I need romance?
More than car wrecks and comas, it’s the promise of romance that drives the majority of K-drama stories. We don’t have to be watching a rom-com for things like attraction, affection, devotion, and love, to be major elements of the story. I enjoy a good love line just as much as the next person, and everything from an opposites attract rom-com, to the pining love-that-cannot-be in a melo, can make for a great drama.
But have we ever stepped back to think about what stories saturated with romance do to us as viewers? There’s a wealth of social, cultural, and emotional ramifications. I’m no expert in any of those things (never mind romance), but the following are some thoughts on how romance-centric stories affect us long after the story is over.
K-dramas often operate on archetypal characters, sometimes sticking to the formula, sometimes playing off of our expectations around them. But if there are archetypal characters, then there are most certainly archetypal love lines to go along with them.
The hardworking Candy who has no time for love? She ends up falling in love anyway, and is snatched out of her circumstances by the man of her dreams. The embittered “older” woman who’s been around the block and is done with a capital D when it comes to romance? Well, you can’t be done with love in dramaland, and her story also ends up with a match made in heaven (and some of her edges softened as well). Even the innocent mottae solo (single since birth) heroine can’t stay solo — after all, the whole purpose of being single in dramaland is that you’re confronted with the alternative: romance.
A meaningful and lasting romance is almost universally considered a “good ending” for a story. But do we really need a couple to be united for a story to feel complete? I’ve turned this question over in my head a lot, since, shameful though it is, I often find I’m bored by a drama once the love line has been concluded.
A good recent example of this is Her Private Life — a drama where (for me at least) the romance was the draw, and once it was resolved, the final episodes of plot wrap-up were a slog. And I’ve slogged through to many a finish line in my day.
This reaction suggests we’re just in the story for the dynamic of attraction and conflict resolving into committed and lasting love. Can that really be true? I know in my heart there’s so much more to a story than the conclusion of its romance, but why does my head constantly shout otherwise?
As much as I’m loathe to admit it, a story without even a glimmer or even just a wink of romance sometimes feels like it’s missing something. But what if it’s not missing something. Who said that we need romance to have a full, rich, and delicious story — or life?
I often find myself in the awkward position of believing that romance isn’t essential to a story, while simultaneously contradicting myself by looking for it. Or, craning my neck to notice it. For instance, think of the sub-sub-plot of romance in the caper/action drama Mad Dog. I enjoyed that drama a ton, but I sure was happy to see a few subtle and/or silly moments of attraction between two of the leads. Would the drama have felt like it was missing something without that itsy bitsy side dish of romance? It’s possible.
The question, then, is if we really need romance in our stories. Does a story without romance really feel flat or unsatisfying? Or are we just so pre-programmed with this “I need romance” message that we don’t know anything else?
The idea of being pre-programmed for a certain kind of story, or even craving parts of a story, made me wonder. Where did this expectation come from? Part of me wants to blame Barbie dolls and Disney and Hollywood (and I often do) — but the element of romance is as deeply embedded into much more long-lasting and meaningful methods of storytelling, too. The plots of Greek tragedies, for instance, were often driven by love and romance. And even more so, many beautiful and ancient religious texts, though they’re not love stories in and of themselves, often tell stories driven by romance and love.
Romance is clearly something that we’ve explored for centuries through numerous creative mediums. It’s this realization that made me stop blaming our current culture for its reliance on romance-driven stories, and instead made me step back and appreciate it as part of being human. Maybe this need to see and hear and feel stories about romance is something that’s ingrained in our souls, and not merely a product of our culture after all.
It’s clear that romance is, and will continue to be, a huge part of our storytelling. But whether you like it, crave it, or avoid it at all costs, our constant exposure to romance as the be-all and end-all of a tale is also worth taking a step back from every now and then.
Do we come to stories to experience romance vicariously? Sometimes we enjoy these stories as a way to experience an emotion or scenario we haven’t in real life. Or, perhaps we just surrender to enjoying an idyllic romance that we know is impossible in the real world, but is gorgeously possible on paper?
I love the vast experiences and emotions we learn and understand through stories, and romance is included in that. But I also think that with romance, and the dramatic construct around it, we have to pay attention to the message it sends us.
In dramaland, a story struggles to end in a way that’s not the resolution or fulfillment of a romance. But, in real life, romance is not the only way to live a rewarding life — and there’s no such thing as its resolution. Our own stories (romances or not) don’t end with a kiss or a wedding or when we finally deliver the revenge we’ve been plotting. Instead, our stories continue on after these moments. This is an important distinction between how we encounter and experience romance in drama versus in real life.
We’ve looked at the omnipresence of romance in our stories, and how loving romance is pitched as the perfect ending to a tale. Do you agree that this makes for a satisfying ending? Do you find that you need romance (even just a sliver) in your stories? And a step beyond that, what messages and expectations has this set up in your own life? For me, I admit to sometimes being disappointed that real-life romance hasn’t looked a thing like K-drama romance (yet?) — but it’s also a good reminder that dramas are dramas, and life is life.
- Her Private Life: Episode 1
- Kim Jae-wook, Park Min-young courted for fanboy and fangirl roles in new tvN rom-com
- Mad Dog: Episode 1
- Scam artist Woo Do-hwan joins forces with Mad Dog Yoo Ji-tae
- Temperature of Love: Episodes 1-2
- Yang Se-jong up to romance Seo Hyun-jin in Temperature of Love
- Witch’s Romance: Episode 1
- First teasers for Uhm Jung-hwa’s new rom-com