So you want to date an oppa...


Will a real man let us do that?

HE is tall, fair and oh, so handsome.

His soulful gaze and sweet smile can make you melt, especially as his timing is always spot on – whether in turning up just when you need him or making an adorable fool of himself to make you smile.

He is single-minded in loving you and single-hearted in pampering you to the heavens.

Meet the romantic South Korean “oppa” – which literally means older brother but is often used flirtatiously to indicate male romantic interest – as we know him in the dramas.

Whether it is the college professor played by Kim Soo-hyun in 2013’s My Love From The Star, the army captain played by Song Joong-ki in Descendants Of The Sun (2016), the sensitive, mathematician king played by Lee Min-ho in The King: Eternal Monarch (2020), or the model played by Park Bo-gum in the recently-ended Record Of Youth, these leading men spark hope in women’s hearts that fantasy is just around the corner.

So, is the real-life Korean oppa just as romantic?

I’m sorry to burst your bubble, K-drama fan, but such perfection only exists in la-la land.

How do I know? Well, I am married to a South Korean ahjussi (Mr/uncle), and I have stopped wishing he would stylishly knock my phone out of my hand and tie my shoelaces like Song’s character did in Descendants, or dance with me in the rain and knot his scarf around my neck to keep me warm, like Park’s character in Record.

I have also given up on being surprised by flowers and chocolates on Valentine’s Day, or any other sweet gestures concocted by scriptwriters, who are clearly evildoers toying with human hearts.Mind you, I do get gifts, but they are practical tributes such as a vacuum cleaner, an air humidifier and a wireless phone charger – items he helpfully thinks I need.

Thoughtful? Yes. Romantic? Not so much.

After 11 years of marriage – five of them spent living in Seoul – and one daughter, I have come to realise that the Korean guy portrayed so desirably in the dramas is actually not that different from your average Singaporean guy, albeit a lot more vain.

Here are five lessons I’ve learnt, which I hope will be useful for anyone dreaming of snagging her own oppa:

1. More pragmatic than romantic

When it comes to affairs of the heart, the Korean oppa is really more pragmatic than romantic.

Sure, if he wants to impress you and win you over, he can pull out all the stops, sometimes picking up a trick or two from the dramas.

He can constantly praise how yepo (Korean for beautiful) you are, and tell you how much he saranghae (loves you).

But he does it mainly because he knows it is expected of him.

Herein lies a key Korean concept that you must grasp in order to conquer your oppa nunchi (literally “eye measure”).

Nunchi, according to American-Korean author Euny Hong, is the “art of understanding what people are thinking and feeling”, and reacting in a way that will be viewed positively by others.

Call it EQ. South Koreans are trained to possess and demonstrate good nunchi, as it is said to hold the key to success and happiness.

So if the oppa presents you with flowers for an anniversary, it is probably because he knows it is the right thing to do and that you may be upset if he doesn’t, which won’t turn out so well for him.

In fact, a Singaporean friend said she gets flowers only after a major fight with her Korean husband – his way of making peace.

Pragmatism is at work here, not romance.

2. His dark side

As the relationship deepens, you will come to realise that everything that you love about him has a dark side.

Enjoy how he lavishes praise on you? He will fly into a rage just as passionately.

Love how he tries to protect you, even if it’s just crossing the road? It can feel overbearing, especially when you’re no wallflower.

He pampers you like a princess when you’re out and about? Then you will need to treat him like a king at home. The dark side is usually well hidden at the start of a relationship, but you can be sure it will rear its head eventually.

Most Korean men, you see, grow up being spoilt rotten by their mothers. He is raised like a prince while his sister, if he has any, will be treated like a maid.

So he will naturally expect royal treatment from you, especially once the honeymoon is over.

Another Singaporean friend tells me she has to serve her Korean husband water when he comes home from work as he won’t get a drink for himself. That’s how spoilt he is. Yet she puts up with it because he is, after all, the sole breadwinner of the family.



3. Vanity rules

South Korea has very rigid beauty standards, which drive both women and men to go to great lengths to look good.

Whether tall, fair and handsome – or not – the Korean oppa is likely to be vain and will spend an inordinate amount of time preening in front of the mirror.

He is also more open-minded about beauty procedures, be they a manicure, eyebrow tattoo or double eyelid surgery.

In fact, he takes so much pride in looking good, he will expect a dutiful girlfriend to notice every small change in his physical appearance. If he shows up with a new haircut, remember to exclaim “oppa meori meojyeoyo” (“oppa hair cool”) to avoid a sulk. Remember nunchi?

4. Flair for drama

The Korean oppa is expressive, with a natural flair for drama.

On good days, he comes across as candid and animated, making you laugh with his silliness.

But on bad days, especially when fighting with his partner, he can become overly emotional and start making a mountain out of a molehill. That is when you need to give him space to let him calm down and resume his chirpy self.

A little agyeo – a cutesy display of affection – will go a long way. The oppa loves it.



5. His big ego

Given South Korea’s deep-seated culture of hierarchy, it should come as no surprise that the Korean oppa has a huge ego that cannot be bruised.

This comes back to being treated like a little prince who can do no wrong. He was probably praised his whole life too, no matter what he did, and he will crave praise from you too.

Oppa jalhaesseoyo”, which means “good job, oppa”, is going to be your lifelong tagline.

But then, why not? In life – reel or real – genuinely appreciating your significant other is the secret to making a relationship work.

And in case you’re wondering if the oppa’s female counterpart is fact or fiction, well, that is a topic for another letter, another day. — The Straits Times/Asia News Network

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