[Family drama] Flower boy(s) next door
I’ve always loved stories about neighbors, even before I set foot in dramaland. Was it Little Women that did it for me? Maybe Anne of Avonlea? Either way, stories about neighbors and neighborhoods always appeal to me. There’s something about the community and familiarity that creates such a nice setting for a story. Imagine my joy discovering the fun stories of neighbors in dramaland, where your neighbor can be anything from your best friend, to a watchdog, to your worst enemy.
The story of neighbors is entirely different from the drama trope of cohabiting (via contract or convenience) — in fact, I like to think of it as the more subtle version of that. Both are really about proximity of characters, and more often than not what that means is proximity of one’s crush or love interest.
With cohabitation there’s no getting around the obvious, but with a neighborhood love story, there’s room for serendipity. I’m going out to the mailbox… and there he is getting home from work. I’m shoveling snow from our sidewalk… and there he is play-fighting with his brother on the other side of the picket fence. Or, if you’re my grandmother, you’re peeking out the kitchen window every chance you get, hoping to get a glimpse of your neighbor. He’s seven years older than you, as dashing as can be — and totally not interested in the little girl that lives next door.
True story. My grandma and her sister grew up in a big family of immigrants, where becoming an “American” and working with your hands for a living was a matter of pride. Her father was a carpenter, her mother was a seamstress, and she and her sister, though they were barely teens at the time, raised their younger siblings, cooked, and kept house.
Next door lived another such family — but rather than girls their age, the house was full of boys. And something about my grandpa stood out to her. I have this image in my head of my grandpa. It’s from an old photograph. He’s standing on the front lawn with his arms akimbo, next to his brother, and he’s totally dashing and slightly dangerous and has a twinkle in his eye. I can see why she spent so many years watching him from the window. I wonder if she ever dreamt they’d get married one day?
While I don’t know how their story went from little girl next door to them “going steady,” pretty soon my grandparents were a couple — and so were her sister, and his brother. Talk about double dates! As the years passed, WWII came and went, both brothers returned safely from the war, got married, and started families with the girls next door.
Unlike my grandparent’s story of being thrown together as young people, a lot of neighbors in dramaland become neighbors intentionally. Yeon Woo-jin moved a few doors down from Kim Se-jeong in Let Me Hear Your Song, and Kim Jung-hyun moved to the apartment next to Seohyun in Time. In these stories, being neighbors was an excuse to be “geographically” close to the other person, and was used as a mechanism to become emotionally close as well.
But some dramaland neighbors are more accidental, serendipitous — and even magical. Two characters that are unlikely to meet in their everyday lives are thrown together by something as banal as living in the same apartment building, or adjacent house. And as with my grandparent’s story, proximity creates a relationship, and in their case, that relationship grew into love and over 50 years of marriage.
Dramas like the notorious Que Sera Sera and Witch’s Romance brought their leads together with the help of their housing situation — and for that matter, so did You From Another Star. That drama was fantastic for a lot of reasons, but one of my favorite elements was the neighbor relationship between Kim Soo-hyun and Jun Ji-hyun. Whether it was elevator meetings, neighbor-saves-the-day moments, or just a chat out on the terrace, the drama was made all the more rich by the fact that the two were neighbors.
Neighborhood romances never get old, and some of my favorite neighbor dramas include Flower Boy Next Door, and the Let’s Eat series, which are some of the warmest neighbor-y stories around. From the interactions of neighbors in hallways and elevators, or even on the walk back home, the characters’ proximity builds familiarity, and that familiarity leads to fondness. In fact, it’s kind of hard to have one without the other, and maybe that’s why neighbor romances always feel so authentic to me.
In these stories, as in my grandparent’s own neighborhood romance, the familiarity and fondness that comes from having the “home” aspect of their lives intersect makes for a relationship with a different foundation — for instance, it’s entirely different than an office romance, where that sense of home isn’t shared by the characters.
Does this make the start of the romance any more meaningful, solid, or destined for success? A drama like Let’s Eat would suggest that a neighbor romance isn’t any stronger or long-lasting than any other might be. But who knows? In the case of my grandparents, it meant decades of marriage, a strong family community around them, and a long and lovely life together.
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