While dining at my favourite Indian restaurant a few nights ago, the waiter came over and asked us if we were ‘that couple’ from tv. Having never been on Korean tv, we both denied the fact. The Indian waiter then went to consult with some Korean staff members and came back insisting that we were ‘that Korean guy-Canadian girl couple who got married and went on tv.’ It’s hilarious that in this uber tiny pool of Korean male-Canadian female couples in this country, we have a couple doppelganger.
My fiancé loved this idea about going on tv after we are married. I’m not sure if he has visions of Misuda greatness (the show where expat women demonstrate their Korean skills and their cuteness level), but I quickly quashed his momentary glimpse at fame.
You see, I don’t want to be a poster couple for international marriage in Korea.
International marriages are growing at exponential rates here. Fewer and fewer Korean women want to marry poor farmers, so they move to the city. The selective abortions of the past are now starting to haunt Korea with far fewer eligible women of marrying age than men. In addition, the fertility rates are now the second lowest in the world, meaning that mate selection is going to be even more interesting in the next generation. Combine this with Korea’s reasonable geographical proximity to relatively poor countries, and you have the international marriage broker system where farmers go on package tours to find even more economically disadvantaged women who are willing to be wives, mothers, and field workers. Because Korean dramas are so very popular in places like the Philippines where many of these women come from, brides-to-be sometimes imagine that their new husband will be like the sensitive romantic men of the shows, only to find that your typical 50 year old living in a remote farm village on his second marriage is not quite the Korean Romeo.
This is not to say that these marriages can’t be real or good – or that they shouldn’t happen. However, these marriages have high rates of divorce, high rates of abuse, and are the ones that papers like to use when dissecting the woes of marrying outside Korean culture. I don’t want my considerably more privileged status and place I Korean society to speak for these women who speak different languages, work in different industries, and live in different circumstances. I wish that the average Southeast Asian, Russian, or Chinese bride had a larger role in actually speaking about her experiences to the Korean media and people instead of having government officials spout out facts for her.
There are also those Misuda women (at least the married ones) or the ever popular Ida Daussy (more on her in a minute). These are the women who are held up as the ideal for Korean-expat marriages – beautiful cute women who speak fluent Korean and love their man! Ida Daussy is the epitome of this. Originally from France, she married a Korean and became a Korean citizen 16 years ago. She became a foreign-face feature on Korean tv as the ideal wife, mother, and foreigner with Korean citizenship (to this day, most print publications refer to her as a ‘French woman’ despite her Korean passport). But upholding this perfection is hard work, especially when you are supposed to carry with you all of the international marriages in this country. Daussy and her husband split this year, and now we are left without a long-term poster couple of how it ‘is possible’ for some 1 in 8 marriages to succeed.
Have you noticed that I haven’t mentioned expat men marrying Korean women? Well, if you read the papers alone, you might be surprised to hear that such couples exist despite the obvious numbers of such couples holding hands on the street. There simply can’t be poster FM-KW couples unless you count the men who have been here for 30 years who have established enough careers that their service to Korea and language skills are positioned far before their personal details (with a Korean wife usually a footnote in a newspaper piece). No, we don’t want more Korean women to get the idea through the media that it’s okay to marry a foreign man…because then we’ll have to import even more brides!
So no, I don’t want to be a poster couple. I don’t want to speak for the vast amount of different lifestyles and situations we ‘international couples’ live in. I don’t want to compare the discrimination I feel I have faced with the prejudice for men and women with darker skin, or perceived less fortunate educational or economic backgrounds (even though that is not always the case). I don’t want to speak for what it is like to be a Korean woman married to a ‘foreign’ man. I get applause for marrying a Korean man while many Korean women face patriarchal hang-ups about ‘other men’ taking ‘our women.’
And I CERTAINLY do not want the scrutiny of the media and the lack of anonymity that fame, even local tv fame brings. Marriages aren’t perfect: people aren’t perfect. People and especially relationships need space to be bad, be forgiven, work toward change, and negotiate issues. If we get divorced, I want it to be because we had a problem, couldn’t work it out, and ultimately ended the marriage, not we had a problem, the media suggested that we would divorce, and then the scrutiny forced that reality upon us. I like the anonymity that my moniker (Msleetobe) brings me, and it’s not like anyone reads this blog anyway! So I have fear of ever being famous.
A friend of mine has this great expression: ‘couple crush.’ It refers to when you see a couple who is adorable together and has the appearance of being in the ideal relationship that you have always wanted to be in. In the past she has used it to refer to 2 couples I know but am not close with who seem to have achieved an incredibly well balanced, egalitarian, and mutually supportive relationship. Upon hearing this term and the couples who were being ‘crushed on,’ my roommate, who was having some problems with her now husband said, ‘what about us? Don’t you have a couple crush on us???!’
The truth is, couple crushes can only be had when you know the couple ‘just enough.’ If you know their problems, their habitual fights, and their oddities too well, it’s impossible to crush on them.
That’s why couples like Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins are such great examples of what it means to be a poster couple. You see them dressed up on the red carpet together in their very best, you see their work together on Dead Man Walking, and you hear their names together for two decades as one of those rare Hollywood couples that stay together. And then they break up…and Sarandon starts dating a man half her age, and you realize you only admired them because you didn’t really know them at all.