It’s surprisingly easy for me go through my days here without being asked The Question All Women of Age In Korea Are Asked: are you married? First of all, for reasons of privacy, it’s simply not brought up among the expat crowd. Maybe it is also because I have been told I look young enough to pass for a university student. Secondly, my husband and I wear matching wedding bands. In the Korean eye, it’s assumed they are trendy “couple rings.” Appearing to be just another pair among the thousands of young dating couples in Seoul, my marital status tends to stay hidden. As a result, I often feel a large part of me—the one that lives in tandem with the goals, dreams and personality of another individual—remains, ironically, veiled.
In Seoul, my marital status tends to stay hidden. As a result, I often feel a large part of me remains, ironically, veiled.
I have a secret: Although it may seem otherwise, being married doesn’t automatically mean life is easier in a foreign country. It’s only a secret because it’s a bit off-topic among my group of friends—99% of whom are single.
At its core, relocating to a foreign country with my spouse means that I always have a built-in ally, no matter how perplexing or harsh the current environment might be. However, a distinct motif of tension between the unique needs of married life, and what resources are currently available to support those needs is a major aspect of my residence in Seoul. As in any stage of life, having peers and a community is important to nurturing a sense of self, or in this case, a sense of partnership. Furthermore, with the sense of partnership is also the significant aspect of pursuing purpose as a couple.
Due to the nature of the English-speaking community, it’s easy to feel a bit isolated when conversations come up about the next backpacking trip, or moving on a whim to another exotic location at the end of a short work contract. While others may be in a stage of experimentation as singles, I find that I am in a place where building long-term purpose as a couple is a far more compelling theme.
It’s not exactly about “settling down”—those oft-dreaded words associated with adulthood. The nuance is that it’s no longer about experimenting for the sake of the thrill. For my husband and me, it could mean starting a photography business, raising a family, or investing the next 50 years of our lives into an NGO in another country—or all three. These are subjects rarely discussed or understood among a transient and relatively young expat community.
Not one to discount the priceless treasure of finding kindred spirits far from home—regardless of their marital status, I find that I choose to live, act and talk “single” in order to maintain relate-ability. I try to avoid mentioning topics regarding housework, dilemmas with cooking local cuisine, or my five-year plan. I have been guilty of soothing my need to discuss future parenting fears by bringing up classroom management situations from my teaching job, simply because it is more relevant to the current audience. On occasion, I mention I need to “be somewhere” at a certain time instead of openly saying, “I want to block off that time so I can make space for nurturing my marriage.”
Upon reflection, it seems a bit dishonest to approach friendships in that way, but perhaps it’s a coping mechanism I’ve developed. Now and then, wonderful memories of evenings spent with other couples in earlier years try to take my hand, leading me to wish for times past. Quickly shaking it off, I acknowledge the presence of amazing single friends for which I am grateful—a true rarity regardless of geographic location.