Talking about Jeong

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If you have been around Korea long enough, you will have most likely come across the term: jeong.

If you have been around Korea long enough, you will have most likely come across the term: jeong.

Interestingly enough, when I talked to Jiwon about this, she connected jeong to a deep rooted and persistent sense of expectation from her own Korean society. Like jeong, this often lacks logic and reason, and as a result, kids are expected to do certain things in life even before they have exited the womb. It is this predetermined nature of life that has weighed upon Jiwon’s shoulders for some time now, and the fact that she somehow discovered the light at the end of the tunnel is a testament to the strength of her character. Just like many other Korean girls, she was expected or at least hoped to get a certain job, marry a certain type of guy, you know the drill right? Jiwon has always had the courage of her convictions though, and she has always possessed the wisdom that indeed, only she can dictate life’s journey. If you ask me, she can be extremely proud of that fact. When we met I called her Cassandra. Reason being, if you have ever heard of the Cassandra Complex, is that she was right, but unfortunately, nobody else listened.

I will introduce jeong with an example. The best one that I can come up with for now is the image of an elderly couple, still living with one another, staying loyal and keeping the faith despite the fact that the romantic spark died out many moons ago. Jeong is nurtured over time and it develops into a form of emotional attachment to one another in a relationship. There are of course different types of jeong, for instance: jeong deun nim (meaning sweetheart). Just like is the case with the old couple, a strong emphasis is placed on commitment, and this commitment exists without reason. If commitment is not contractual like in the western world, then it goes a long way in explaining the collectivist nature of Korean society today. In Korea, you refer to your spouse as “our wife”. The point is that individuality takes a back seat in order to support the development of jeong in the relationship.

Tongjeong refers to an affair, and I would like to suggest that many Korean married couples do not actually love one another. Instead of love, they have mastered jeong, and this acts as a very good excuse to stay married to each other despite obvious evidence to the contrary. Of course, I am not saying that every couple in Korea is like this. When the kids finally come along, then jeong is consolidated even further and the family unit takes precedence over the concept of love.  Many affairs take place here in Korea, yet these people still do not admit that they want a divorce.

From what I have noticed with Jiwon’s family and many other people in Korea, they find it extremely difficult to display feelings of love towards one another. It is painful to see sometimes and I have seen it before too. Everyone has a particular role in the family, and these status roles must be conformed to, carved in stone, and solidified over time.

I think Jiwon often wonders why her parents fail to accept her decisions in life. Her mother does try her best to understand our relationship, and just when it looks like we have won her over, she will come back with a comment like: “how come you don’t find a Korean guy?”

It’s difficult because they are thinking about jeong: a place in which the sanctity of marriage is much more important than passionate love will ever be. Bridging this gap is a difficult hurdle for us and a variety of other mixed race couples here in South Korea.

To the obstinate families out there that refuse to bend, I have just one question for you. When you look back at your own lives and when it is all said and done: was jeong really enough for you?



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