Second marriages shed their bad imageOn a recent sunny Saturday, Kim Dong-seok (not his real name) was married at a small wedding hall in western Seoul. He wore a tuxedo; his young bride wore a wedding dress. It looked like any other wedding, but among the visitors were Mr. Kim’s son and daughter, as well as their friends. His daughter, a college student, and her friends set off poppers for the new couple and shouted hurrahs. The visitors were quite surprised with the scene.
“Well, my parents didn’t attend the wedding,” said one of Mr. Kim’s cousins, “because they couldn’t approve the idea of having a wedding for a second marriage.” Looking at his niece and nephew, the cousin said, “But it seems that it’s accepted by the younger generation.”
The daughter’s invitation of her friends to her father’s wedding, however, was a bold move. Even though Korean society still looks down on remarrying, the country’s high divorce rate is changing attitudes on settling down for a second time.
Last year, around 128,000 couples divorced, while over 316,000 were married.
“Holding a wedding itself is a big change,” said Lee Hyeon-ju of Petit Wedding, a wedding hall specializing in second marriages that opened two years ago. A few years ago, having a wedding for one’s second marriage was considered radical. At that time, people would have been hesitant to tell their friends or neighbors that they were even divorced. Divorced parents with children had to hide their status, as many Korean parents wouldn’t even want their child to play with a kid from a divorced family. Under such circumstances, few people could think about holding a second wedding, preferring instead to slip down to the local government office with their lover to register as a legal couple.
“Most of our customers are in their 30s, but there are some in their 40s and even 50s who would have otherwise just lived together without a ceremony. It’s a big change,” Ms. Lee said. “Also, the attendance by the children of the couples means that they approve of their parents’ marriage, even though they are not completely happy about it. Some optimistic children get dressed up, wearing makeup and getting their hair done.”
Vazl, a matchmaking company specializing in second marriages, conducted a survey of 352 persons who want to be married for a second time. The company found that 63.1 percent of the respondents said they wanted to have a wedding celebration. More than half of those who replied in the affirmative gave as their reason that a “wedding is a matter of course for a new marriage.” But few were brave enough to want a huge party: Two-thirds said they would invite only their family and relatives, while 6 percent said they would invite no one.
“Usually the number of guests is 30 to 50. It’s just like a family gathering with best friends,” Ms. Lee said. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that they want a humble wedding. “The customers actually give more care to the wedding. As they have experience, some brides ask specifically how to put on make-up, and tell us which neckline on a dress fits them better.”
The wedding itself is no different from a first wedding, other than that the bride doesn’t have to perform a pyebaek, a ceremony in which she bows repeatedly to her parents-in-law, nor do guests usually provide gift money.
“But as people got more used to the idea of a second marriage, some have chosen to have luxurious weddings in hotels,” said Oh Mi-kyoung at Vazl.
Adding to the increase is the fact that divorced persons have become more open about seeking new spouses.
“The attitude has changed. Nearly 90 percent of our customers register for the matchmaking consultancy by themselves,” Ms. Oh said. Even though they are not yet brave enough to openly ask friends to introduce them to someone, she added, many will speak openly about their concerns with the consultant. About 10 matchmaking companies specialize in second marriages.
“It’s not only that the number of divorced couples has increased, but social perspectives on divorce have also changed. Before, divorce was seen as a breaking up of a family, and now a way of avoiding an unhappy family relationship,” said Hahm In-hee, a professor at the sociology department at Ewha Womans University. “Also in the past, the family was more child-centered as they had many kids, while it’s more couple-centered now with fewer kids,” she said, adding that back-to-singles think they have a second chance.
“I think TV soap operas dealing with divorced couple who live happily by themselves are encouraging people to find a new life,” said Choi Joo-hi, a second-marriage consultant with eight years of experience.
Customers looking for a second marriage have the same concerns as those who are marrying for the first time, Ms. Choi said, except that divorced people are more afraid of being hurt again.
“They’re very sensitive and tend to dwell too much on small issues,” she said. “But usually, women are seeking economically stable men, while men depend highly on what they call the ‘first impression,’ which is another way to say appearance.” But in the end, character matters most, she added.
She also emphasized sexual compatibility. “I’ve seen many cases of divorce due to an incompatible sexual relationship,” she said, adding that she recommends that her customers live together before undertaking a second marriage.
More than half of those seeking a second marriage prefer to live together before being married, although for different reasons. According to a poll of 500 people seeking a second marriage, this one done by Durimoa, another matchmaking company specializing in second marriages, 59 percent of respondents said they thought it was a good idea to live together before marriage, while 22 percent disagreed and 35 percent said it depends on the situation. Four-fifths of those who agreed said they would do so because they don’t want their marriage to fail again, while the rest wanted to know more about their partner’s financial status and personality.
“My customers said they would prefer to live together with a potential spouse before marrying him or her, because they were afraid they wouldn’t be able to marry again if they failed for a second time,” said Lee Sung-eun, a relationship consultant at Durimoa.
Although second marriages and co-habiting outside of marriage are more accepted in Korean society these days, there are still problems to resolve. “Koreans still attach great importance to blood relationships, even though hojuje (the patriarchal family registry system) has been abolished,” Ms. Ham said. “If that tendency doesn’t change, a second marriage will carry the potential for conflicts among the children, the husband and the new wife.”
by Park Sung-ha
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