It’s neither Valentine’s Day or White Day that depresses me come February or March—it’s the mere thought of getting together with my extended family for the Lunar New Year. When you are a single woman living in Seoul, there are three things that you accumulate: shoes, ex-boyfriends and of course, age. And when you’ve hoarded too much of one thing, you can’t help but become a hot topic among others, especially older relatives. The most frustrating part is when they ask you the same question, year after year: “When are you getting married?”
But despite pressure from family, women in Korea today are more empowered than ever before to pursue careers and lifestyles on their own timeline, with their own agenda. Take a look at book stores, for example. You’ll notice that books with titles like “How to Be Fabulous in Your Thirties” have increased exponentially over the years.
If only I had the answer to that. After a number of bad dates and occasional ex-boyfriends thrown into the mix, I’ve come to the conclusion that reaching that ultimate goal of marriage is just as hard, if not harder, than getting your dream job. Do either even exist?
I for one, tried my best to avoid the annual family gathering this year but found myself face-to-face with one of my aunts, who happens to be quite frank when it comes to expressing her opinions. So there we were, everybody was happy to share New Year’s greetings with each other, and then bam! She comes out with that line, “I’m sure you’ll delight us this year with some ‘good news,’ won’t you?” My mind went blank, but I managed to maintain a smile and nervous laughter. One of my cousins, who is around my age and recently married, didn’t help when she quipped, “Of course you will! Women at your age have less chances to get married, so you’d better hurry up!” I wanted to strangle her, but I somehow managed to keep my head up and told them that I would get married when the time was right.
My conservative extended family may think what they will, but I feel that age is no longer something to be ashamed of (whereas crazy exes and crummy shoes may still be a sin). Recent statistics show that women in South Korea have changed their views about marriage. The majority of them say it is okay to live as a single woman if you are not in a hurry to march down the aisle and have a secure career. Up until around the mid-90’s, women were considered pretty old—and I dare say, nearing their expiration date—when they passed the age of 28. Traditional parents would push us to get married by this stage, setting up seon (선) or arranged meetings (been there, done that, and in my case, it always ended sourly).
But despite pressure from family, women in Korea today are more empowered than ever before to pursue careers and lifestyles on their own timeline, with their own agenda. Take a look at book stores, for example. You’ll notice that books with titles like “How to Be Fabulous in Your Thirties” have increased exponentially over the years. Some would call it a quiet revolution, others may view it as a desperate justification. The important thing here is that single women across the country are slowly emerging to obtain a proper status in society. Major changes may not come for a while, but the good news is that the world is also changing and so is the way people think about the Independent Female. While others may speak of their better “half” or significant “other,” I would like to believe that it is possible to feel whole in just being who I am, without relying on a soulmate to complete me.