Wanted: Demure girls for marriageThe e-mail was uncharacteristically cryptic, so I knew my friend ― whom I’ll refer to as “Winnie” ― was desperate to talk. From the tone of her short message, things were pretty bad between her and her boyfriend, “Kevin.” Winnie was sweet, smart as a whip and cute; Kevin was one of the nicest, most intelligent and best-looking guys I’d ever run into. They got along great. So what could possibly go wrong?
Kevin’s family was at the root of the problem. He was from a conservative Indonesian family, where men married quiet, demure girls hand-picked by their families and divorce and pre-marital sex were taboo.Winnie, however, hailed from cosmopolitan Singapore and was naturally outgoing. They had hooked up during school in the United States and been together for quite a while, but Kevin’s parents had never met her ― until now. They didn't approve of her free-and-easy manner.
So why the frantic e-mail? Kevin’s mother had telephoned Winnie to deliver an hour-long scolding that included nasty remarks about her upbringing. “I only hope Kevin has the will to stick with me through this, otherwise we’re finished,” she said.
Disapproving parents are common in Korea. How many relationships have been broken up because of family? It’s a familiar theme here, just watch any TV soap opera.
And the parents don’t just disapprove because of class differences; what many parents want in a daughter-in-law is a model mother and wife, not merely status. Although Winnie is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, who will likely end up with a great career, her prospective in-laws weren’t interested in that. What stood out to them was her outspokenness in front of her elders, her lively, active spirit ― and maybe even the possibility that she’d overshadow their son. And they weren’t the only ones who felt that way. When I told my mother the story, she looked at me and said, “It's sad. But to tell the truth, I wouldn't like it if your brother dated a girl like that.”
Eventually Winnie and Kevin kissed and made up. Kevin revealed that the fiasco of their first meeting was partly due to his mother’s jealousy (evidently she’s extremely attached to her son). And Winnie apologized for her angry words about his mother ― even though Kevin didn’t actually hear them. As for Winnie’s relationship with Kevin’s family, well, mom hasn’t quite come around yet.
by Chong Chi Hyon
Ms. Chong is a senior at Ewha Womans University and an intern at the JoongAng Daily.