Monday, April 11, 2011

From Left to Write: Love and Marriage

 Today’s post is part of the From Left to Write online book club. The idea of this book club is not to write a book review but to write a post in which the blogger connects that month’s book to an experience from his/her own life. The current book is 29 by Adena Halpern.

Reading about Ellie, the main character of 29, and her struggle to figure out whether she had missed out on true love made me think about Korean and Korean-American views on marriage. My parents had an arranged marriage and it was clear to us daughters growing up that it was definitely not one that was arranged very well. They were married a couple weeks after the matchmaker proposed the match. This wasn't as strange as it sounds, most of the marriages of my parents' generation in Korea were done by arranged marriage and some people married without even seeing their future spouse. Even today, in "modern" Korean society, the custom of using a matchmaker to introduce potential matches is as normal as using a headhunter to find a job. The matchmakers have books filled with photos and resumes. The matchmaker makes sure to investigate the parents and even the parents' parents to make sure that there are no scandals or anything dishonorable in the family background.

One older cousin of mine who had found what she thought was a suitable "love match" discovered to her enormous disappointment and despair that her mother would not approve the marriage because the family was from Seoul. Since my cousin is from Pusan (a mere hour flight southeast but worlds away in terms of subculture and dialect), my aunt would not approve because it meant that her daughter would live in a different city. I couldn't believe it, but my cousin accepted my aunt's decision. It seems that the idea of marrying someone against your parents' wishes is something that is just not done even today. I see this theme over and over again in the Korean dramas to which I'm addicted on Hulu. Every drama seems to hinge on the parents' disapproval of their children's choice of a spouse. In one drama the couple get legally married but only have a wedding (when the bride is 8 months pregnant) after his parents finally give their approval. In another, the aunt tells the mother to let the kids the married just don't register it legally so that they can continue to connive to break them up in the meanwhile.

You would think that growing up in the U.S. would have meant that my sisters and I would have been able to break free from this expectation of making the "proper" marriage. We almost didn't. The person I almost married was someone who had come to the U.S. during junior high, which meant he was more culturally Korean than American. His parents certainly had very different expectations of their future daughter-in-law than the reality that was me. His mother told me that one of the most important things I should have as a goal for my child was for him (of course the first child would be a boy) to be the best dressed kid in his kindergarten class. She completely disapproved of my going to law school because lawyers dealt with people who broke the law and so had to associate with criminals. My ex assured her that I would become a professor so I wouldn't have to deal with those kinds of people. Needless to say, I wised up and realized that the practical reasons for which I had agreed to enter into the marriage were not enough for the Korean-American part of me. So I gave back the ring in the turquoise box. A short time later, Stewart and I got back in touch (he had been my first boyfriend at college) and got married the next year.

My sister C also also almost fell victim to my parents' endless commentary on who would make a suitable match. She had fallen in love with someone in her early 20s but had broken up with him many times in part because of my parents' opposition--K was NOT Korean and was NOT in her decade. But oh what a different tune they sang almost immediately after her 30th birthday. My mother started to ask me if C ever spoke to K. I took this to mean that she was not opposed to it if they were talking. Then this past January C announced to my parents that K would be visiting them. He showed up in Chicago to "ask" my parents for her hand. They knew the jig was up, this time C and K would get married no matter what they said. So last month, I drove with the boys in the minivan down to Los Angeles to help C prepare for her wedding. (No, she's not pregnant, they just didn't see any point for a long engagement after a decade of on and off dating.) My parents made one more effort to put the kibbosh on the wedding by arguing that the radiation from the Japanese ongoing nuclear disaster would be especially dangerous since the wedding was on a boat. I didn't even bother to relay this message to my sister. The wedding went off without a hitch (other than H making some gibberish noises during the ceremony, comic relief?) and now C and K can start their happily ever after together. 

Thank God I listened to my friend Caryn when she said that there was passion and love out there for me and that I didn't have to get married just because I had found a Korean man that didn't smoke or drink to excess or beat me. Instead I found my way back to my true love Stewart, my one and only, the love of my life. And he's Korean! I'm glad I don't have to wonder like Ellie did in 29 whether her marriage had been worth it. She (and Adena Halpern) says it best at the end of the book, "May you get everything you want in your life. If you should get it all, however, and you still don't like the outcome, don't take it as failure. Take it as something to learn from and move on."

I received a free copy of 29 as part of the book club.


heathergothitched said...

Yo Yooonice! I had no idea about your first engagement! What a story! Well, you know that I also married my hottie, Matthew, because he was a far cry from the typical Korean man who "smoked too much, drank too much and beat their wives!" hahah! (duh, not all but it is a sterotype for a reason!) I'm so glad I finally gave in to our mutual friend's incessant nagging to meet his buddy because he changed my life! You and I are so lucky to have such wonderful husbands! I will never wonder about the "what ifs" because I hit the jackpot, baby!

Love always,

P.S. I'm definitely gonna get this book! (hehehehe, I'm 29 too!)
P.P.S. Visit us soooooon!

Unknown said...

i'm so glad i didn't go with my first choice for a husband as well...the man i chose truly is the love of my life.

Amy H said...

I, too, thought that I would marry my high school/college sweetheart (who was really far from a sweetheart). It just seemed logical. But during one of our many breakups, I met my husband and realized how different it was with him from our first conversation. It was easy. It was lovely. It was unconditional. Now that my ex is happily married with two kids and I am too, it's great to see that we both ended up in the right place. No regrets.

I'm so glad you feel that way too!

Emily said...

I am so glad I found your blog from our book club! Your post about Korean marriages in the U.S. both educated and fascinated me. I did not know that there was still such parental pressure.

You really could relate to Ellie.

I am glad you found your happily ever after!

April said...

Even if you don't get it all, it's not a failure. Adapting and re-thinking can lead to an even happier ending!

Melissa said...

I really enjoyed reading your "story" and the cultural pressures at play. I was so glad when you said you didn't relay your parent's message about radiation from Japan--how sweet and thoughtful of you to insulate her from their disapproval on her wedding day. I hope your sister sees this!

Nuree said...

Did this book really conjure up all these thoughts?? Maybe I should read this as well. :)

Oh the parental pressures! I had no idea C got married! That's awesome...perhaps my parents will give in too but I HIGHLY doubt it.

Miss you!!

Dahlia Karch said...

Oh so sweet to see you discuss Stewart as the love of your life. Through all the trials and tribulations, all the moves, all the crazy days surviving with 2 rambunctious boys, it's nice to remember back to you and Stewart's reuniting and continuing on to your wedding day. Hooray for happy endings!