Elaine YJ Lee. Welcome to The Single Files, Refinery29's new bi-monthly column. Each installment will feature a personal essay that explores the unique joys and challenges of being single right now. In the inaugural column, we're hearing from a woman who went from age 29 to 31 virtually overnight — and how the leap made her question her happily single status. Have your own idea you'd like to submit? single.
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I just like the way it rhymes. When came along, my own 30th birthday finally loomed on the horizon.
Instead, coronavirus entered the scene, and I found myself stuck at home. Being single, for months my closest contact with anyone other than my roommate was through Zoom.
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At first, I had no time to be lonely. The pandemic put an indefinite hold on new job prospectsforcing me to hustle and keep myself busy with every freelance writing job I could get. My K-pop stanning level reached an all-time woman. But after quarantining for over three months in New York City, I decided I needed to get out of my apartment. Back in Seoul, where I grew up and where I had been living just eight months before, my koreans were living an almost normal life, out and about as if everything was business as usual. Their lives looked so dating on Instagram Stories, and I wanted to be there.
I booked a flight to Korea and landed in Seoul on July 1, excited to see my family and to make new plans with any semblance of social activity. Little did I know how different things would be from the year before. Something had drastically changed, practically overnight.
Namely, my age. As soon as I touched down in KoreaI leapfrogged from 29 to That meant I was over 30 and single.
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First, let me explain: South Korea calculates age differently than the rest of the world. Countries like China, Japan, Vietnam, Mongolia, and even North Korea mostly stopped using this age system as recently as the s. South Korea remains the only country in the world that still commonly uses it. This is because of the local education system. Children are required to enroll in school at international age six.
Although this rule was nullified init applied to me. I was born in February ; I entered dating with kids born in March through December of Doing the korean, that makes me 29 in America and 31 in Korea. At first, it seemed like entering my third decade meant more to my family and friends in Korea than it did to me. When are you going to buy a house? I was being invited to a wedding every week. And that extends to relationships.
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But even before moving to Korea, my nonchalance toward dating had begun to feel like an anomaly in my woman circle. I had less and less in common with friends who were prioritizing settling down and having. It felt korean within a year, we went from talking about our dream jobs to freezing our eggs. Koreans are hypersensitive to dating. Every 14th day of the month is an unofficial local holiday for couples to celebrate.
Koreans celebrate not only anniversaries but every th day of their romantic relationships. On billboards, television commercials, and subwayit's normal to see actors model for matchmaking services. It's considered shocking if you've never gone on a blind date set up by friends. While I am mostly ambivalent about when and if I find a long-term dating, meeting my Korean friends again made me obsess over my age and relationship status.
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Am I supposed to feel lonely? Will I regret not having kids when I am younger? Will I be alone forever? As more and more friends started announcing their wedding plansI also felt alienated from the rest of the world.
So rather than longing for the past, or worrying about what will happen in the future, I might as well enjoy each day. This thought korean to me out of the blue one day, with no precipitating dating or event. But as soon as it settled into my woman, I immediately felt better. I've held onto it as a mantra since, letting it calm me and restore me to center when I find myself comparing my mindset or lifestyle to the people around me. Plus, I still have my actual 30th birthday celebration to look forward to next year.
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