heartache, tears, and new beginnings

Time for some disclosure. Time to get a little more personal. If you don’t like juicy stories about my personal goings-on, please skip this post. If you don’t mind reading a post containing my raw and tender emotions and detailing my own foolishness, then read on, brave soul. But know that you have been warned.

Also, know that this is not the type of thing I would talk about with anyone face-to-face except for close friends. So why I am posting it on the internet for anyone to find and read is beyond me. I guess this blog feels like a safe haven of anonymity and an online journal of sorts. But if I start thinking about it too much, I’ll remember all the family and friends who say they read this blog and that will be uncomfortable and cringe-y, so I’m not going to think about it. I just really want to express my feelings and tell this story now that it’s come to an end – after all, it’s all part of my Korean experience.

So.

There’s another reason (besides my crazy workload) that I haven’t posted as much in the month of April as I did in the month of March. Almost exactly four weeks ago, I entered yet another facet of Korean culture – the dating culture. “Culture” is certainly the word, because it is an entirely different experience from dating in the Western world. Korea is very couple-oriented. If you don’t have a boyfriend/girlfriend, people tend to think there is something wrong with you. (Okay, maybe not, but you do get many a shocked “Why not??”) Couples are very cutesy here. People wear matching couple outfits and celebrate things like 100 days of dating, and often non-engaged couples will wear “couple rings.”

I’ve remained silent about my dating adventures on this blog out of a desire to keep that side of my life more private, as well as out of respect for his privacy. However, now that it’s over, I think I’d like to write about my story (in a way that will still protect his anonymity).

Anyway, long story short, four weeks ago when I was walking home, I passed a Korean guy on the street… and he doubled back and said hi to me. And asked me out for coffee. And, 6 hours later, while we were still on our “first date” (which included dinner at a Korean restaurant, coffee at a cafe, beer at a bar, and ice cream at another cafe) he asked me to be his girlfriend. Such is the pace of Korean life, and that includes Korean dating.

Needless to say, my prudent and cautious self gently turned down his request, and I said we should get to know each other better first. This shocked him, since apparently it is totally acceptable to become boyfriend/girlfriend after one date here. (Granted, I have a sample size of 1, but from what I’ve read online, this is pretty typical with Korean guys. They tend to move fast and be clingy. Not all, but many.)

One thing led to another, and we got to know each other better, and we started dating for real. It was fun. It was enjoyable. He showed me many areas of the city to which I had never dared venture alone. We ate delicious food. I ate sushi for the first time. We went to Daegu Tower (aka E-World Tower, over 660 feet tall) and saw the city at night. We climbed to the top of Mount Apsan and saw a stunningly beautiful view of the entire city of Daegu (picture below).

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Beautiful, beautiful Daegu. The city surrounded by mountains.

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The mountains completely enclose Daegu in a warm embrace. Literally, a warm embrace. It’s already like 85 degrees here, and it’s only the end of April!

Cherry blossoms on the path up Apsan.

Cherry blossoms on the path up Apsan.

He was a cool person. His English was only a little better than that of my middle schoolers, but figuring out ways to communicate complex ideas was fascinating and fun to me. We talked about psychology and Maslow and Pavlov and Descartes. We talked about our dreams and our beliefs. We talked about taekwondo, because believe it or not, he was a pretty well-known taekwondo athlete in Daegu during his university years. He trained at the Kukkiwon (World Taekwondo Headquarters in Seoul). His skill level puts my American-earned 3rd degree to shame. We talked about introversion and extroversion. He never seemed uncomfortable with my frequent introverted silences, and I appreciated that quite a bit. We talked about music. He loved Celine Dion – driving in his car was like stepping into a 90s love ballad zone (resulting in this being stuck in my head for several days straight). When I told him I love Ingrid Michaelson, the next day he had downloaded all her albums and was playing them in his car. We talked about some of the metaphors she uses in her song lyrics.

Teaching him about American culture was fun. He’d only traveled around parts of Asia, so he was fascinated by what I told him about the differences in our cultures. Teaching him random English was also fun. Koreans have a polite phrase they say before eating, to the effect of “I’ll eat well,” and so I taught him “Dig in” – but he mistook it for “Dig it,” which he then said every single time we sat down to eat. It was so funny that I didn’t bother to correct him.

On my birthday, he surprised me with a birthday cake and candles and flowers, and he sang to me. It was really sweet.

And so the days flew by in a blur of late nights and scratchy-eyed mornings as we went on date after date. I barely had room to breathe, but I was okay with it. And, almost against my will (because I’ve truly enjoyed being single over the past year and a half, and having freedom and not having my emotions tied up with another person)… I found myself sort of falling in love.

Which is a very strange experience. I know it’s not uncommon, but for me, I’d never started dating someone before having feelings for them. So I often stepped back during the last four weeks and watched myself developing feelings for another human being. It’s weird. Really weird. Have you ever thought about how weird it is to fall in love? Strange, strange things happen to your mental and emotional state of being.

And then… almost exactly one month after we met, just two days ago, for reasons I will not fully disclose here (we’re getting juicy, but not that juicy – sorry, y’all), he decided to break up with me. Suffice it to say we had some fundamental differences of opinion, and he believed it was better to end things early, before we were in too emotionally deep, rather than in “6 months or a year” (his words).

One thing that I requested of him then, which ended up being one of the more beautiful experiences I’ve ever had, was that he express his feelings to me in just Korean. Even though I wouldn’t understand all of it, I wanted to hear him speak freely in a way that would allow his heart to come through (which is harder to do when you’re concentrating on translating the words and then pronouncing them correctly).

So he did, and it was actually really lovely, and I recommend it to anyone who’s dating someone who speaks a different language (preferably NOT when you’re breaking up).

Anyway, his decision came as a bit of a shock to my system, since we’d both been quite happy (seemingly) and got along quite well save for those couple of aforementioned fundamental differences. Especially since he had alluded to us having a long-term relationship multiple times (even going so far as to ask things like “Have you ever thought about marrying someone from another country?”).

Side note: I frequently step back to analyze my feelings from a biochemical perspective – I can’t help it; it’s my psychology background. So I’ve been thinking a lot about things like how the spike of dopamine from a new relationship messed with my balanced brain chemicals, and how once a relationship ends, you experience that painful crash akin to drug withdrawal. Not cool.

I spent the day after it happened feeling quite miserable and experiencing my first true bout of both tears and homesickness since my second day in Korea. After my first night here, I have not cried one time – until now. It was a bit of a relief to cry, actually. I was beginning to think I was no longer human, but some kind of happy-bot with no “sad and miserable” function.

But naturally, the sadness and the crying also brought on a strong desire to just go home. Especially since he and I had gone to almost every place nearby my home, meaning that no matter where I walk, almost every place I pass will be full of memories that I would rather not think about.

However, at the end of Day 2 of being single once again, here I sit in my pajamas, having listened to more than my share of sad and angry breakup songs, comfortably eating canned corn and canned fruit salad and ice cream for dinner, because why not? I can do whatever I want.

I’m grateful for this experience, because it has reminded me that BOTH states of being are okay: single and in a relationship. Both can be beautiful. Both can make me very happy. So in the future, whichever I find myself in, I can be content.

I’m on the path to intrinsic happiness once again. It might take a few more days, or weeks… and I might still feel pangs of sadness sometimes when I pass by that samgyeopsal restaurant, that coffee shop, that corner where we met… but I will be okay again. This little interlude in my Korean adventure has come to an end. It was lovely while it lasted, but it couldn’t last forever. And that’s okay. It just means that there are more and better chapters to be written.

P.S. I am quite sure that tomorrow morning I will re-read this post and regret publishing it. Nevertheless, I’m hitting “Publish” now. Vulnerability makes us human, right? And I just want to let you all know that I am most definitely not a happy-bot. But I am something of an eternal optimist, because already I can feel my heart, sad though it is, itching to leap forward, eagerly awaiting whatever adventure will come next.

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