[Escapism vs. Realism] When untrue romance reveals a few home truths
by Guest Beanie
You From Another Star
When I turned 21, real life felt like fiction. I met my first love at my birthday party. He was a painter from the opposite side of the world, with time running out on his work-travel visa. Within months we moved to Europe together to start a new life. I was fresh out of college and we were both more than ready for the fame and fortune my talented boyfriend’s works of art would inevitably bring.
Fast-forward eight years. He’d finished six paintings in that time—all were unsold. I was working all the hours at a job I didn’t even like, so he could afford to stay part-time and rent a studio (we pooled all our money, of course). We were engaged but it seemed a long time before we could ever afford a wedding. And then, he broke up with me. It wasn’t until a whole year later that I realized he was never all that nice to begin with.
What followed was a string of unfortunate encounters with equally terrible men. The much older academic who loved the sound of his own voice. The angry young eco-warrior who spent all day arguing with Flat Earthers on Facebook. The amateur stand-up comedian whose idea of a date was inviting me to listen to his unfunny ten-minute set, yet again, in yet another moldy, structurally unsound basement bar. You don’t know how much I wish I was making this up.
Dramas entered my life at a time when romance seemed dead. I happened to choose TV over Tinder one night, after coming across You From Another Star via a clip on YouTube. And wouldn’t you know it, watching two fictional strangers bicker in an elevator was a far more emotionally satisfying experience than any of the so-called dates real life had sent me on lately.
You From Another Star was my gateway drug, and dramas became my sweet escape. I loved the epic scale of the romance because it was so far away from the world I knew. A 400-year-old alien gives up everything to be with the glamorous Hallyu star who lives next door? Yes, please. A comic book character steps outside of the world he knows to be with the daughter of the man who drew him? Sign me up! A gorgeous prince is willing to risk his throne and his life to date the girl he thinks is actually a male eunuch? *jumps around excitedly*
Moonlight Drawn by Clouds
You’re seeing the painfully obvious pattern here, right? The dramas I was falling for all involved heroes who were willing to give up what was most important to them in life, for the sake of love. It was that intense level of sacrifice that drew me in, because it stood in such stark contrast to my dating life. That’s what made me realize that the men I had been seeing weren’t making any compromises for my sake. I was always trying to fit in around the edges of the lives they wanted for themselves, and that wasn’t enough.
It was a huge wakeup call—these flights of fantasy brought me crashing down to earth in a very real way. It wasn’t that I needed a man who would give up his country, or his family, or his creativity for me. He didn’t need to be as handsome as Kim Soo-hyun or Lee Jong-seok. I just wanted someone to try and make me happy as much as I tried to make him happy. Dramas helped me understand that it’s okay to ask for more, to believe you are worth more.
I deleted Tinder and started compiling a watch list, filled with dramas like The Lonely Shining Goblin and Healer, whose extraordinary male leads swept me off my metaphorical feet. Then my sister flew over to visit me, and I introduced her to my favorite dramas. She was instantly hooked, and even though we hadn’t seen each other in a long time, we found lots of ways to bond over our mutual love of Chun Song-yi and Kang Chul. It reminded me of how much love I had left behind in my home country, and ultimately I made the decision to move back after a decade abroad, to be closer to my immediate family. It was one of the best choices I’d made in a long time.
I’m still on a break from dating, though I’m optimistic about finding the right person when I start looking again, now that I have a better idea of what to look for. The dramas I watch now are less extraordinary in scale, but that’s because my heart is healing and I don’t need to escape so badly anymore. These days I’ll watch Strongest Deliveryman for a hero like Kang-soo, who understands his girlfriend’s need to live her own dreams. Or Suspicious Partner, where Ji-wook listens to what Bong-hee says and respects it. Someday my prince will come, probably on a bus instead of a white horse, with as many grey hairs on his head as I have on my own (if he has any hair left). But thanks to dramas and their princes, perfect and imperfect, epic and ordinary, I’m pretty sure I’ll know him when I see him.
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