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[Hey, that’s me] To all the women I’ve loved before


Temperature of Love

When the Misaeng wave swept dramaland in 2014, I didn’t get it. It’s a revelatory drama for so many people: It stared into their very soul, and knew their deepest feelings. Not me, though. I enjoyed the show, but it didn’t echo much of my own specific experiences. Perhaps because I had found myself living an unexpected life. Unlike my peers, I wasn’t working an office job with all its requisite hazing and trivial horrors. I didn’t have conversations by the water cooler. I was not Jang Geu-rae.

But if ever there was a drama that was like looking in a mirror and finding glittering fragments of myself everywhere, it’s in writer Ha Myung-hee’s Temperature of Love (2017), starring Seo Hyun-jin and Yang Se-jong.


Temperature of Love

In it, Seo Hyun-jin plays Lee Hyun-soo, a drama scriptwriter struggling against a thousand obstacles to have her work recognized. At the same time, she meets a man who might be the love of her life, but a full and mutual relationship is a bigger challenge than she anticipates. The drama charts her stumbling course through work and love. She’s a character packed full of aggravating contradictions, but oh, I know her so well. I mean, she’s beautiful, confident and kind of electric, and I am none of those things, but she’s also contrary, exasperating, and just a little bit broken on the inside.

She’s no manic pixie dreambot, but a complicated woman poised on a sparkling and razor-thin cusp between bitterness and fiery joy, and always barely a breath away from either. She seems inconsistent because her self-knowledge is imperfect and constantly evolving, so if she seems changeable, it’s because she is changing. If she thinks one thing today and another tomorrow, it’s not because she’s capricious but because she’s searching. Whether she’s running or away or coming back, or wanting something she can’t have, there’s not one second where I didn’t know exactly what she was thinking, because that brain of hers holds some version of me. This woman who makes no sense to so many people, makes total sense to me.


Temperature of Love

It isn’t just Hyun-soo who holds pieces of me, but Yang Se-jong’s character, too. If Hyun-soo is a character who doesn’t fully know herself, Jung-sun is one who does. If she’s changeable, he’s steadfast. Jung-sun is precise and deliberate: He knows exactly what he believes in and lives accordingly, regardless of how it appears to those around him.

Even as I write this, I know how contradictory it is to say I relate to all of those opposites so intensely, as if Hyun-soo and Jung-sun were one person torn down the middle. I’m not a successful writer or a Michelin-starred chef, nor am I in an ardent romance with a straitlaced, disarmingly direct man (more’s the pity), so why does everything about this drama speak to me? Why do I feel like it knows me so well? I guess you could say it’s all about perspective: Relatability is in the heart of the beholder. If we create stories in order to be known, we consume them to know ourselves.

I’ve always had an irrational fear of being figured out. I can’t quite explain it, but I wonder if it’s because I’m so far from figuring myself out, that the idea someone else might know me–really know me–before I know myself, is somehow disenfranchising. But I was intoxicated by how deeply known Temperature of Love made me feel, and for the ways in which I came to know myself better through it. These characters demanded that kind of digging, because I could only love them if I knew them, and I knew them, so I loved them–and I loved them, so I wanted to know them more.


It’s Okay, It’s Love

In It’s Okay, It’s Love (2015), a lot of viewers really disliked Gong Hyo-jin’s character because, like Hyun-soo, she was prickly and contradictory, but I loved her…because she was prickly and contradictory, and that was so real and relatable. Between her and co-star Jo In-sung, it’s another case of the perfect marriage of halves, except these two were more similar than opposite. They’re both outwardly functional and successful, but inside, they’re broken in ways they don’t even know.

Living with a neurodiverse brain and not knowing it for most of my life, I’ve worked hard to “pass”, strenuously masking every difficulty and difference I experienced. But I’ve always wanted to be the same as everyone else: to be able to function in everyday life without every single thing being so hard. Maybe what I want most of all, though, is to be forgiven for being different in a way nobody else could really understand. It’s Okay, It’s Love was one of the rare dramas that offered meaningful validation and made me feel understood.

I fall in love with the women most people hate. The strange, disappointed kind, with hearts covered in thorns. They’re used to being misunderstood and disliked, they’re used to swimming against the current, but they refuse to apologize for not being palatable.


I Need Romance 3

They’re the type of women we’d forgive if they were men, because somehow we’re primed to be more sympathetic to those traits in a man than a woman. It’s dramaland’s least common type of heroine, but at least once every few years, this woman will show her face. With each woman, I see them doing things I’ve done and saying things I’ve said, and I experience the sharp spark of recognition.

In 2014’s I Need Romance 3, Kim So-yeon plays a cynical heroine so jaded about life that she barely goes through the motions. She doesn’t want love because it comes with a heavy price, and that makes her actively resist the feelings of others. She’s abrasive from the moment we meet her: older, bitter, hurt…it takes the entire course of the show to unpeel this woman’s heart, not only to romantic love, but the love of friends.

As women, we’re meant to be sensitive, sensible, emotionally available…but what it we’re not? That’s the question her character asks, and the question that rings at the core of me. What if we’re damaged, and the more we mean something, the less able we are to say it? What if we love the people who hurt us most? What if we hurt most the people we love? What if we can’t be redeemed?


Temperature of Love

To open your heart to someone else is to give them the power to hurt you, and these are women who’ve been hurt and disillusioned, and have themselves caused pain. They want badly to be known by the people they love, but also fear being known too well. They’re women who need time—sometimes too much—and want to be met halfway. They might not be able to say “I love you,” and that’s a personality flaw, but they will if you can wait for them.

To me, these characters are more than mirrors. They’re oracles that teach me things about myself that I don’t know. I might not be able to travel to Jordan and rooftop-hop like Jang Geu-rae (though I actually have travelled to Jordan, ha), but from time to time, I’ll go to a dramaland sogaeting and meet someone who already knows me, and together we figure ourselves out.


Temperature of Love

 
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Loved this - in particular the Temperature of Love and Hyun-soo reading.

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Thank you for sharing. I haven't met any of these women, but this makes me want to.

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Love this. Thanks so much for sharing.

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manic pixie dreambot

What every casting director is trained to look for?

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Saya, ♥! This piece started out about your own thoughts, but by the end it felt like you were speaking for a lot of us. :') Thank you!

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I completely understand this contradictory thing. How can you relate to polar opposite characters. How can they be a mix of you? I find it so interesting that you relate to the characters I find the most infuriating. Granted, i never watched any of the dramas you mentioned so it's highly possible id find myself relating to the same characters as you. But contradictory characters for me are almost a HUGE no no in my book. I lose patience with them so quicky, and theres always a fine line you tread when we watch them that goes from, wow i get it, to OMG JUST GROW UP. And im saying that FULLY knowing that im the worse of the worse, AND the most contradictory person of them all (im contradicting myself again). An example of this would be another goo hae ryung. I found her infuriating. And yes, she was bold, she was vulnerable. She worked hard. But she needed to move on.

ALSO, about jang geu rae: i luff him not because of the work place obstacles necessarily. But because of his life story and morals. He gave up his dream, and moved on with life. He was a misunderstood underdog and proved himself to the world. He will forever be one of my favourites and i strive to be as good as him.

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I thought about Oh Hae Young as well while reading this. Also, Suji in Let’s Eat 2, and then I realized that Seo Hyun Jin played all these girls so she must be drawn to these complexities and dichotomies too. And it makes me appreciate her more.

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(thank you so much her name is OH HAE YOUNG. Im horrid with names).

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Yes, me too, I directly thought of OHA! Seo Hyun Jin plays those roles to perfection, and I think it's a reason she is one of my favorite actresses -:)

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@saya - such a great piece!

Even though I haven't seen Temperature of Love (yet - I have to say after reading this piece) I love dramas with what I call my 'difficult daughters': the women that people seem to find 'so annoying', especially for the first few episodes. I love the angry, non-comforming, rebellious ones and will man my one-woman barricade to argue that they're actually pretty awesome. ❤❤

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Ah, yes, the Number One Fan of Sobongie would definitely like this post! 😆

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I'm sad that I can only give you 1 upvote :-)

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oh, how lovely
as the fouder of 2nd FL Protection Squad I relate heavily to loving complicated women. we're the hardest on people who remind us of our own flaws.

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I am also the type that will forever be disliked as a weirdo. Getting called a freak and crazy monster really hurts but I try not to show it. I actually think of going by the words of my favorit writer Hunter Thompson: "If you want to behave crazy you btter get paid for it!" so anyone know of a job wher you get paid to be crazy?

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Lovely piece as always, Saya. I haven't watched Temperature of Love but I can say that Gong Hyo Jin and Kim So Yeon's characters in the dramas that you mentioned are somewhat similar to friends that I'm close with in real life. They can be infuriating but really these are women that I envy for being true to themselves, despite what society thinks.

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"I’ve always had an irrational fear of being figured out. I can’t quite explain it, but I wonder if it’s because I’m so far from figuring myself out, that the idea someone else might know me–really know me–before I know myself, is somehow disenfranchising."

WOW. This entire piece nails how I have been feeling the past few months, but this snippet took my breath away.

As we often see in dramas, when the main character meets someone who truly knows them, they start to become that version (an often better version) of themselves. But at first there is lots of angst because what you're being told you are does not align with what you think you are or how you're acting. I think cognitive dissonance can be healthy and a motivator of change for the better, but god does it hurt. Growing pains, I guess.

Or perhaps we have always been this better version of ourselves. It just takes that cognitive dissonance related to our self-image to make us see it.

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"As women, we’re meant to be sensitive, sensible, emotionally available…but what if we’re not?"

Ah. That's me. I have a personality like a typical guy -- I don't want to talk about my feelings, I could care less about fashion and makeup, if I'm just sitting there and you ask me what I'm thinking about, I say 'nothing', and it's true! It took a while to get comfortable with myself this way, but it's all good now.

Thanks for the lovely post, as always!

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". If we create stories in order to be known, we consume them to know ourselves" - wow I love this quote so much...it is amazing to find characters we relate with and those are usually the stories that stick deep within our hearts

This was a very good writeup, and I loved your analysis on the Temperature of Love characters :D

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If I were to add another woman, I see Oh Hae Young while reading this piece. May be together with another character that Seo Hyun Jin portrayed, the one in the drama with Han Suk Kyu.
All these characters aside, it is so good to read a piece like this. I mean, I wanted to express and write a piece like this, and now I’m here. And it is so beautifully and insightfully written on behalf of these female characters.

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"I guess you could say it’s all about perspective: Relatability is in the heart of the beholder. If we create stories in order to be known, we consume them to know ourselves." THIS. Is incredibly true. Thank you for articulating it!

But more than that, thank you for sharing this piece and letting us know you, even if only in words (though written words can reveal much too). I think I got a bit teary at certain points. I've always loved your recaps and reviews, particularly your writing, and I think I now get to know a bit of why it is the case. Your mind is beautiful, truly.

I didn't get to finish IOTL, but I think I just might after reading your thoughts. Might also watch Temperature of Love too.

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I fall in love with the women most people hate. The strange, disappointed kind, with hearts covered in thorns. They’re used to being misunderstood and disliked, they’re used to swimming against the current, but they refuse to apologize for not being palatable.

❤❤❤❤❤

I've only watched It's Okay It's Love but I'll be adding all the other dramas in this post cause @saya your words hit me square in the heart. It reminded me why I love relatably prickly characters like the daughter in Dear My Friends.

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'I’ve always had an irrational fear of being figured out. I can’t quite explain it, but I wonder if it’s because I’m so far from figuring myself out, that the idea someone else might know me–really know me–before I know myself, is somehow disenfranchising.'

I think this might be a little true of myself as well, although I never realized it until the last couple of years. I think my loneliness and desperate desire to be loved was so strong that it hid the secret fear I had of people actually getting to know me and hating what they learned, because I've been there, multiple times, and that might hurt more than being rejected before someone even gives you the chance to show them who you are.

'But I’ve always wanted to be the same as everyone else: to be able to function in everyday life without every single thing being so hard. Maybe what I want most of all, though, is to be forgiven for being different in a way nobody else could really understand.'

I've been tested, twice, for Autism, and both times I've received a diagnosis, but there have been issues with both testing's that make me question the legitimacy of the diagnosis. I fit many, many criteria, but there are also whole sections of the listed criteria that I don't appear to experience at all, and it makes me think that maybe there's nothing wrong with me, and I'm just using this to make me feel like not such a freak. I've just always known that I was different and don't seem to have all of the tools you need to get through life successfully. But if there's not something Wrong, then it's just Me, and that hurts. It hurts a lot.

'They’re used to being misunderstood and disliked, they’re used to swimming against the current, but they refuse to apologize for not being palatable.'

I honestly wish I could be more like this, less ashamed of the things I can't really control about myself/the not so palatable parts of myself, because it would help so much.

Thanks for this write-up. It's beautiful.

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