Sunday, February 24, 2019

cabbie convo

I found myself in a cab Saturday afternoon, trundling over to the office because I had work to do, and because my scheduled long walk had been canceled thanks to my walk partner's hangover. Occasionally, I'll find myself sitting with a driver who wants to talk, and this driver gave me the usual set of ask-the-foreigner questions: what was my job, how old was I, was I married, why wasn't I married, etc. Because this guy seemed friendly and tolerant, I expressed some exasperation about the social pressure, in Korea, to get married. "Oh, that's been changing," he said. "These days, if young people get married, that's fine; if they don't get married, that's also fine." I mentioned the loss-of-freedom issue as one reason why I've been hesitating to get married, and the cabbie, surprisingly, said this: "If I had it to do over again, I wouldn't get married. You lose all your freedom."

Obviously, loss of freedom gets reinterpreted differently by married people, who normally say (1) the sacrifice is worth it, and (2) losing one's freedom means gaining something more—a sharing of souls, constant companionship, a life-long education about human nature, etc. Across French, American, and Korean cultures, I've often heard the same pro-marriage thoughts expressed in only slightly different ways. For the happily married, marriage is always worth it—worth the effort, worth the pain, worth the compromises, worth the replacement of one's original dreams with new dreams. This cabbie's remark was the first time in a while that I'd heard something other than the usual programmed response: for some people, marriage isn't worth it. The cabbie sounded weary when he said this; his remark hinted at a long and morbidly fascinating story.

It was a pleasant conversation, all in all. I almost felt as if I'd made a new friend within a few minutes, but in the end, I paid my fare, offered a more-amicable-than-usual valediction, stepped out of the car, and went to the office.


John Mac said...

Well, I must be pro-marriage. After all, I've been married four times! I never say never but I don't expect I'll ever walk that path again. There are things I miss about being in a committed relationship, but you don't need a legally binding document to achieve those.

Charles said...

The cabbie is right that attitudes are changing, but change comes slowly. I don't think things will fully change until the old generation dies out. However, there is a bit of natural selection for marriage going on, in that most people (particularly in Korea) are born out of marriages. The people who never get married and (presumably) never have kids will not have as much of an influence on the younger generation. But as it becomes more socially acceptable to not get married, that, too, will change, as the younger generation will see more adults around them who aren't married.

It is also true that getting married does restrict your freedom, although I would disagree that you lose all your freedom. I still feel like I have a considerable amount of freedom--although that probably has a lot to do with not having kids (another socially unacceptable state to be in). But the freedom I have lost does indeed seem worth it. And, to be honest, it's probably better for me, in terms of my health, etc.

Kevin Kim said...


I think that, ideally, marriage ought to be a self-selecting phenomenon, with only those who feel mentally and emotionally prepared for marriage entering into that institution. But in places like South Korea, the pressure is on everyone, ready or not, to get married, usually by the age of 30. It's a programmed life, which may be another reason why I resist it. That pressure may be lessening, as the cabbie suggests, but he's one of the only cabbies I've ever encountered, in years of cabbing around Seoul, to even consider the viability of not being married. I should have noted that in the blog post itself: my initial reaction to his "things are changing" remark was instant skepticism. On a philosophical level, well, of course things are changing because things always change. But in the here-and-now, my impression, at least based on the constant refrain from almost every cabbie I encounter (and from my Korean relatives), is that that pressure is alive and well. Hell, even this seemingly open-minded cabbie began by asking me the standard why-aren't-you-married question that I get all the time from everyone else, so he's as susceptible to the mind-virus as the rest of the peninsular population.

Yes, indeed: in Korea, you're not an adult until you marry, and you're not a fulfilled couple until you have children. Yeesh.

Kevin Kim said...


You've got a country song, there:

Well, I never say never, but
I don't expect I'll ever be
a-walkin' that path again

(Sang it with a twang!)

Charles said...

Not only is the pressure to marry intense, but there is also intense pressure to marry the right person. I know of many people who either broke off relationships due to pressure from their parents, and even one who stuck to his guns and married the woman he loved, only to have his father not attend the wedding and practically disown him. It's freaking nuts.