Like anywhere, young people in Korea often have a difficult time meeting prospective boyfriends, girlfriends and marriage partners. Single men and women in Korea often meet each other at work, in school or through clubs (called circles). They have traditionally rarely meet one another at discos, bars or health clubs or through personal ads. Some men taking evening classes on how to meet women and get dates.

Donald N. Clark wrote in “Culture and Customs of Korea”: “Modernization has created new situations where young people see and get to know each other directly long before there is any thought of getting married. College classrooms and campus clubs are prime places for seeing who is available. University districts in Seoul are alive with young people dating with no need to check with parents. Churches and sports events are also places where young people make contact. Their first dates take place in coffee shops where they talk. Often they meet in parks and get to know each other.” [Source: “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Greenwood Press, 2000]

On dates arranged by a matchmaker, Jaceon Toomgam wrote in “Korean dramas and movies tend to show this sort of arrangement a lot. These couples head straight to business in finding out personal information such as education and family background. They will continue to date if things are working out, but as stated before, marriage was always the goal in the first place. Korean culture has a strong tradition of matchmaking – in the traditional Korean society, due to the Confucian culture, males and females were not allowed to mingle freely with each other, so marriages were arranged by matchmakers appointed by the parents. Nowadays, for a Korean in South Korea, one’s own friends, parents, relatives, family friends, individual professional matchmakers and professional matchmaking agencies can be sources to help find Mr or Miss Right. [Source: Jaceon Toomgam,]

Meetings in South Korea

Dates are often called meetings. Sometimes groups of friends arrange their own meetings, usually set up by young men and women who are friends, involving their friends. In the 1990s, the leaders suggest that their respective male and female friends get together at a coffee house, where ideally an equal number of guys and young women sat across from one another at the table. Sometimes the guys put their keys in a hat and the women selected the keys one by one to determine who sat across from whom. The group then sits around and chats. If a paired off couple decides they want to get to know each other better they excused themselves and went to a different place. Koreans who have went on such meetings say they are often awkward and embarrassing and few have said they met a boyfriend or girlfriend at one.

According to Korean Culture Blog: Meeting “is a favourite dating method of the younger generations. A young man and a young woman invite their respective 3 or 4 single friends to a group meeting at an agreed location, usually cafe or bar. Meetings are not at all a serious type of dating – the group may spend the evening playing games, drinking and chatting or going to the karaoke room for singing. If one finds someone he/she likes, they will exchange the contact details and start dating. In a meeting, the most attractive man who is able to gain the attention of most women is called “King-Ka”, which literally means the”King card”. Then you should be able to guess what the most attractive woman in the group is called the “Kwin-Ka”, literally means the “Queen card”. [Source: Korean Culture Blog, 2015]

Jaceon Toomgam wrote in “While the premise for romantic connections is a possibility it isn’t the primary goal. Two groups of friends will meet, usually set up by one or two of the participants. The groups will meet for coffee or drinks and play various games to get to know one another. This type of dating is probably one of the more fun options in Korea, as it takes some of the pressure off to impress an individual. The point is to get to know more people and essentially expand your network leading to future possible encounters.” [Source: Jaceon Toomgam,]

Blind Dates and Sogaeting (Introducing Meeting)

Jaceon Toomgam wrote in “Blind dating in Korea is much more common due to the general dating inexperience the younger generation has before college. This transition into adulthood sees a plethora of blind dating styles and tactics that are meant to mitigate the awkwardness of meeting a complete stranger under an intimate pretext. Here are 4 basic types of blind dating in Korea. [Source: Jaceon Toomgam,]

▪Sogaeting (Introducing Meeting) is closest to a Western-style blind date in which two strangers meeting in a public place, generally set up by a mutual friend or contact. “Generally, the two involved will meet at a coffee shop while the person who arranged the meet may drop by to ease the tension. If this sounds like a 3rd wheel, he or she basically is, but they leave upon their discretion based on how the interaction is going. The couple is then free to do as they please which can really lead anywhere depending on how adventurous they may be feeling from the new connection.”

“Sogaeting” is a combination of the Korean word ““so-gae”, which literally means “introduction” and the word “ting” which is derived from the last syllable of the English word “meeting”. For sogaeting, a man and a woman who know each other and perform the role of matchmaker each bring another friend to a coffee shop. The matchmakers introduce their friends to each other and the four people make polite small talk first. Then the matchmakers leave and let their friends continue to chat, hoping that they are the right match. If the friends are happy with each other, they may proceed to a restaurant or a cinema to start dating.

In late 1990s and the early 2000s, “booking clubs” became all the rage. "Bookings" are set up by waiters and waitresses for groups of males and females. According to Korean Culture Blog: “Booking” is a method more suitable for adults since it takes place in a traditional Korean night-club. However, traditional Korean night-clubs are different from the Western ones – there are rows of tables for patrons to sit down and chat and a relatively small dance floor since patrons in fact do not go there to dance. Usually, 4 or 5 men sit down at a table and are served expensive wine and fruit. They are assigned a waiter who, in return for a tip from the men, go around the other tables to find a group of women whom they bring over to the men’s table. Usually, the larger the tip, the prettier the women he will bring. If a man and a woman are happy with each other, they will exchange contact details and start dating. For the purpose of booking, waiters may maintain lists of attractive women’s phone numbers and will call them up and offer free, or very cheap, tables and drinks for them and their friends. Men may spend 150,000 won each in table fees and tips for booking at the night-clubs.” [Source: Korean Culture Blog, 2015]

Dating Apps and Internet Dating Services in South Korea

South Korea is a highly wired country and Koreans often turn to the Internet and their phones in their search for a mate. Online dating is widely popular among high school and university students. There are many stories of couples meeting online and getting married. There are also stories about girls selling sex to the highest bidder.

Bungaeting is a combination of the Korean word“bun-gae”, which literally means “lightning” and the word “ting” which is derived from the last syllable of the English word “meeting”. It refers to internet speed dating which is a spontaneous date arranged by two persons via the internet or phone application. [Source: Korean Culture Blog, 2015]

Jaceon Toomgam wrote in “People who have met online using various apps or chatting services will arrange a meeting at a location of their choosing.“Lightning” is a reference as to how fast these sort of dates can be made. That being said the context of the date itself will usually be discussed before meeting as to not waste time. I would consider blind dating in Korea a bit less on the serious side as well and rather people just looking to have a fun night out. [Source: Jaceon Toomgam,]

“With widespread usage of smartphones in South Korea, social dating service applications (“SDS app”) have been developed since late 2009 to help arrange blind dates for the people. The SDS app helps you find the best match after you have input information about the type of person you would like to meet. For example, I-um started in 2010 targeting at 20’s and 30’s singles. It charges membership fee of 80,000 won and claims to have a total of one million registered members. All of its members get proposed matches digitally on a daily basis and once the member is fine with the match, they will get to meet in person.

“Another SDS company, INU Co. Ltd., released an app called “Honey Bridge” which enables a user to talk on the phone with a match to find out more about the match. Its matching algorithm provides a real-time phone conversation service which can suggest conversation topics. Once the conversation is finished, with mutual agreement from the parties, the profile pictures and phone numbers are exchanged between the parties.”

Seon: Marriage-Oriented Dates

Some couples meet on seons, blind dates set up by matchmakers, friends, families or dating services that have the expressed purpose of finding a marriage partner. A popular meeting place for blind dates in Seoul in the early 2000s was the Prince Coffee Shop at the Lotte Hotel. At around 7:00pm, a popular meeting time for seons, the coffee shop was filled with young men sitting around anxiously waiting for the dates who usually showed up about a half hour late. Couples that had difficulty locating one another enlisted a waitress who walked around the coffee shop ringing a bell and carrying a sign with the date's name.

The first date usually consists of having coffee and conversation together. It is reportedly bad luck to have a meal together, a superstition one woman told the Korean Herald was probably made up by "some guy who was too cheap to pay for dinner." If everything goes well and the couple goes on a second date they usually have dinner.

In an unofficial survey by the Korean Herald of 20 couples who met on seons in the early 2000s, the average number of seons a person went through before finding a marriage partner was 12, with a low of one and a high of "more than 20." One woman waiting at the Lotte coffee shop told the Korean Herald, "My brother said that he'd been on about 100 seons before he got married last year. Now, its my turn to find a spouse." All of the 20 couples interviewed were married within nine months after meeting their partner. Twelve were married within three months and one couple was married within a month.

Seons are often arranged by a matchmaker and initiated by parents. According to Korean Culture Blog: “You may have seen in the Korean TV dramas that the parents ask a professional matchmaker or a family friend who has a strong network of social contacts to help recommend a suitable partner for their son or daughter who is in his/her thirties but is still unmarried and does not have a boyfriend or girlfirend. As this method is more marriage-oriented, the parents prefer someone who at least matches their own family background in terms of economic and social status. A meeting between the couple in which they will try to get to know each other will be arranged. If they are happy with each other, they will start dating. As there is usually pressure from the parents to get married as soon as possible, the couple may get married as soon as one or two months after the first meeting. As the potential spouses are screened by the parents before the first meeting, it is less likely that there is family opposition to the marriage. If the couple proceed to marriage, the matchmaker will receive a fee. [Source: Korean Culture Blog, 2015]

Matchmaking Services in South Korea

Donald N. Clark wrote in “Culture and Customs of Korea”: “Matchmaking is a vital part of the marriage process even in the most contemporary urban settings because no one likes to be embarrassed when things go wrong and someone gets rejected. It is much better to have a friend in between, carrying messages of encouragement or discouragement to the families.” [Source: “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Greenwood Press, 2000]

When people reach marriageable age, they are often too busy to go around searching for mates. Many of them turn to matchmaking services to set up dates with the idea being that they could lead to marriage. Matchmaking services are required to be licensed by the government. Counselors are required to be morally acceptable, 35 years of older and have a college degree in psychology, education or social welfare.

Some churches and large corporations have their own matchmaking services. There are also computerized services that often put a high emphasis on favorite colors and birth signs — as well as hobbies, interests, blood types and opinions on certain subjects — in their choices of compatible prospective mates. Matchmakers that deal primarily with the upper classes often charge high fees. There are even matchmaking package tours.

According to Korean Culture Blog: There are many professional matchmaking agencies which maintain a large network of members in South Korea. For example, Duo, which claims to have more than 29,000 members , charges membership fees of 1 million to 4 million won, depending on the service the members require. These professional matchmaking agencies use more systematic method of analysis of their members. For example, Duo asks each new member 150 questions about their character, family, education, income, debt, height, weight, smoking and drinking habit, occupation, hobbies and family background (including parents’ occupations and education) with the required documentary proof and the exact characteristics of the person they are seeking before matching the member up with prospective partners by computer. Members are given between 7 to 10 “suitable” introductions from the Duo database. [Source: Korean Culture Blog, 2015]

“Some agencies may also arrange matchmaking parties for singles. For example, Duo has arranged a matchmaking party at a hotel in which participants were divided into groups and men moved from table to table so that everyone had a chance to chat with everyone else. At the end of the 5-hour session, each participant submitted a “love-match card” where he/she wrote down the number of the person he/she liked so that the couples were matched.

City-Sponsored South Korean Matchmaking Aims to Boost the Birthrate

Reporting from Asan, Jun Kwanwoo wrote in AFP: “A wisecracking professional matchmaker breaks the ice as 40 people aged in their twenties and thirties gather at a hotel for a blind date. Mass blind dates are common in South Korea but there's something unusual about this event in Asan: the city government is the one playing Cupid. "Matchmaking is no longer a personal business, it's the duty of the nation," Yu Yang-Sun, a municipal official organizing the recent event, told AFP in the city 90 km (57 miles) south of Seoul. "Newborn babies are hardly seen here these days. If the young grow older unmarried and produce no kids, the nation will no longer have the basic human resources to sustain itself." [Source: Jun Kwanwoo, AFP April 18, 2009]

“Asan's birthrate is 1.08, much lower even than the low national average, according to Ko Bun-Ja, one of Yu's deputies who is helping organize the event. "Well, folks, give birth to a baby and become a patriot like me," Noh Gyeong-Seon, who is seven months' pregnant, told the group as she proudly displayed her bump. Some blushed, others giggled. Five hours later, 12 of the 40 had decided to keep dating — much to the delight of city officials hearing the distant chime of wedding bells.

“After years of promoting family planning in the crowded nation of” 51 million, “South Korea in recent years has become increasingly alarmed at the prospect of an ageing society — with a huge pensions bill and too few workers to sustain economic growth. Asan launched a state-run center in 2007 to fund the matchmaking business, the first local government in the country to do so. It has since been joined by Seoul's southern district of Seocho and the southwestern city of Jeongup, among others.

“Asan brought 300 people together through quarterly blind dates in 2008. Twenty of them are still dating, with marriage in mind, and the city says it will continue the initiative. Its marriage and counselling center has registered 1,700 people looking for spouses, along with detailed information such as the preferred type of partner, hobbies and religious and academic backgrounds.”

Bank -Sponsored Blind Date in North Korea

In 2007, a top South Korean bank sent a group of its single female employees on a blind date trip to North Korea, hoping that romance will make them happy at the office, an official said Reuters reported: “Hana Bank is trying to fix up 20 of its employees between the ages of 29 and 33 with 20 single South Korean men selected by a top matchmaking agency in the country, an official said. [Source: Reuters, February 20, 2007]

"This trip will offer them a chance to easily meet men," said Yang Jae-hyeok in charge of the bank's division offering life services for employees. As our bank tries to help our employees balance their work and personal lives, we are putting more effort into improving their personal life," Yang said.

“Hana Bank will pay half the fare for its employees for the two-day trip this weekend to a mountain resort in North Korea run by an affiliate of the South's Hyundai Group, which more than a million South Koreans have already visited. Hana, a main unit of the country's No. 4 banking group Hana Financial Group, two years ago set up what it calls a "full life service" for its employees that includes subsidizing employees who enroll with matchmaking services. It plans to offer more subsidized blind date trips for its single employees, Yang said.

Korean Women Keep Their Distance from Blood Type B, Wannabe Romeos

Men with Type B blood have a particularly nasty reputation in Korea. Often described as “hunters” or “players”, they are considered selfish, unreliable, with quick tempers. On one hand they are not considered by women to be good husband material. On other hand some when find their bad boy image attractive, at least for the short. term. Type B women are not so mercilessly disparaged.

Jon Herskovitz of Reuters wrote: “Lee Sung-san is a 24-year-old South Korean student looking for love and hoping that the women he is wooing don't ask him for his blood type. Genetics and pop culture have teamed up to make Lee's love life miserable. Lee is blood type-B, which nudges him near to the nadir of the dating scene in South Korea. "I have had women tell me flat out they don't date blood type-B guys. They say we are selfish and hot-headed," Lee said. South Korean magazines, TV shows and Internet chat rooms have been buzzing about blood types for years. But, these days, the subject of attention is just how difficult it is to strike up a relationship with type-B men. [Source: Jon Herskovitz, Reuters, April 2005]

“There are many characteristics associated with type-B people, but the bad rap going around about type-B men in Korea is that they are selfish, mercurial and absolutely useless as caring and devoted boyfriends. Type-B women, on the other hand, seem to have escaped the wrath of pop culture.” In the mid 2000s “South Korean women's magazines and Internet sites dedicated to trends seem to be fixated with the subject of romance with type-B men. According to a recent nationwide survey conducted by Internet portal site, type-B men were considered to be the most difficult type to date and about 40 percent of women said they did not want to marry a type-B man.

“The Internet message board at the blood clinic of Seoul University Hospital has postings such as one from a woman seeking medical advice to find out "if it is true that type-B men have more extramarital affairs than other blood types?" Kim Tae-suk, a doctor in the department of psychiatry at the Catholic University of Korea, said younger Koreans were buying into defining people by blood types because of what they see on TV, movies and in print. "I can definitively say there is no scientific evidence that links a person's blood type to their character," Kim said. He added that every jilted lover should just calm down and stop blaming a break-up on a bad blood match.

South Korean Couples Display Their Love with Matching Outfits

Young South Korean couples often advertise their relationship by wearing matching outfits — or less obvious matching socks, shirts, jackets, even underwear. Jung Ha-won wrote in AFP: “In a country where public displays of affection are still frowned on, young South Korean couples often advertise their relationship by wearing matching outfits. It’s especially popular with newlyweds, making South Koreans honeymooning on the beaches of South-East Asia easy to spot in their twinned T-shirts or shorts, complete with “couple flip-flops”. The fashion can also be seen among young people in China and Japan, but South Koreans have taken it to a different level. [Source: Jung Ha-won, AFP, February 13, 2014]

The trend has spawned a small cottage industry, with specialist online stores offering “couple swimwear” for the summer holidays, “couple snowboarding suits” for the winter and “couple track suits” for those who like jogging together. Newspapers and magazines, meanwhile, churn out stories on how best to pull off the “couple look” with each season’s latest outfits. “When I was in college, I bought ‘couple hoodies’ with my ex. It felt cool and sweet that we hung out together wearing the same hoodies,” Eric Kim, a 28-year-old Seoul office worker, told AFP. “Also, we can show off that we are a couple, not one of those lonely singles,” he said. Older now and mixing with friends who find donning head-to-toe identical outfits as “tacky and embarrassing”, Kim said he and his current girlfriend make do with wearing matching shoes.

“There is no marketing data on how many South Korean couples go in for matching fashion, but business certainly seems to be booming. A quick search of Keo-Peul-Look (“couple look“) on major Korean Internet portals yields a seemingly endless list of online stores selling couples’ outfits. Matching underwear and pyjamas are also popular, typically in pink for women and blue or black for men – but also in sizzling leopard-skin design for both.

“Baek Eun-joo is a diehard fan of the “couple look” and her dating history is a voluminous back catalogue of matching or identical his and her patterns. “My husband and I have been wearing couple clothes for the past eight years. We just can’t get enough of it,” Baek said. Rather than ridicule, Baek said she was normally bombarded with compliments from friends and questions over where they could find the same outfits. Convinced there was substantial market, she and her husband, Lee Sang-jun, opened their own online store called Ggumddakji – a slang term for an inseparable couple. “It feels weird and sweet at the same time ... and is a great way to reaffirm your love with your partner,” Baek said of the trend. “Plus,South Koreans tend to want to show off things they are proud of – including their relationships,” she added. The shop doesn’t provide advice on what couples should do with their outfits if the relationship turns sour.”

Going Broke with Love-Related Holidays in South Korea

In 2006, Reuters reported: “Love comes at a hefty price in South Korea. There are up to 21 anniversaries, special days and celebrations a year for couples to shower each other with affection and gifts, and as a result some relationships are crushed under the weight of festivities. South Korean companies looked at the wild success of Valentine's Day celebrations in their country and found ways to sell their goods and services through a tie-up with love, marketing officials say. [Source: Reuters, January 2, 2006]

“Thanks to shrewd marketing in a society focused on commerce as well as love and matrimony, there is a special day on the 14th of each month for lovers to celebrate as well as a few other goodies along the way. For example, January 14 is Diary Day in South Korea when sweethearts are encouraged to buy gifts such as planners and mark all their red-letter days of love. Next on the calendar is February 14 and Valentine's Day, where South Korean women buy chocolates for their boyfriends. Army trucks are regularly deployed to deliver chocolates from women whose boyfriends are in uniform as part of South Korea's mandatory military service.

“March 14 is White Day. This celebration was born in Japan, imported to South Korea and is marked by South Korean men returning the favour of their Valentine's chocolates with sweets for their girlfriends. April 14 is Black Day and is purely Korean. This is a day where those who have not found love mark their status as lonely hearts by eating black food. The dish for the day is Chinese noodles topped with a thick black sauce. Single students at universities order scores of bowls and eat them together in the hope of finding a soul mate over noodles.May 15 is Yellow Day-Rose Day. Lonely hearts gather for curry and companionship. Those who find love by this day exchange roses. Dressing in yellow is also recommended. The rest of the celebrations that come each month on the 14th have yet to gain a strong following.

“Many couples celebrate the milestone of 100, 200, 300 and 1,000 days since the first time they met or went on their first date. Since calculating the milestones is quite difficult, many couples in the world's most wired country turn to the Internet for help. There are sites that calculate the special days for a person and send notice of an upcoming milestone with an e-mail or a text message over a mobile phone. "It must be so difficult for young people to keep their relationships going with so many special days," said Yoko Tagami, a Japanese essayist living in Seoul who has written on the subject. "It could even scare single men away from marrying."
Newspapers and lifestyle magazines often get into the act, especially for "First Snow Day." Lovers are supposed to mark the first snow of the winter season with a romantic date. Several media sources are awash with recommended spots and activities that will make young lovers' hearts flutter as they enjoy the sprinkling of snow.

“Christmas Eve is one of the biggest date nights of the year. It also marks the season of high prices as many businesses try to make a few extra won off lovers. Restaurants offer pricey Christmas menus, high-end jewellery stores are packed with young lovers purchasing non-discounted goods and even some love hotels raise prices for couples who want to stretch their Christmas Eve date into the morning.

Some of the little-known days for lovers include August 14 Green Day when couples are supposed to dress in green, walk in the woods and drink cheap liquor that comes in green bottles. On Silver Day, couples can freely ask their friends to give them money to pay for a date while couples are supposed to exchange gifts made of silver. And of course, birthdays and actual one-year anniversaries are also major events on the calendar for couples. Couples, however, can feel the pinch of too many festivities. "I gave my boyfriend a gift soon after we went out and that just made his expectations bigger for more expensive gifts. I had to ask my parents for money for gifts, and in the end, we broke up because of the cost," said Kim Mi-yeon, a student.

Massive Korean Christmas Eve Dating Event Flood By Men

In 2012, Jung Ha-Won of AFP wrote: “Tens of thousands of lovelorn South Koreans are set to take part in a "battle of the singles" on Christmas Eve — a mass dating event triggered by an innocuous query posted on Facebook last month. More than 36,000 people have signed up for the event in a park in central Seoul since two young men jokingly floated the idea on the social networking site and met with an overwhelming response. "We only asked 'What do you plan to do on Christmas Eve?' and people started to leave thousands of comments that they were single and miserable and had nothing to do," Justin Chanwook Jang, one of the two organisers, told AFP. "So we suggested this idea to help lonely singles find love on Christmas Eve ... we never imagined it would grow this big," said 29-year-old Jang, who plans to participate himself. [Source: Jung Ha-Won, AFP, Dec. 11, 2012]

“Some businesses have decided to enter into the spirit of things by allowing single employees the day off on Christmas Eve which falls on Monday, and around 200 firms have offered to sponsor the event. The rules of "the battle" are simple. Women must dress in red and men in white and all gather at the park, which sits on an island in the Han River that bisects the capital. The two groups will stand facing each other a few metres apart until the event starts at 3:00pm — then run towards a potential date and grab his or her hands. Those who manage to get a date are encouraged to post photos taken with their new partners on the event's Facebook page.”

After the event, AFP reported: The “highly-anticipated mass dating event organised on Facebook - fizzled out, with thousands of lovelorn men at the venue but few women in sight....Only about 3500 people - mostly men in their 20s or 30s - turned up. Many of the women who did show up brought male partners just to watch the event. "Apparently most of the participants were young men ... many left fairly quickly as the place was increasingly filled with guys," a police officer in Seoul told AFP.

“Romantics who braved temperatures of around minus 10 degrees Celsius mostly milled aimlessly around the venue in a city park during the two-hour event...The face-to-face fizzled out after it became clear that there were simply not enough women to cater for a horde of men. "Where the hell are the girls? I can't find any," said Kim Sung-Sik, a 23-year-old college student, describing the event as "utterly disappointing". "This is awful... I didn't come all this way to get stuck in a bunch of smelly guys," said another male participant who declined to be named. "It looks like there are more doves flying around here than there are girls ... I feel like I'm in the army again," he said, referring to the two years of military service mandatory for all South Korean men. Similar male-dominated scenes have been reported in other cities where the same "battle of the singles" events were arranged.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons.

Text Sources: South Korean government websites, Korea Tourism Organization, Cultural Heritage Administration, Republic of Korea, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Library of Congress, CIA World Factbook, World Bank, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Chunghee Sarah Soh in “Countries and Their Cultures”, “Columbia Encyclopedia”, Korea Times, Korea Herald, The Hankyoreh, JoongAng Daily, Radio Free Asia, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, BBC, AFP, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2021

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