Love in the time of Korea: Leaving “the One” Behind

Yeah I’m a sucker for love stories. Last week we got a guy’s perspective on dating abroad- today we hear a completely different story: how to survive when everyone is obsessed with love, and yours is on the other side of the world.

When you’re a twenty-something solo traveler, being single can be difficult. Particularly when you’re in love with someone you left behind.

When I checked in for my flight to South Korea, I was determined to live the single girl’s dream; I imagined myself jetting around in a whirlwind of smiles and sparkles, laughing the night away with new friends from around the world. Yes, I was saying goodbye to somebody important, but I was confident I would shake it off in no time

Within hours of my plane touching down, I realized that Korea (and life) had other plans for me.

No Shoes, No Shirt, No Significant Other? No Service

Holy romance, bro! This country is designed for couples.

From the popular coffeehouse chain, “A Twosome Place,” to couples wearing matching outfits, Korean air is packed with pheromones.

Perhaps the most romantic ritual of all is the 100-day anniversary. Upon reaching this milestone, a young Korean couple is showered with gifts, cakes and congratulations from friends and family. Since it is not as common in Korea to have a series of long-term relationships, reaching the 100-day mark usually suggests marriage is in the near future.

To celebrate, the happy couple escapes to a secluded locale to lock their madly-beating hearts together forever. Ascending to the top of a skyscraper, each carries a padlock in hand, posing for pictures along the way. The locks are intertwined and attached to a fence, and the key dropped into a nearby keybox; forever linking the two together in spirit.

Lovers locks atop the Lotte Department Store in Busan, South Korea
Caption: The Keeper of Keys

Seriously, Korea?!

Standing amongst these endless symbols of spirited commitments, the separation between me and my boo really started to wear on me. My well-intentioned plans of leaving love on the backburner had failed miserably; I was knee-deep in a long-distance relationship.

And with the relationship, came the jealousy.I’m not a jealous person by nature: if a person isn’t trustworthy, I don’t spend my time with them (plus… ignorance is bliss). Travelling solo while the boy stayed home brought out a side of myself I didn’t recognize. With every Facebook photo he was tagged in, I faced a new round of sinking feelings. Each one led me back to the one heart-wrenching question I was desperately trying to avoid.

What if he forgets about me?

The truth is he could have. He could have met someone new. He could have moved to a new city. He could have simply stopped loving me back. Regardless of the emails sent and the Skype sessions scheduled, there was little I could do from 15 hours away to prevent us from going south.

Ironically, recognizing that I was in a powerless position was my saving grace. Letting go of the anxiety took the pressure off of both of us. We forgot to be jealous. I let my focus fall back to the cultures and the landscapes before me. I remembered to be grateful for the position I was in. I learned how to miss someone without letting it take over my life.

We continued to exchange sappy love letters, but they were written at the end of our respective action-packed days. Now happily reunited, we can travel together or travel apart without worrying about our future. It may not be matching outfits, but I still think it’s pretty romantic.

Take that Korea.

Julie is a twenty-something solo female traveler who encourages spontaneity and the practice of avoiding life’s important decisions. She recently criss-crossed through Asia, and is in the midst of planning her next long-term trip. You can find all of her tips, tales and daily bursts of travel inspiration at The Fairy Trails

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15 thoughts on “Love in the time of Korea: Leaving “the One” Behind”

  1. Let me start by saying… Awwww.

    When I moved abroad I was single and hating it. The change of scenery did me well, though, and I found a few ladies of my dreams. Separately, not at the same time.

    So mad respect for being able to maintain that long-distance relationship. Those things are tough. And I really liked your approach to dealing with it. That sort of thing never worked for me, so kudos on the fortitude to make it happen. Whenever I’m away from my girl, I just keep thinking about how much I’d like to share that experience with her. This was a very touching story, and thanks for sharing it.

  2. Being far with someone you really love is a very hard task, but I’m pretty glad to hear that you’re both reunited. Korea is really a majestic place where true love lasts.

  3. It is hard being away from someone that far. So you just moved to another country and experiencing so many new things. What if you skype with your significant other and he doesn’t have anything new to contribute cuz he’s still living in the same place? That would be hard. How did you get over that?

  4. i felt the same way too when i was in korea.. i think its really or mostly a country for couples.. too much love in the air.. so leaving someone back home has twice the impact..

  5. Fabulous post. Nothing solidifies a relationship more than to learn how to be on your own. Kudos.

    As for the love locks … they do that in Paris too … over the Seine. Oh and in Florence … I love it. We’ve done it whenever we have seen it. It has become something we pack – a lock with a key. Our names engraved on it and the date of our trip. Just in case we see a place to lock it and toss the key!

  6. It’s really hard to be away from your significant other, especially if you are the one who wants to go out and try cool new interesting things and they’re waiting for you on skype (my former situation, anyway). It’s really important as you said to embrace where you are and be grateful for what you have, and not let missing them make you miss out on the experience of being abroad. Great post.

  7. “I learned how to miss someone without letting it take over my life.”

    I can’t say enough how much I needed to hear this. I’ve been getting adjusted to being back across the ocean from my boy, and feeling guilty for going out and having fun. It’s so ridiculous – he’s asleep when I’m doing this stuff! We couldn’t talk anyways! But the more settled I get here (and with me “settled” is relative), the guiltier I feel.

    Thanks for the reminder!

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