[Hey, that’s me] Pieces of me
Ready for a bit of a letdown? I’ve never actually had a full-fledged “Hey, that’s me!” moment. I’ve never met a K-drama character that summed me up, or felt so close to my own life experiences that it was uncanny. But, what I have instead are moments in each and every story where I can see pieces of myself, no matter how big, no matter how small.
If the stories that we read, watch, or listen to didn’t move us — well, we wouldn’t read, watch, or listen to them. Stories that we don’t attach to emotionally are often abandoned. We’ll say something like, “I couldn’t get into it,” or “I didn’t like the main character,” or even more telling: “I couldn’t relate to it.”
That feeling of not being able to relate to something — that’s what drove me away from American media and into the delicious world of K-dramas. Here, on the opposite side of the world, there are heroines I can believe in, heroes I can hope for, and stories that I can relate to (no matter the level of crazy!)
But what does “relating” to something really mean? The textbook definition is “to feel sympathy with or identify with.” In other words, we recognize something of ourselves in another person, situation, or circumstance. It’s a valuable emotional experience because it helps us learn about life, people — and most importantly, ourselves.
It just so happens (at least in my experience) that we can relate to a story that’s somewhat close to our own experiences (definitely Cheers to Me), or as far from our own as we can get (Descended from the Sun, maybe?). Stories are such powerful inventions that there is always something that can speak to us, and always something that we can recognize.
In Cheers to Me, for example, I could more than see myself in the calm, thoughtful, and somewhat solitary lead character. I’m not as proficient at going to dinner by myself as she was, and I haven’t left my job to wander and explore the world, but I could still relate to her. And maybe even be inspired by her.
On the opposite side of the coin are dramas that are not remotely close to my life, and lead characters that are nothing like me — but still, there’s something I can recognize in their stories, and it pulls me in. Nothing in my life matches up to the storyline in Descended from the Sun, but there was a corner of my heart that fell for those scenes of sweeping romance. Similarly, I haven’t aided and abetted a rogue operative/vigilante like Healer or City Hunter (yet?!), but I can fully support it every single time it happens in dramaland.
Sometimes, I can relate to a drama emotionally that I can’t relate to at all on paper, kind of like in the crazy melodramas that I love so much. Take Come Here and Hug Me, for example. It was full of soul-killing foul play, murder, and devastation that gratefully I have not experienced in my own life.
But storytelling done right gives you avenues to understand the emotions of the characters — and sometimes even ways to overcome your own emotions, whatever they might be. In fact, this is kind of the function and purpose of catharsis — to allow us to feel and process emotions and events from afar. All of this to say: you don’t have to relate to a drama’s facts in order to relate to its emotions, or experience its story.
Dramas seem to have an eerie way of knowing what we’re looking for. Or maybe, because we’re looking for it, we find the message we need. Sometimes I can relate to a drama character and be inspired, or even comforted. This might be my most favorite way to interact with a story. It looks different for everyone, of course, because we are all moved by different things.
But when I’m feeling like an old maid, dramaland gives me stories about women who got second chances and new beginnings (Romance Is a Bonus Book, One Spring Night) — women who might think they’re passed over, but are actually sought out in life and in love.
And I can’t forget dramaland’s delightful assortment of heroines who are hellbent on writing their novels or screenplays or scripts. Writing is hard, and takes hours of thankless slavery — but I’ve gotten endless encouragement and energy from watching the determination of heroines who muscled on in dramas like Full House, Two Outs in the Ninth Inning, Temperature of Love, Gogh’s Starry Night, and more.
While I might not have a drama character that I feel defines me, or is walking around with her head on my shoulders, or my experience under her belt, I still feel closely tied to each drama that I watched and enjoyed.
Whether we relate to the facts, the emotions, or the situations in a story, there’s always a part that we can connect with, because stories are universal. We humans might be wildly different, but we’re also very much the same. There’s always a piece of ourselves — our heartbreaks, hopes, and dreams — that we can recognize in a good story.
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