use that money to pay for their dates and trips.

It really depends on the couple and how close their relationship is.

An Expat’s Perspective

This aspect of dating in Korea is like 20 years in the past for western countries. Men are expected to pay for most things while women are supposed to let them choose the place and sometimes the dishes. Not everyone in Korea likes this and you can find people on your wavelength.

That being said:

  • It’s a bad sign if a Korean guy doesn’t pay for the meal on the first date.
  • It’s a bad sign if a Korean girl doesn’t offer to pay for coffee/dessert on the first date.

What does “some (썸)” mean in Korea?

“Some (썸)” is a relatively new term from 2014 that originates from “something” or “there is something between us” and it’s one of the best parts of Korean dating. It’s the stage when you get to know each other and flirt before committing to a relationship.

The some (썸) period ranges from a few days to a month. After that one-month expiration date, it’s not gonna work.

Some (썸)-related Korean words are:

  • some-nam (썸남): A guy you like or have a crush on
  • some-nyeo (썸녀): A girl you like or have a crush on
  • some-tada (썸타다): A verb that means there’s something going on and you’re getting to know each other in a romantic way. Another expression is: “썸타고 있어 (some-tago isseo)”, which means “I’m seeing someone” or “I’m in a some stage with someone”.

An Expat’s Perspective

The initial dating phase should be light and fun. But, don’t be surprised if your partner ghosts you out of the blue. This is considered a somewhat normal way to end the dating phase in Korea. There are over 10 million people in Seoul and people often have a few irons in the fire so to speak.

I wouldn’t take it too personally and just meet someone else.

How do Koreans start an official relationship?

Unlike western culture where you naturally (or slowly) get into a relationship, Koreans get it done, just like their fast culture of “빨리빨리 (ppalli ppalli or hurry hurry)”.

Men usually ask women to officially date them by saying “사귀자 (sagwija)” in Korean. It’s called “고백 (goback) or confess one’s love”. This confession happens within one month of the “some or 썸” stage.

To help you know when to start a serious relationship with a Korean, the signs of a “green light (그린라이트)” are

  1. Can you have long private calls or friendly conversations on 3 or more topics?
  2. Can you ask her/him out without rejection for a coffee or meal? Or are they always “busy”?
  3. Does she/he reply relatively quickly or message you first? Do you keep in touch with her/him at least twice a week via KakaoTalk or phone calls?
  4. Do you have skinship (Konglish word for intimacy) like holding hands or putting your arm around their shoulder?

BTW, the worst ways to confess your love in Korea are through phone call or text message, while you’re drunk, or in public (especially in a lecture room in front of hundreds of people or in front of someone’s workplace).

An Expat’s Perspective

It’s OK to not follow the local custom here. Koreans watch a lot of western movies and TV shows, so they have an idea that things are different. They won’t expect you to know this part and if they do, you’ll have bigger problems with cultural differences in the future. They’ll generally ask “what’s our relationship?” if they’re interested in dating you.

That being said, a successful relationship is one that results in marriage and children. Even if your romantic partner isn’t into in this idea, their parents and literally every blood relative they have are. It’s a ton of social pressure that’s tough to deal with. There are rare exceptions but all roads will lead to this eventually.

When should men call or text someone after getting their number?

That same night, or the next day if you want to play it cool. No 3-day rule here like in the US or Canada.

Doing this in a western country would flag you as a stage five clinger. It’s a good illustration of how different Korean dating culture is.

The fact that a woman gives you her number shows their interest.
(When a man asks for a phone number, Korean women will either politely refuse, indirectly refuse by saying she has a boyfriend, or give a fake number to avoid conflict.)

When should I call or text someone after a first date?

It’s customary for the guy to text through Kakao talk that night. Anything less, and the girl will take it as a lack of care. Korean girls expect a phone call or message, asking “집에 잘 들어갔어요? (Did you get home safely?)” and so on. Not doing so will seem like you lost interest after the date.

Girls in Korea will not message first, but you can always try and see what happens.

How often do Korean couples text each other?

24/7! Koreans text their boyfriend/girlfriend

  1. every morning when they wake up
  2. when they’re on the way to work or school
  3. during lunch
  4. every evening after work when they’re on the way home
  5. during dinner
  6. every night before going to bed

They’re glued to their phones and text through KakaoTalk. It can be suffocating, but it’s their culture.

Most couples also spend hours talking on the phone until they fall asleep, so there’s 커플 요금제 (phone plans for couples), allowing unlimited phone calls and messages between them.

When frequent texting becomes less and sporadic over time, Korean girlfriends will say “oppa, you’re changed (오빠 변했어)”. If you don’t want to hear this, it’s better to limit the frequency of texting from day 1.

An Expat’s Perspective

Text and call as often as you’re comfortable with from the beginning. It’s OK to adjust a bit to local customs, but never set a pace you can’t keep. A little communication goes a long way in letting the other person know what’s customary where you’re from.

When should I break the touch barrier in Korea?

Unless you meet at a club, at least the second date. Traditionally, there’s no hug or kiss on the cheek before or after the first date. A smile and wave (two-handed for gals if they’re into it) will suffice.

At the end of the day, all’s fair in love and war. If you’re getting major signals, go for it!

Are public displays of affection (PDA) okay in Korea?

Yes and no, PDA in Korea really depends on the neighborhood and time. If it’s at night on a bar street full of young people, it’s considered okay. Whereas if it’s during the day in a local neighborhood full of old people, you’ll get some stares.

In general, light PDA is acceptable, such as holding hands, hugging or kissing on the cheek. If you want more than that, there are love motels for a reason.

How do you say “I love you” in Korean?

“I love you” in Korean is “사랑해 (saranghae)”. They also use “알러뷰” or “알라뷰”, which literally says “I love you” in Korean pronunciation.

You might be surprised, but Koreans say “I love you” pretty quickly.

If you’re not ready to say that, you can always say “좋아해 (joahae)” or “I like you”. Or, “나도 (nado)” to mean “me too”.

What do Korean couples celebrate?

Lingua Asia_Korean Couple Celebration

Everything! 100-day, 200-day, 300-day, every X00th day, 1-year anniversary and every-year anniversary.

Young couples up to high school even celebrate their 22nd-day anniversary, which is called “투투 or two-two”. I don’t know about now, but they used to collect 200 or 2,000 won (0.2 to 2 dollars) from their friends.

Of course, they also celebrate birthdays, valentine’s day, white day, pepero day, Christmas, and so on.

The number of celebrations tends to decrease with age. It might be a red flag if you meet a 30-year old who still wants to mark every 100 days (unless you’re into it!).

But once the marriage begins, Korean couples will only do something on their wedding anniversary (결혼기념일 or 결기). Until then, you might want to get in a festive mood!

What gifts do Korean couples give each other?

Lingua Asia_Korean Couple Gift Idea_Dior

Everything and anything. I’ve seen everything from T-shirts, Nike shoes to luxury designer bags, wallets, cosmetics and jewelry. Even rings💍! Koreans call it “couple ring or 커플링”, which doesn’t mean engagement or marriage, but symbolizes their relationship.

Gift prices between couples in Korea can vary from fifty to thousands of dollars.
(It’s pretty common to see a friend getting a 2,000 dollar Chaumet necklace for her birthday from her boyfriend. Some even end up paying monthly installments for an ex-girlfriend’s LV bag.)

A Korean girlfriend will usually hint what she wants to get for a specific anniversary or birthday. You can choose wisely depending on your budget.

The worst anniversary gifts for Korean boyfriends are 1. handwritten letters 2. books and 3. health supplements. Anything other than these will be great!

They also buy “couple item” or matching pairs of anything to celebrate their anniversary.

25 One-of-a-kind Korean Gifts You Can Buy Right Now

An Expat’s Perspective

Dating in Korea can be great for those who enjoy giving and receiving presents. No worries if you’re not that into spending money or feeling obligated. There are people in Korea who are like-minded, you’ll just have to spend more time finding them.

What’s a “couple item” in Korea?

Lingua Asia_Korean Couple Item_Couple Look
“Couple Look” of Lee Jong-suk and Han Hyo-joo from K-drama, “W”

Not everyone, but many Korean couples like to have “couple items (커플템 couple-tem)”. Most try it when they’re young and grow out of it, and some stick to it.

It’s also called “couple look (커플룩)” when they wear matching outfits.

“Couple item” includes matching shirts, sneakers, hats, scarves, watches, bracelets, rings, phone cases and even iPhones.

They wear couple items to make their relationship obvious and potentially block other people from approaching their boyfriend/girlfriend.

FAQ

Is it hard to date in Korea?

It’s about the same as anywhere else. However, as a foreigner, there are advantages and disadvantages to dating in Korea. On the one hand, there will be cultural differences, but also you’ll have the advantage of being exotic and rare to locals. Also, you may be considered their get-out-of-Korea-card.

Do Korean couples live together before marriage?

Not usually, but this is becoming more common. They all say they want to try living together, but they don’t due to social pressure or nunchi. Korean relationships are often conducted while living separately, usually at their respective parent’s houses. That’s one reasons why motels are so common!

How long do Korean couples date before marriage?

There’s a wide range, but probably shorter than what you’re used to. The time Koreans date before marriage goes down the older they get as societal pressure increases (there’s probably a neat chart I could make). For example, some of my friends over 30 got married after a month of being in a relationship. It gets tiresome having every uncle, aunt and taxi driver ask when you’re getting married. I guess they could just lie to taxi drivers at least.

Do Koreans show public affection?

Not as much as in most western countries, but holding hands and hugging are socially acceptable when you’re walking on the street in broad daylight. The rules for PDA change at night once everyone gets a few drinks in them.

How do I know if a Korean guy is serious about me?

The most surefire way to know is if he introduces you to his parents. This usually happens after you decide to get married. Other than that extreme, he will call/text you often and spend lots of money on you.

The order goes like this: a Korean guy will introduce you to his friends first, then his siblings if he’s close to them, and the final step, his parents. (If he introduces you to his relatives before the wedding, you might consider running away. Why? Because you’ll see them gathering every weekend for the rest of your life.)

How to deal with Korean girlfriend problems?

Most problems stem from insecurity caused by cultural differences. Western dating customs allow for a lot more independence than dating culture in Korea. Calling and texting every hour, making most of the decisions and escorting your girlfriend to the subway is viewed as smothering, whereas in Korea, it’s seen as basic and normal. Korean relationships are a lot more tight-knit with a lot of contact and sharing. You need to explain a bit of the differences and maybe make some adjustments. If it’s too much to handle, it’s best to move on.

How do Koreans view international couples?

It depends on the person. Most will see them as a novelty and some will either look down on or envy them. That being said, younger people are more open to dating non-Koreans or supportive when their friends date or marry them. On the other hand, some old people on the street may stare, but you can ignore this.

 

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