Dating: “No” Means “Try Harder,” Unless It Means “No”
I ask a lot of Koreans questions regarded to dating, because I find the differences in dating practices and “dating cultures” to be interesting. About a year ago a Korean friend told me that she ignored her current boyfriend for about a month when they first met, because she wanted him to “work hard” to win her affections. She was testing him to see what he thought: was she worth a month of rejection and refusal? Would he persevere because he thought she was special? Was his affection strong? His persistence was eventually rewarded with her affection.
I found this to be fascinating, so I started asking around. I’ve polled at least a dozen women, and all but one said “Yeah, we say ‘No’ as a test.” So in this case, “no” means “try harder.” Last night I was talking to two Korean women who were fluent in English (English educators) and I said “I’m sure the men know this right?” They confirmed this was so. “So don’t you ladies have a problem sometimes when ‘no’ actually means ‘NO’?” They answered with a resounding YES. “It often happens when a guy won’t quit trying to date you, even though you tell him no, because he thinks he just needs to try harder.”
An interesting side note is that Korean women not learned in the dating culture of Americans sometimes preclude themselves from dating Americans they might have really hit it off with, because the American asks them out, and they say “no.” The American then says “Okay,” and never asks them again. The Korean woman may interpret this as “Oh, he wasn’t that into me, or else he would have kept asking me,” and the American is thinking “She said ‘no,’ so she’s not interested.
When I was single, I once tested this out. There was a woman I liked, and I asked her out. She politely rebuffed my advances, so I asked her, point blank: “Is this a real ‘no,’ or are you just testing me to see if I’m really interested? Because I’m American and I’m taught to respect a woman’s decision, so if you say ‘no,’ I won’t bother you anymore, but if it isn’t really no,” and at this point I grinned, and she grinned back, “if it is more of a ‘maybe’ or ‘possibly,’ then you’d better tell me, because if so I’ll do whatever I have to do to take you out.” Then I gave some corny examples of Herculean feats I would do to win her affection. She smiled and said “In this case, ‘no’ means ‘possible’.”
From my Western cultural perspective, the implications of this seem dangerous. If men are expected to know what a woman truly wants, despite what she says, that seems to set the stage for unwanted behavior anytime a man is wrong, and “no” actually means “no.”