Swiping right in Seoul

Note: This is an extremely long post. This took me an extremely long time to write (and be comfortable sharing). I did promise to be more open and vulnerable, and this random chance encounter came during a critical moment in the run-up to our company's launch. I hope you're ready with some tea/coffee ;)

No one is sent by accident to anyone

The matters of the heart are complex. We live in an age where technology has exponentially increased our ability to connect to people and build relationships. Ironically, technology also commoditized relationships where deep, meaningful connections are becoming incredibly difficult. Even without technology, the probability that you'll have an intimate partnership with a specific individual is really slim.  

I spent most of spring in Korea while I was formulating products and testing samples from different cosmetics labs and manufacturers for the new skincare company I planned to launch with my younger brother. Originally the trip was only supposed to last 2 weeks, but I ended up staying a little more than a month.

In between waiting for samples and website development, I got a little bored and decided to open up Tinder. After swiping through at least hundreds of profiles, I received a message from Mo (Abbreviating his name for sake of anonymity). He seemed cute enough. For a white American twenty-something boy from Virginia, I was impressed that he actually messaged me in grammatically correct Korean. (Truthfully, I only swiped right due to the pic of his washboard abs.) I agreed to meet with him for tea in Gangnam.

I arrived at the venue a little early, so I spent some time catching up with my mom over the phone. From the distance, I heard a motorcycle exhaust, and the motorcycle slowly rolled to a stop. Lo and behold, a tall (6'4" to be exact), chiseled, blue-eyed dirty blonde got off the bike and awkwardly approached the venue. Our eyes briefly met, and the physical chemistry was incredibly obvious. I was still on the call and silently mouthed while flashing a sheepish smile, "Sorry just a few more minutes!"  

I finally wrapped up the call, and we made our introductions. We got our drinks and settled in at one of the corner tables. F was a math teacher at an international high school, and he lived in Korea for a few years. Before he spent a couple years in Africa working in the Peace Corps. It was undetermined whether he was more obsessed with his motorcycle or cryptocurrrencies. Color me intrigued. 

I invited him to a house party that Friday, and he came over without hesitation. As we chatted, he boldly snuck in a kiss mid-conversation with my friends nearby. (Um.. that was hot.) While a group went to the neighborhood bars, he pulled me into one of the dark alleys for a steamier session.

Since then, it was straight out of a high school manhwa romance. We constantly exchanged messages and funny gifs. He texted me good morning and good night almost every day. He took me out on his motorcycle to explore the Korean countryside. Cherry blossom season was in full bloom. While hiking to the Buddhist temple nestled in the mountains, he never let go of my hand. Even when I went off-path to explore near the springs, he never let me out of his sight. When we stop at intersections on the motorcycle, he gently squeezed my left thigh. We had quite a few evenings where hours would pass without notice. Every time he pulled me into the shadows to embrace me in his arm, that touch made my heart skipped a beat. 

Cherry blossom road trip

Cherry blossom road trip

This was only meant to be a "casual" fling, but I am the hopeless romantic after all. The free-spirited nomad finding a kindred spirit back in her motherland would be an epic fairy tale in the making. Of course, all good things come to an end. Eventually the "good morning" and "good night" messages stopped. He became slower to respond over text, and he eventually became "busy." As I was about to return back to the US for the summer, I was hoping to see him in person one last time and end things on a good note. However, it became clear that this was never going to happen. 

After much though, I decided to sent my last message to F before boarding my flight back to the US. I didn't expect a response. The primary purpose of this note was to give me closure and allow me to continue on with my life. The note is below:

Dear F,

I'm about to head back to the US. We didn't get to meet up after all. I'd like to say "let's keep in touch," but that's totally unrealistic. Deep down, I knew we wouldn't meet even though you said "be in touch later." I'm certain you didn't want to hurt my feelings (but I prefer you to be more direct next time). Thus, I am telling you this over text now rather than never.

I genuinely believe people come in and out of my life for a reason. Looking back, I have quite a few things to be thankful for. Those countryside rides motivated to get my M1 license. The conversations about cryptocurrencies were engaging. I smiled at every good morning or good night message. I was able to laugh because of your silly 아재 gags in spite of all the supplier drama. Those kisses at unexpected moments made me believe that romance still exist. Thank you for all of that. 

What I am most thankful for is that you reminded me that I should not be afraid to show my true self. I am happiest when my fierce love and confidence inspire others to do the same. I held a little of myself back in fear that I will scare people away. When the world has been my stage for so long, it is impossible for me to hide or pull back. Casual is only casual when there is only a physical connection. This is not what I want for the long term, so I'm walking away now.

You say you want a happy life, but your behavior says otherwise. You rarely sound happy nor motivated when you talk about teaching. On the other hand, you sound happier and more engaged when it comes to cryptocurrencies, motorcycles and travel. It seems like teaching allows you to partake in those activities that make you happy. Isn't that enough? If it's not enough, then what is enough?

You're intelligent and capable, and I still think you have a good heart. If our paths ever cross again, I hope you are happy and I'll be smiling ready to share the latest adventures. I wish you all the best. Thank you for not only helping me learn but also reminding me that I have nothing to be afraid of. 

-Koh

Upon landing back in the US, F replied back with the message below.

Shit, you're totally right. I should have been more direct. We're both adults (you more so than me I think, not age but attitude/behavior), I should have just told it like it is. As you inferred I'm not really interested in going forward in a relationship and I should have just let you know instead of trying to spare your feelings which made things worse. I could tell our effort levels toward friendship were getting more uneven so I should have foreseen this and been mature about it, I'm really sorry.

Thanks for sending me your thoughts, very true that I'm not passionate about teaching so I think my time in Korea is limited, although as you can probably sense I'm worried about what the next step is. Either way thanks for sharing your knowledge on a ridiculously wide range of topics and for joining me on those outings on the bike. Happy I spurred your m1 license, seems like you're gonna love it as much as I do. To be honest I was initially intimated by your looks and successful background, but as we got more intimate I got comfortable with that but honestly found it difficult to keep up with your intellect. Not that I saw it as a competition at all but talking with you we always delved so deep into issues it required a lot of mental energy to keep up. I'm not really good at putting myself in other's positions when it comes to relationships and have commitment issues as you can tell so I'm sorry if this is offending you but I figured I'd just be honest as you totally deserve more than bland platitudes.

Anyway you are honestly one of the most unique people I've ever met, as I kept telling you before. Smart, good looking and chill is a rare combination. I think it just didn't click as much for me as it did for you. I hope these don't sound like glib compliments because I am being sincere even if I can't verbalize it as well as I'd like. Anyway I do wish you the best and I am interested in seeing how ever prime ends up, it's awesome that you're pursuing your dream so I'd love to see it come true. So really, feel free to drop me a line and let me know how things are going, even if we don't meet up or really stay in touch. And again, I'm sorry I wasn't forthright with you earlier, you deserved better. Have a safe trip and hope good luck with the launch and everything afterwards.

I never responded back. Even though I was hurt, his response confirmed that I made the right choice. 

Modern relationships are incredibly challenging, especially in the era of online dating. It doesn't really change the fact that it is incredibly hard to love someone despite the hardships and failures. Many people give up or lose hope of ever having an intimate relationship. As much as chemistry can open euphoric feelings of openness and warmth, it also flushes to the surface all kinds of conditioned patterns and hurdles that will try and shut these feelings down: our deepest fears, creeping desperation, emotional scars, our mistrust, and a number of other emotional trigger points. I have my own fears and insecurities, but it was clear that F and I were on different timelines.

In one part, my return to the US marked a shift in the way I approached any relationship. I focused efforts to nurture relationships with the people I cared about. I became more comfortable being honest, open and vulnerable about my own feelings even if it frightens me to the core. Fully accepting all facets of my emotional and mental states will allow me to connect more deeply with my friends, family and ultimately my future partner. Until then, I'll still smile, happily lend a hand, or intently listen to those seeking or receiving.