Dating in Korea: From Slang Words to Defining the Relationship

Dating in Korea“What does it mean when a Korean couple wears the same outfit?”

“… Well, what exactly are the DVD rooms for?”

“My friend went on a date and she told me that…”

“When a girl says no to a date… that’s a good thing? Why???”

“Minji… I don’t understand.”

Oh, the conversation that fly around the room when you put a curious Dominican-American and a Korean in an office together. She’d been my accomplice in work-life since our big move to a new location. Somehow, I got lucky enough to sit next to someone who (unbeknownst to me) would become a great friend. We quickly got into the habit of chatting about our lives, and few things have been off limits in the last ten months. From the things she loved about America, to the foods I finally enjoyed eating in Korea, we hardly ever stopped as it was. Once the topic of relationships came up, you couldn’t pay us enough to shut up.

I’ve learned all the ‘rules’ of relationships in Korea; how they’re so different from what I’m used to in North America, and also how they’re so incredibly the same. There’s the thing about guys not approaching you if they’re interested because it’s just not what you do, and those pictures couples take before a wedding with a little extra pizzazz. Humans and our take on the world are amazing! Let me try and break it down for you:

The Couple Look

I’d been walking through Jinju’s Hanok Village for a mere 5 minutes the first time I noticed it. Two people, a guy and a girl, holding hands – super cute. But wait, they’re both wearing… cheetah print!? Double take. Oh, look over there, selfie in progress. Uhhh… why do they both have hats with Elmos face on it? I felt like I’d be warped into another reality… well, maybe I had been. In Korea it’s common to see a couple wearing matching outfits, commonly refereed to as a ‘couple outfit,’ (obviously). People who are dating will often wear similar, matching, or coinciding outfits when they go out to do, basically, anything. Sometimes they’re hilarious, adorable, and I wish it was socially acceptable where I come from. Other times… they’re a little bad, but they tried! The point of a couple outfit is to signify unity. It’s like screaming to the world, “Look! We are one person.” Or “Hey buddy, we’re together, don’t even think about it!”

The couple look isn’t for all Koreans, though. Some of them think it’s silly. Often times you’ll notice that the couples who do it are students in college or younger. However I KNOW I’ve seen an elderly couple wearing the same shirt – coincidence? Older couples sometimes want to follow the trend or show their affection for their significant other, but it’s just too childish or uncomfortable to wear a full on matching outfit (could you imagine!). So, they often choose one thing to coordinate, like their shoes, key holder, or cell phone accessories.

Couples Shirts

Couple Rings

I thought about including this with couple clothing, but I think it deserves a category all its own. Couple rings are, in my opinion, a substitute for what we’d refer to as a promise ring in North America. The difference is that instead of just the lady receiving a ring, the couple will go out and find the rings together and both will wear one. They are made to match or ‘coincide’ in some way, and can actually be very expensive. The funny thing is that engagement is very different in Korea. It’s not common for a ring to be involved in the ‘will you marry me’ tradition, and a lot of married couples don’t wear rings at all. Which tradition would you prefer?


Setting Guidelines from the Beginning

Where I come from we’ve developed into a culture that takes ‘dating’ a little less seriously than our parents’ generation. Back home, it’s typical for one of my friends to casually date someone but not have an official title. It’s so not weird to casually date someone for a month (or more), still not be ‘official,’ and perhaps even sleep with them. We’re terrified of labels, and often times that’s because it puts unnecessary and premature pressure on something that’s supposed to feel good and be fun. I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing, but it’s definitely different than how they do things in Korea.

I’ve spoken with several people who grew up in Korea who have different takes on what’s normal, but the general consensus is that things happen pretty quickly. Three dates is about the deadline for getting to the next level (meaning bringing titles to the table, not taking your panties off). If you have a different opinion on this topic, please do share with me on twitter!

They don’t’ say I love you until after they start dating, but it’s common to A) either say it right when they ask or B) very soon after. The reason why this is so common is because the word for I love you, Saranghae (사랑해), is a lot less strong than the three little words we use in English. The reason it’s less serious is just because of the nature in which it’s used since it’s so common and easily implemented, but not because it has a different meaning.


Popping the Question

So, there are two (basic) questions that are essential for defining a relationship: Will you be my boyfriend/girlfriend? And will you marry me? While this is still true for most North Americans, I’ve noticed a growing trend among twenty something’s that seems to follow with our general laissez faire attitude about dating. I know more people who have been in undefined relationships that turned into relationships before they ever asked the question. This leads to so much, “Is he or isn’t he?” and “She must just not be that into me,” worrying and doubting. In Korea, that’s all scrapped aside.

You have to ask specifically, and answer specifically for the relationship to actually start. Or else, get this, it doesn’t count! While I see this as a good thing, I still can’t deny that my boyfriend and I technically made up our anniversary date.


Asking For That Date

I’m not sure how common this is, but as I’ve heard that this is the norm from more than one person I thought it beneficial to not leave it out. So, you know how in North America we’re taught that no means no? Apparently that’s not necessarily a thing here. Here’s the thing: in Korea it’s seen as more attractive to let a man pursue you, otherwise you’re just giving up that date too easily! Often times a guy will meet a girl, maybe at a bar, and then ask her out. She’ll say no, and he’ll keep flirting, and she’ll continue saying no, and then maybe he’ll get her number, and then he’ll ask her out again and she’ll still say no. Then, there’s some magic number of times he asks the question until she finally says yes. Then, they’ll go out, and if the relationship lasts past the second date, then it’s fb official territory.

  • Warning from my co-worker: Don’t miss understand when the girl says no, but she actually doesn’t’t like you and she really means it. You can tell by the tone of their voice!


The In between Period

This one is by far the hardest to explain. There’s slang, and then there’s ‘new slang,’ and this word seems to be sticking. It’s not commonly found among anyone outside the millennial generation, but it’s a great mix of English and Korean.

The Word is: Some. Pronounced like ‘something’ or suh m.

According to, the word literally means “of a certain unspecified number, amount, degree, etc…” which I think explains the in between period better than anyone else ever has.

Used in a Sentence: “So you have some with that guy…?”

It’s that time when you’re still not dating, but you’re getting to know each other and you’re starting to have that ‘weird feeling’ or some kind of interest in each other. Basically, you want to know more about this person. You’re going out but you’re not dating officially. Maybe you’re co-workers or classmates, for example, who see each other and spend a lot of time together, which causes you to develop a ‘good opinion’ about each other. You’re more than friends, but less than boyfriend or girlfriend.

Here’s the catch, though:

You both have to feel it for it be some. So, you can’t just have a crush on that guy you sometimes accidentally graze on your way to the water cooler. This has to be someone who you like, and who you know likes you back.

You could know that he likes you because he’s being extra nice to you and doing things like offering you a gift, or doing something kind for you. They’re flirting but it’s progressing slowly – so the relationship really needs time.

Some is indirect and hard to detect… so instead of someone saying “I like you,” the person would go out of their way to take care of you more or do something above and beyond for you.

Keep in mind that in Korea is far less common for men and women to be just friends. People don’t spend time alone together that way unless they are on a date, have some, or are in an official relationship.

Korean Couple

Celebrating Anniversaries

Celebrating in western cultures is usually a big occasion, but in Korea they have their very own system. One of my friends started dating a Korean man shortly after we moved here, and I remember the day she told me she couldn’t come out for drinks because they were celebrating their 100 day anniversary. I was so confused. What on earth is a 100 day anniversary!? This is what the timetable looks like for a relationship in Korea:

100 day celebration

200 day celebration

300 day celebration

From this point on, you start counting years. So if you’ve been together for 300 days, your next anniversary marks 1 year of being together, then 2 years, and so on and so forth. The anniversary dates around and after the 300 day mark is slightly ambiguous, though. From what I understand, people will celebrate 360 and skip the 300 and then go on to two years, or maybe they will celebrate 303, 304, or 305 days… something along those lines.

It’s typical to celebrate an anniversary in the same way that we would in North America: a nice dinner, a movie, and lots of cuddles.


A word from my dear friend

She helped me work through all this confusing information and red tape about dating in Korea. Although I personally am not dating in Korea, it’s a really huge part of the culture. Being the nosy girl that I am, I wanted to know everything and she obviously answered all of my questions with this disclaimer:

“After living in the United States and obviously being a native of Korea, I think it’s more about individual people, rather than cultural differences. I think how dating is, is affected more by an individual’s beliefs and values than what the stereotypes say about each culture. Individual personality affects the situation more than anything. I have seen the stereotypes be wrong and right in both cultures.”

I’d like to emphasize that this is entirely based off of opinion and observation about dating in Korea, from only from our personal experiences.

Have you ever dated in a foreign country? I want to hear your take on everything. Leave me a comment below!


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1 Comment

  1. June 1, 2015

    This is so interesting to read about other culture dating rituals. I think the part about wearing matching outfit is so funny, I wish we do that in Canada, just for fun. About the anniversary, I have trouble to remember the one year anniversary, I don’t know how I could do it with the 100, 200, 300 days… I would be a bad girlfriend for sure! Aaha! Thanks for sharing this post.

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