Amid coronavirus in NJ, young Korean Americans in matchmaking tradition change perception of dating and marriage

June 22, 2020 Center for Cooperative Media

By Ilgon Kim, The Korea Daily

Editor’s note: This is the English translation of the original story, which was first published in Korean by The Korea Daily. This version has been updated and edited, with permission from the author(s) and publication(s), for length and clarity.

FORT LEE, NJ — Finding Mister or Miss Right with the help of a seon (Korean for a professional “matchmaker”) is a common practice among Koreans, for both those who are living in the United States and South Korea, but particularly for affluent and highly educated families. 

The matchmaking process can be complicated, as it involves the couples’ bloodlines, finances, educational attainment, and even the year, month, day and hour of their births to closely examine their astrological backgrounds.

But in the time of coronavirus, when most potential couples are in quarantine, many young Koreans are pondering deeply the meaning of dating and marriage — and the more they contemplate on the process, the more it changes their views as well as the role of their matchmaker.

“Staying at home during this pandemic makes young Korean Americans focus on the meaning of marriage and importance of family. As a matchmaking manager, I need to rethink my role, too,” said Jennifer Lee, general manager of Duo, a matchmaking service for Korean Americans with offices in Fort Lee, NJ and Los Angeles, CA.

With the surge of COVID-19 cases across the country, Lee said that it is the first time that Duo closed its office in more than 20 years.  

“There’s a lot of time for couples to [reflect on what they want and need]. It’s also a great opportunity for me [as a matchmaker] to think about the future of marriage and matchmaking service,” she added.

Since March, Lee has been pairing and giving marriage advice to various Korean Americans, many of whom are young. One of her clients, for instance, is a young Korean-American male who was worried about how he would look on a video call.

“Their questions can be funny, like ‘How can I have a video call with a female since I haven’t had a haircut during this pandemic?,’” she said.

Another female client, Lee added, had asked her how she can find out if there’s an attraction because a prospective marriage partner is wearing a mask.

Matchmaking and dating during a pandemic has not been easy. Because most of the restaurant and coffee shops have been shut down since March, all meetings are done virtually.

Lee says she also needs to be strategic: she now advises Korean couples to get coffee and walk together at a nearby park. It may not be the traditional way of matchmaking, with sometimes both parents are involved, but it has been successful.

Recently, a young Korean woman said the new dating and matchmaking method has made it much more conversational and interactive. Her client told her that she has been more inclined to listen to the other person, rather than paying attention to his appearance.

“Her comment was like, ‘His style was not my type. However, I was surprised how smart he is and that we share the same background and hobbies,’” Lee said.

Another Korean man said he can be funny and creative by placing an order online for a whole pizza and have it delivered to his matched partner’s address.

Lee said that she is not surprised to see more Koreans wanting to get married in the wake of COVID-19, because many couples have more time to experience being alone and lonely. 

“Some of them would tell me, ‘I’m more willing to get married now than before COVID-19 unfolded. I have not given much thought about marriage because I was so busy. Now, I want to meet my ideal type. I’m thinking about the importance of marriage and family.’ I’m just happy to hear that,” Lee said.

For hardworking Korean Americans who work long hours and relegate dating to a secondary priority, Lee added, the coronavirus has given them a chance to rest and examine their lives.

“COVID-19 has changed everything—their priorities and their perspective on dating and marriage and what an ideal partner should be,” she said.

This English translation was provided by Jongwon Lee in partnership with the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University, and is supported by funding from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. The story was originally published in Korean by the Korea Daily and is being republished under a special NJ News Commons content sharing agreement related to COVID-19 coverage. To read more, visit The Korea Daily.

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