Flirting in Korea… Does it Exist?

Dating and marriage in Korea is a little bit different than I’ve grown up thinking about it in the States. I’ve briefly skimmed some of this topic in my post about sexuality in Korean culture, but I wanted to talk a little more about the day to day. For foreigners who come from countries where flirting is one of the main ways to initiate dating, it can seem like there is no flirting in Korea. Especially when it comes to the guys. So here are my observations about how flirting and dating work in Korea.

There’s a Korean expression that roughly means to run over, poke something, then run back and see what the thing you poked does. In my experience, this pretty much sums up the way Korean men flirt. Outside of childhood sweethearts and youthful flings, Korean society is really geared toward getting married and starting a family. Many Korean guys won’t flirt with you, so much as prod you a little but to see if you’re marriage material before actually getting in a relationship with you.

Sometimes that prodding can seem very much like dating which leads to the confusion and annoyance of foreigners. Like: he asked me for dinner and then a few days later we had coffee; weren’t those dates? Apparently not always, that was the interview stage. You haven’t necessarily got the job of girlfriend/potential-wife-and-baby-mamma yet. But couple culture is very strong in Korea. If you have passed the prodding stage to actual dating, expect a Korean man to be texting and calling you frequently and to take the lead at setting up dates.

In Korea, if you haven’t managed to get married by the time you’re around 30, that’s often when you or your family steps in and through a matchmaker of some sort (who may or may not come along on the first date with you) will arrange blind dates with suitable candidates for you. This system us called 소개팅(sokaeting). If the date goes well and you agree to keep seeing each other, expectations are high on both sides that you will get married, probably within the next six months. I know couples who did it in three.

Blind dates really are like job interviews in that way and there is definitely little room for flirting. They get down to business right away. People going on blind dates are actively looking for someone to marry. In some ways, I guess it’s good to know the intention going in. In other ways, it puts a lot of pressure on first impressions and doesn’t leave a lot of room for chemistry to develop naturally.

But since since blind dates are no place for flirting, I’ll leave that subject for another day….

Korean women are famous (infamous?) for a style of flirting known as “aegyo.” It’s a cutesy, whining way of speaking that is supposed to make them seem childlike and sweet. Perhaps it’s supposed to stir their “oppa” to want to care for them? It also involves a style of cute gestures and expressions (like the two finger peace sign in photos). Sometimes even young men, especially k-pop idols use aegyo. I don’t think I could ever date a man who used aegyo to be honest. It would creep me out.

Eat Your Kimchi did a great video about aegyo which I will link here:

Any sort of shyness or innocence can be viewed as aegyo. Though, that would be more the natural aegyo, versus the cultivated fake aegyo. Some of my Korean friends tell me I have aegyo because I’m naturally a blusher and I make weird faces if I’m surprised and such. To be honest, being in Korea has encouraged me to not hold back with that because, I get such a positive response. I’ve realized that’s why so many Korean people tell me that I’m cute– I’m a effusive. And then I worry about whether Korea is ruining me for life outside of Korea. Like maybe I should rein in the nose-scrunching thing. But I don’t do the whining. I swear. Anyway….

So use of aegyo, especially intentional aegyo is a big flirting style of Korean women. Though, as they say in the video– not as extreme as you may see in dramas.

Touching is also a delicate aspect of flirting. Because touching someone of the opposite gender is not something people typically do, couples are really announcing their couplehood by holding hands and other forms of contact. As your passing from the “being prodded” stage of courtship to the “actually dating” stage, your boyfriend or girlfriend may introduce “skinship.”

While kissing on the lips is still not commonly seen in public, couples are still very demonstrative in public. They’ll fix each other’s hair. They’ll rest a hand on the other’s arm or knee. Girls will often lean on their boyfriend’s shoulder. Holding hands in very common. All of these are signs that you are a couple and everyone around you sees that very clear message. Since your wouldn’t do these things with anyone you’re not dating, this is like a public announcement in Korea. No room for misinterpretation.

The best way to find someone to date in Korea is to make friends and meet people. If you meet people at clubs and such, they’re most likely looking for a fling. So if you’re not, I don’t recommend that method. However, meeting through friends gives Koreans the chance to sort of taking you through the vetting process to see if there is real relationship potential. Then you can start practicing your aegyo.

What are your experiences with cross-cultural flirting?

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5 thoughts on “Flirting in Korea… Does it Exist?

  1. A great article and quite accurate. From a male perspective, I find that flirting here is taken quiet seriously. For example, when I flirt with some of the girls at my work, in a playful manner, they take it seriously, even pointing out that I’m married. However, when I flirt with my Western friends they know its just harmless fun. Bravo!

  2. Pingback: Going to Your First Korean Wedding: An Etiquette Guide | Wanderlustified

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