“Sleeping with the Enemy”

November 17, 2013

Only for economic reasons, so they say…

Scene from 2010 MBC-TV sitcom “Personal Taste”, starring Son Ye-jin, right, and Lee Min-ho. (Newsis)

A scene from 2010 MBC-TV sitcom “Personal Taste”, starring Son Ye-jin, right, and Lee Min-ho. (Newsis)

By Lee Kyutae and Lee Woo-su

Members of the opposite sex aren’t exactly your enemies, but to parents, they can be. Especially if their sons and daughters enter into such living arrangements without getting married.

Just the thought of it makes most Korean parents cringe. It’s like “Sleeping with the Enemy” and “Indecent Proposal” all rolled up into one.

But, they may just have to brace themselves for such a possibility when they send their sons and daughters to study abroad or to train for jobs, as this has quickly become the trend - for economic reasons, they say.

A 22-year old Korean male student, only identified by his last name Kim here, is a good example. He came to the United States on a one-year language study program and he is currently sharing an apartment with a fellow female student. Kim says they came to this conclusion for economic reasons but ended up sharing a lot more than living expenses, as they actually became a couple. “I spend most of my time out the classroom with her anyway, so it makes a lot of sense,” he said.

But, they do have their concerns over how their relationship will be carried on once they return to Korea, which is not far away.

The 23-year old Park is in the same boat. He came to Los Angeles on a short-term internship program and quickly hooked up with a fellow female employee to live together. “I’m living with her to save money but have to keep it a secret because my parents will be livid if they find out,” he said.

One element of concern here is that such living arrangements don’t appear to be the last resort, by any stretch of the imagination, but are simply the easiest – and for the time being, the most enjoyable option for these young Koreans. After all, a lot of them are only here on a short-term course or program, often for less than a year.

“We are aware of the consequences,” one argues. “We know that it’s unacceptable to many and that it could hurt our reputations, so we completely keep it secret from our parents and co-workers. But, it’s not like there are many other options out there to save on living expenses.”

However, the reality is that most of these Koreans are in their early 20s, still in school or preparing themselves for the job market. “I have a friend who had also sent her daughter to study in L.A., but the parents had to make her come back because she got herself pregnant,” said Mrs. Song, 46, who has a daughter studying in Los Angeles. ”My daughter says she’s fine, but I worry about the same thing happening to her.”

Another Korean male who went back to Korea earlier this year after studying in the U.S. shared the same sentiment. Lee, 28, said, “I’ve seen countless numbers of Korean student couples living together for  ’economic reasons,’ but I don’t remember many happy endings.”