[One True Pairings] When love just isn’t enough
by Guest Beanie
By Night Owl
“Why are these two even together?” This is a question that can cause conflict in dramaland as well as for viewers in real life. In dramaland, opposing parents, friends, and situations can throw spanners to make us question the pairing. For viewers, it can polarize and cause shipping wars if the second lead is better suited, or absolute apathy when we don’t quite buy the pairing and we end up more interested in the fate of the villain instead, LOL. When a drama turns the question from “Why are these two even together?” to us asking, “Why aren’t these two together already?” that’s when we have a winning OTP.
No other trope catches this as brilliantly as reunited ex-spouses. With a hint of real life, the dramas that have these OTPs have all sorts of poignant longing mixed with a good dose of bitterness and hurt that can really tug at the hearts of viewers. There are no easy answers, and perhaps that’s why these OTPs can make us ask ourselves, “Well if love isn’t enough, what else do we need in a relationship?”
For me, the golden OTP in the reunited spouses category is from the oldie Hallyu melodrama Phoenix (2004) with Lee Seo-jin as Jang Se-hoon and Lee Eun-ju as Lee Ji-eun. Their initial love story is a whirlpool captured in three episodes: Despite his clear practical sense that it is a dead-end road, the poor university orphan student can’t help but be drawn into a relationship after rich girl Ji-eun chases him and declares her attraction for him.
Even as friends and family shake their heads at these two characters who have nothing in common, Se-hoon and Ji-eun are consumed by the strength of their feelings and marry. For a time, they are happy.
Financial stress, a miscarriage, inability to understand each other’s point of view, and a lack of maturity burn the relationship within a few months and they divorce, to no one’s surprise. Ten years later, their roles are reversed. He is now a CEO who has earned his success through hard work and brains, while she works as a housekeeper after her family went bankrupt.
The vivacious but immature rich girl is now a somber, practical woman who takes the bus while the quiet, serious young man who was struggling to make his future is now a confident CEO who has achieved his ambitions. What happens when these two meet again?
Their reunion is fraught with reluctance and bitterness, and stirs hidden deep emotions. Through the drama, the depth of their relationship is revealed through the intimacy of small moments. She still remembers how he likes his eggs for breakfast. Despite himself, he lapses into informal speech with her at a key moment and inadvertently reveals himself as the ex-husband to her new love interest. Even though Se-hoon and Ji-eun are desperate to move on and try to be content in new relationships, it becomes slowly clear to the second leads that they cannot compete with what these two had.
For both Se-hoon and Ji-eun, the past is a web that they have never escaped from. Filled with regrets and questions on why the relationship failed despite loving each other desperately, they are unable to let go even though they think they have. Ji-eun struggles with understanding why she walked away from a man she loved so fiercely and wonders if she is unfit for any relationship, while he grapples with the scars left by the feeling that he wasn’t good enough for her and is unable to let people in.
As they come to terms with acknowledging the changes and growth each other has experienced during the ten years and forgive for the way they hurt each other, it is also apparent that the connection between them will always exist even when they don’t want it to. So as friends and family start to sigh at a connection that shows itself to be deeper than expected, we viewers also feel a tug as we understand that there’s just something about these two that fit. It is not about their backgrounds or their personalities, but an elemental connection that is hard to describe—isn’t that the essence of any OTP that we root for? Where we don’t need to spell out why they belong, but we just know that they do?
The reunited ex-spouses trope makes us ask ourselves what else besides love is needed for a relationship to work. This drama’s answer is the importance of timing. The OTP can love each other deeply but still be so wrong for each other at that particular time. However, when it is heaven’s will, at the right time, they connect again and we can be sure that the lessons and the experiences they have learned make them a stronger couple, with a real chance at a happy ending this time around.
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- [Theme of the Month] One True Pairings
Tags: Theme of the Month