“Teacher, where is Mary?”
“Yes, everyday, sadly. I have to work.”
“Teacher, you should get married quickly.”
“So you can be with Mary.”
This conversation caught me by surprise, the way every conversation that unexpectedly segues into marriage does. It seems to happen to me much more often than you think. For some reason, my students are constantly reminding me that 1) I’m not married and 2) I should be married, and soon. I’m not surprised by the sentiment among young kids; in a family-centered culture that also celebrates 12 informal couples holidays throughout the year, it should be anticipated that 13-year-olds are spewing everything out of their mouth that they’ve ever heard, without thinking about what it is they’re actually saying. Middle school is interesting in that aspect: they’ve absorbed nearly everything they’ve been told to do, memorized the reasons why, but haven’t quite hit the point where they reason through it all and decide for themselves. They’re, in a weird way, robots of Korean culture.
So throughout my past year, I’ve begun a number of conversations just to find myself assaulted, once again, with the m-word.
“Teacher, you should get married very soon!”
“So you can have a happy life!”
The interesting thing about many of these conversations is that I constantly have to ask, “Why?” My students always assume that I agree with the sentiment. They’re usually taken aback when I ask for their reasoning and then when I explain why I disagree with getting married so I can get a puppysitter (or puppysit myself), for example, it never quite registers with them.
“But I already live a very happy life, I’m very happy.”
“But if you get married, you could be more happy!”
They can’t possible wrap their heads around the idea that getting married isn’t on my immediate to do list. They’re oblivious to the fact that marriage isn’t always rainbows and butterflies and I love yous and cooing your baby to sleep. They assume that alone means unhappy, and no one could possible want that. That’s just absurd. But beyond this, they see marriage as this set of positives that magically fall upon your life as soon as you say “I do” and pop out a child.
Some of these include: staying home and being supported financially (and blissfully) by your husband (or supporting your wife so she can stay home and cook/clean), unconditional everlasting love, happiness at all times, and general fulfillment as a person. I could stay home with my puppy, not have to work, live in a big house he pays for, have time to fly home and see my family, make my husband plan and buy everything for me, have him drive me everywhere, and be happier than I am. These expectations are simply farce.
There’s not a hint of reality in their ideas, and it concerns me. Why is marriage a solution to a myriad of “problems” that may or may not need “solved”? When I think about how to take care of my dog and what I could do to spend more time with her, marriage isn’t one of the options I contemplate. The jump of logic is frightening to me. I worry that my students will grow up, oblivious to the reality of getting married (compromise, commitment, bad days and good) and be disappointed with their life when the truth slaps them in the face.
South Korea isn’t the only country in the world that emphasizes marriage. In the USA, I wouldn’t be surprised if little boys and girls also dream of having an engagement ring and walking down the aisle into the arms of someone they love. However, I don’t think that US culture focuses so much on the same benefits, such as the staying at home, the financial support, the stuff he buys. I think the US concept is based a little more heavily on the wedding itself: looking beautiful, wearing the dress and the rings, announcing to the world that you’re in love forever, never having to look again.
Maybe it’s even worse to focus on the material part of a single day of your life, and it’s certainly just as disillusioned about the realities of being married, but I am still more horrified by the concept in South Korea. The things my kids describe feel more like I should apply and try to get accepted for a credit card.
- If you shop at these stores (husband approved), your purchase will be free
- 2x the happiness for every hour spent
- 0.0% chance of infidelity for your first year
- If you have a baby within three months, earn a 4x happiness bonus
I suppose what I’m trying to say is this: marriage isn’t a solution to anyone’s problems, and certainly not mine. Marriage isn’t going to automatically make my life easier or better or happier. And frankly I’m just exhausted by answering my students’ inquiries on the subject, which are often for trivial reasons or none at all. I sincerely hope that a Korean drama comes out soon that doesn’t end in a proposal, or focuses on a challenging but happy marriage, or otherwise gives my students something other than the cookie-cutter glittery “marriage! yay! happiness!” image. I hope, I hope and I hope that they can get a realistic view on weddings and lifelong promises, and before it’s too late.
“Teacher, you should get married soon.”
“Alright, I’ll work on that.”
Are you a teacher in South Korea? Do your students constantly tell you to get married too? How do you respond?
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