05 September 2015


Thoughts on Marriage and Twenty Again

Posted by Kakashi Sensei on September 05, 2015
kakashi: The other day, there was a discussion on twitter about Twenty Again and marriage and stuff. "Discussion on twitter?", you say, "how is that possible?!". Yeah, you're right to ask that because it quickly got confusing and then a mess and in the end, everybody had said a lot but nobody was sure what. I am one of the people that liked the first two eps of Twenty Again and one of the people responsible for making the convo today a mess - and because I am, frankly, a bit surprised by the fact that I like this drama and because I liked the discussion, I thought why not continue it on here. 
When thinking about why I like the drama, I realized this: I am intrigued because the drama is on (the difficulties of) marriage. I am intrigued by its link to the academic environment and intrigued because it's about the performing arts. And I'm intrigued by the topic of "finding oneself" as a difficult balancing act between self-fulfillment and duty to a family. All of those topics are, in some way or another, related to me. And indeed - I can relate to all 3 main characters. Okay, least to Dimples because he is just really, really immature and a total weirdo. But he makes me die from cute.
He is absolutely adorable here, you're right about that. Looks so young! I missed the twitter convo (it was either work at work or work on Jerry, but I saw it happening, sort of, and didn't take part.) If I had, it would have dawned on me just how many details are in sync with you.

But I do not really want to discuss the drama too much (maybe in a later post): it's too early to say whether it will do these topics any real justice or whether it'll ultimately tank like most Kdramas. But I do want to share with you some thoughts on what might be going on in Ha No Ra's and Kim Woo Chul's marriage. And why Woo Chul is an ass, but not necessarily a bad guy.
My take on him, also. I only saw the first episode, but I didn't think he was a monster. Completely tone-deaf to his wife, but I could suspect reasons why he might be, like you.
This is what we know after three episodes (it's not much): Ha No Ra, an upright kid living with her hard working grandma after being abandoned by her mother, develops a crush on a guy named Kim Woo Chul (and he on her, it seems, a hard one) and gets pregnant really fast. They are forced to marry (or decide so themselves?). She is 19, he is 24. It means leaving school for her and giving up becoming a dancer like her friend Ra Yoon Young. They immediately move to Germany, because that is where Woo Chul was going to study.
She was a feisty thing as a girl - I could see why he might like her back then but not now.

It seems that Ha No Ra did not curse her fate (until we reach episode 3, that is) - well, maybe she did, because her life after that became damn hard (by the way, there is a sentence of flawless German when she gives birth in a German hospital!). Alone with a constantly crying baby in a foreign country ... it changes her. I guess she does not have much of a choice and gets into her new role as a mother and as a housewife completely. Maybe she even found joy in it. In a society as conservative as Korea, following the traditional role models must feel safe. And being a mother and housewife is something many people enjoy fully and completely.
I suppose I can understand feeling alone and adrift in a foreign country, and thus seizing upon the small oasis that you do know and making it your everything.  It's one approach, anyway. I do wonder why that feisty girl didn't reach out to people and connect, but for whatever reason, it didn't happen.
As she stays home and takes care of the kid and the household, her husband, the provider of money for the family, goes on to become a professor of psychology. I don't know the details of how much status a professor has in Korea, but from what we get to see, professors are definitely top of the food chain in their natural environment there too - which leads to dickish behavior of about 95% of people in this profession. No wonder he is a bit pompous. But he also seems to be decent at his job: students really like him (I hope not only because he gives good grades!) and he is interested in his subject matter.
I think teachers expect and are given a lot of respect in Korea, in general, and it seems that a professor would be the highest expression of that. As this young, uneducated woman moves through that particular segment of society, she must have felt a bit inadequate. I'm guessing he would perhaps feel a bit of embarrassment about his youthful 'indiscretion' and the unworldly wife it gave him, and very often human nature causes us to turn the thing we're embarrassed about into the thing we resent, or even despise.

I don't believe for a second that romantic love is a prerequisite for marriage. In fact, if you marry a person because you have great sex with them and hormone rushes but that is it, you will most certainly be divorced soon. Marriage does not work on love alone (and not on sex either.) You need respect for each other, too. That is a lot of constant work - and never stops. And you need some kind of equality between partners (I don't mean in the feminist sense, though that does not hurt either) for that type of respect.
Absolutely. I would say further that a long marriage requires deep commitment to that partnership. You have to say 'this, I will not do' and you have to mean it, for whatever 'this' meant to you when you entered the partnership. Faithfulness, often. Kindness, surely. Honesty - you get the picture. You have to have the personal strength to keep that word. In this sense it has nothing at all to do with the other person, and everything to do with who you are as a human being.  

Notice, though, that I didn't say successful marriage. Just long. Success requires, in addition to that personal fortitude, all the things that Kakashi mentioned. A happy sex life makes a marriage more fun, I think, but many things can affect that. Sex is a need, yes, but the lack of it will not kill you or destroy your happiness unless you let it.
Woo Chul has neither respect for No Ra nor is there any equality between them. In fact, it seems the only common ground they have is their kid (which was an accident). That kid is all grown up now and needs to prove himself at university - his father's domain. Naturally, he looks to his father more than his mother. No Ra has no education and did probably never show an awful lot of interest in brainy things in their almost 20 years of marriage from what we get to see. Woo Chul moves in an environment in which the best education and constantly showing off how smart you are is everything. There really is the biggest of all possible gaps between them.
Even if he'd truly loved her to begin with, that gap would have been a problem.

The drama is biased towards showing us No Ra as a victim of this situation - and of course, there is a lot to this. Her husband treats her with contempt - her son, by extension, too. That is inexcusable but, unfortunately, understandable. If you grow apart emotionally from a person close to you - or if you've never been anywhere else, your feelings for a person can easily change from affection into annoyance into any shade of hate. He really sees his wife as inferior to himself - and she probably is at the moment. It's the way she carries herself, sees herself, acts towards him.
It's a circle. She feels inadequate, shows it, he reinforces it, despises it in her because it reflects badly on him, which makes her feel even more inadequate. Conversely, he is embarrassed by her, she feels it, begins to act tentatively and uncertainly which just reinforces his dislike, etc. And the kid naturally will pick up the father's attitude since mom seems to agree that she is the problem in this.
Sure, a more decent person than Woo Chul would probably tell himself "but she is the mother of my child and gave up everything that she was back in her high school days to be a good mother and wife", but I think he can't do that. He feels cheated out of things becaues of her too. I am not sure Woo Chul is actually cheating on his wife with university professor Kim Yi Jin - at least not physically (which would explain some of the urgency he feels about the divorce). But intellectually, I understand why a man in his position would go looking elsewhere for what he is missing in his own marriage. That is not necessarily sex, but intellectual companionship - which is, in my opinion, more important than sex. (And indeed, in episode 3, the Mistress even mentions that word when discussion Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.)
One hundred percent in agreement. Our minds matter more than our bodies do. This is not to say that he couldn't have a quiet, happy home life where what mattered were home things and he found his intellectual stimulation in conversations with colleagues/friends, but he doesn't allow that possibility in his mind. It's entirely possible that if she were a more confident woman, a man in his position would have been satisfied. But she is not confident, and he is someone who focuses on what he doesn't have. To me, he's an insecure person.

Because Woo Chul has told No Ra that he finds her severely lacking in the intellectual department and because she cannot even begin to imagine a life without her husband, she gets out of her comfort zone and attempts to get herself the education she never got - to win him back (she does not know about the affair though.) It's the wrong kind of impetus, of course, and part of why she is so annoying: she has not found herself as a person yet (that is changing as of episode 3, thankfully). Before she could mature, she was made a mother and housewife. However, going to university will ultimately free her from him in ways she cannot yet imagine.
Free your mind, the rest will follow.
I would guess that Woo Chul will fall in love with her (again or for the first time) once she blooms and unlocks her true self from years of self-chosen imprisonment. I hope, of course, that No Ra will have moved on to the other option with Dimples by then, who, just like her, seems to have had something stolen from his pre-high school years: romance with his first love. That said, a reunion with a sorry Woo Chul would not even irk me too much. I don't see him as a bad guy. He is just disillusioned with the card fate dealt him and hopes to find a partner with whom he can truly bond on all levels. 
Oh, I fully expect that they will remain together, in the end. He'll 'rediscover' his feelings for her in the process of watching her develop into the woman she could have been. I'm okay with that. As for Dimples, I assume this will be an opportunity for him to settle his feelings over that first love that never really took off, or was one-sided. He'll be able to set aside his feelings of unfinished business and resentment, and thus be free to move on.

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