Exploring Marriage in Dramaland (Part 1)

Marriage. The ultimate goal in many dramas, but are there any truly happily married couples in dramaland? This is another concept many people can relate to, having been born out of wedlock as “bastards”, having witnessed happy couples who grew old together, being children of divorcees, being married, dreaming of a wedding, leaving a marriage,…

Is marriage about red strings of fate, being born with destined fate to meet their beloved or a mere coincidence of falling in love which is often concluded by a legal contract or a matrimonial ceremony? And what are the boundaries? Would someone be considered a married couple if they are only bound by ceremony but not on a legal contract or a legally married couple living apart?

All these unanswered questions and dramaland has probably portrayed them all, so no matter if you are someone who has been married, plans to marry or has no intention of getting married at all, we are sure you can find a drama with some kind of marriage situation that you can relate to.

A small warning before you proceed: Though we have tried to avoid spoilers, we can not guarantee that the following article is completely spoiler-free. 

Typical Marriage Cliches in Dramaland

There are tons of marriage cliches found in dramaland, but that makes it even harder to find a “perfect portrayal” because cliches don’t often happen in real life (at least not in that form). But we’ll still breeze through those dramas to get a glimpse of the wonderful variety found in dramaland, and though many of these may seem far-fetched, they do say something about the society we live in as well as may influence viewers to think this could actually be something to wish for.

 We decided to skip the wedding and moved in together instead 

One question to wonder is whether there’s really a difference between cohabitation and marriage? And cohabiting out of willingness or due to the prohibitions? There are several countries that prohibit people from getting married for religious or gender reasons. As we all know, Same-sex marriage is, as of 2021, only recognized by 29 countries. 

A common trope seen in C-dramas is premarital cohabitation that starts off all innocent with separate rooms, but inevitably the leads do end up in the same bed. Here it is portrayed as the step before the wedding, the phase of the leads trying to get to know each other. The solid cohabiting portrayal is yet to be seen, being even less common than the ending where the couple refuses to get married and lives happily ever after… still as a couple but with separate living arrangements.

Marriage as a contract

“I thought marriage was going to be simple, where our hearts meet, where our needs meet. Something that wasn’t simple.” – Because This is My First Life

It’s one of the cliches that has the biggest market in the K-Drama industry. Where getting into a contract marriage magically solves all life problems, often brought on by one of life’s more or less dramatic crises or a guy’s inability to communicate his feelings.

The money, money, money contract  

When money is tight, there is no true love insight, and you are afraid that the social implications of cohabitation may ruin your life. Why not just marry some guy with an apartment, and all your problems will be solved? Well, at least that’s what they did in Because This Is My First Life, where the leads decide to marry each other in order to save money and stay under one roof. 

Similarly, another very typical thing would be family members deciding one’s life partner. This is well represented in Something About 1 Percent. The male lead has to enter a contract in order to inherit all his grandfather’s assets/fortune. In Perfect and Casual, the female lead finds herself cheated out of all her savings and in need of a place to stay, while the male lead is in desperate need of a wife to fulfill his beloved grandfather’s dying wish.

The not so well-intended contract marriage

As portrayed in (not so) Well Intended Love, where the male lead lies, tricks, and uses the vulnerability of the female lead to commit her into a contract marriage in the hopes of her falling deeply in love with him. Which, if it ever happened in real life, one should sue the other person for. 

Likewise, another marriage made out of real desperation is shown in Marriage Contract. There’s a single mother who finds out she is terminally ill, is in desperate need of money to pay off her debt, and has to make sure her daughter has enough money to survive. She enters a contract marriage as a way to sell her organs before starting treatment and inevitably being killed by cancer. 

We can laugh all we want about these contract marriages, but in all honesty, entering state-recognized marriage is essentially signing a contract, and the desperation people may feel in a society that lacks safety nets is well portrayed in these contract cliches. Inequality 1, romance 0.

Marriage as the result of parental intervention  

It is hard to miss the countless blind dates people are forced to go on in dramas. But do they actually ever result in marriage? Historical dramas often show a long process of being chosen for the king with 0 choices of his own, for example, Moon Embracing the Sun and Mr. Queen. Modern-day dramas often show modern-day royalty (rich people) with the same problem, showing marriage as a financial transaction rather than a choice. One that is somewhat in between historical and modern-day is the forced marriage in Youth of May. A marriage that had nothing to do with love but was all about control and power to the elders. 

Besides that, inequality has seldom shown its ugly face as much as when people from two different backgrounds fall in love in the world of dramas, facing enormous obstacles from controlling parents. One of the strongest examples of parental intervention is seen in The Heirs, where the rich man’s love interest is literally forced into hiding, but we have also seen obstacles set by parents in Something in the Rain, One Spring Night, The Brightest Star in the Sky, Love Rain, and too many more to count. 

A parent is being concerned about her children's welfare. so how is that interfering

Marriage as the result of destined love

“Those who have a lover and are holding hands right now, I want you to know that fate has contributed to make you meet.” – 2gether

Have you reunited with your long lost love yet, or are you still waiting to find that childhood sweetheart you have long forgotten about? 

In I Told Sunset About You (I Promised You the Moon), we meet the boys Teh and  Oh-aew, who meet on the first day of middle school but are separated after a fight as well as by Teh’s struggles with his own sexuality. But no matter what struggles these two may face, fate seems to want them to stick together. 

In What Is Wrong with Secretary Kim, the main couple meets in some of the worst imaginable circumstances and are then separated. Before being separated, the five-year-old secretary Kim askes nine-year-old CEO Lee to marry her. Years passed before they reunited again, and while the road there may have been bumpy, we did learn that a promise made as a nine-year-old still is valid. 

One very confusing and extreme but gorgeous love story is one that breaks time and space told in Someday or One Day, you just have to see it to understand it. And if you do (or have), you will understand why it is worth mentioning here. 

Two people sitting next to each other listening to music

Love for lifetimes

“Life after life. Blooms over blooms.” – Eternal Love

A lesson to be learned from dramaland is that you probably met the person you are destined to be with long ago or maybe even a lifetime ago. That’s what happened to our leads from Chicago Typewriter. They met in the rough past, and circumstances just did not allow much room for romance in the midst of fighting for the freedom of Korea. However, destiny and the setup followed them to their next life in the times of free Korea, fulfilling and serving them the love of lifetimes they deserved together. 

The dream of you guys living beautifully together in the liberated Joseon

Likewise, the Thai drama Until We Meet Again beautifully portrays the true essence of destined love that just can’t be separated. Their past selves lost their lives, struggling for their right to love. But at the end of all struggles, the red string of fate is the strongest of them all, and they are reincarnated as lovers. <3

Similarly, another concept of love for several lifetimes is often played out in Chinese Xianxia dramas, where the love for three lifetimes is emphasized. 

Love for lifetimes is a concept that is highly admired by the audience. This is easily observed with the huge success of dramas like Eternal Love and Ashes of Love. It lowkey hits the comfort spot in our hearts, imagining several lifetimes with our loved ones. Though as seen in Ashes of Love, all three lifetimes come with their own trials, and it might not at all be a bed of roses as imagined. 

The Happy Marriage 

What is it that makes us think: Wow, this is a happy marriage? Is it defined by time? By the way they look at each other? By the amount of obstacles they overcome without losing faith in each other? Or does it need to be a smooth ride to be considered happy? Or can a happy marriage only be guaranteed if you marry yourself like Seo Hyun Joo (Hwang Jung Eum) did in To All The Guys Who Loved Me?

In the following part, we try to find truly happy marriages in dramaland. You know, the ones that made us smile and think, oh how lovely would that be… or just plain, yep, that will do. 

There is a link to this scene if you click on one of these pictures: 

I could only think of reasons i shouldn't get married

The pretty smooth ride 

Finding a happy portrayal of marriage beyond the wedding/last episode is not always an easy task, more often seen among side couples such as parents and grandparents than with the leads. Dramaland offers quite a few happily married couples, but you may just have to look for them on the sidelines if you do not want to wait for the brief happy ending with a few scenes at best of a happily married couple. These are the couples who set the goal for the lasting marriage, the ones we hope to live up to or the ones that just make us cringe and think, nee, I still do not want to get married, but good for them. 

In More Than Friends, we get to see a lot of dysfunctional relationships, but there is one relationship that stands out, and that is one of the parents to the female lead. Having been together for many years, this couple stays playful, and you can see the chemistry and love between them is strong and unbreakable. 

In Papa & Daddy, we see this adorable, loving couple who show that life is not always easy, but together they can fight all the obstacles that come their way and stay strong. Even though for one of them this is the second marriage, it is definitely one of the happiest portrayals of married life we have seen on the small screen, showing how this couple is both understanding towards each other’s needs and supporting each other’s goals and growth in life. 

Two men and a child

“Life is short, but it will be enough with you by my side.”- Where the Lost Ones Go 

Marriage comes with a lot more responsibilities and ties than seen in those mentioned contracts and the vows of marriage. Marriage is between two families. At least, most of the time. It’s the binding of two different families, usually coming from different cultural values. The importance is pointed out in the Filipino drama The House Arrest of Us. The two families of the soon-to-be-married couple stay under one roof due to the instant quarantine factors. Misunderstandings and fights soon follow due to the difference in values. However, their strong and unbreakable love not only passes through the hardships but also helps reunite the families.

There’s really no need for marriage to conclude a happy relationship

Some people love beyond romance or legal documents and make a bond with living or emotional arrangements similar to that of marriage. 

“Having such a soulmate in life is enough.” – The Untamed 

The Untamed, on a thin border of censorship, successfully managed to portray the meaning of marriage that goes beyond life, beyond titles and legal recognition. They explain what it means to support and trust each other, which are the basis of any marriage (and we all know WangXian is married with a son. ;))

Whoever has the milk is the mother, whoever has the money is the father

The bond shared between the guys in Inseparable Bros shows the true value of completing each other in a way that most couples could only dream of. The movie tells the story of Kang Se Ha (Shin Ha Kyun), who is paralyzed from the neck down, and his non-biological brother Park Dong Goo (Lee Kwang Soo) from the orphanage he grew up in, who has a mental disability keeping his learning level as that of a child. Since childhood, these boys (now men) have counted on each other to survive in a not so understanding world. 

Boy feeding boy man holding chapstick in front of another man

In Love Rain, we meet a couple who fell hard for each other when they were young but are separated by life’s circumstances. Many years later, they meet again, one divorced, the other a widow, still feeling the strong bond between them. But though they may want to start over, life had different plans for them and seeing that their children had fallen for each other, the couple chose to not marry but rely on each other for support instead.

Rookie Historian Goo Hae Ryung may be committed to her prince but shows no intention whatsoever to get married, no matter how much he may want to get her to the altar. This couple is still as sweet as couples get and do a great service in showing that there are more ways to be committed than by law or cohabitation.

In sickness and in health 

Part of life and part of the most common wedding vows include the words in sickness and in health. But how often is that seen as a natural part of married life? In many dramas, we see people hiding their illness from their loved ones, letting it stand in the way of getting married or even choosing divorce to try to protect their spouse from their illness. 

This is the case in Dream High, where the kids are led to believe their mother had an affair while she was actually dying, how sad is that? A similar thing happens in both Hospital Ship and Do Do Sol Sol La La Sol, where the person who falls ill chooses to distance him/herself from his/her loved one the minute he/she is diagnosed with a potential terminal illness instead of letting them face it together. 

This said, why did we choose to put this part under happy marriage? This surely seems sad. For us, sickness is an inevitable part of life, so no happy marriage is truly complete without overcoming the failing health obstacle, and therefore, though we may not wish sickness upon ourselves or our spouse, we do wish to be in a relationship that can handle it in a supportive way. 

1 in 100000 shows the story of a girl who is diagnosed with ALS at an early age. In this drama, we get to see her and her boyfriend evolve together as well as a married couple where the man has advanced ALS. This drama shows that as a couple, you can not overcome anything on your own, but by keeping one’s own life and getting help, a person’s terminal and chronic illness is no obstacle for a long term love. Because no matter if the person is ill or well, it is still the same person you love. 

The fact that my body has changed does not mean that my body has changed too

In Navillera, we meet a couple who have been married for many years. This drama shows us that couples can have ups and downs yet still choose to live together through hardships. As long as there is a will to understand each other, taking care of your spouse when they become ill becomes a given and a choice one is happy to make.

Till death do us part

While “till death do us part” is often the goal of happily ever after, actually seeing it in a drama can be one of the saddest endings/parts of a drama, as well as an interesting plot twist involving faking one’s death or murder to speed up the process. We do, however, want to take our hats off to all those couples who vow to stay together till their last breath, are good for each other, and actually make it work. Finding such a person that you want to be with to your last breath is definitely not something to be taken for granted and more complex than one may think. 

In Do Do Sol Sol La La Sol, one can find a beautiful portrayal of “till death did us part”. It’s seen that a man wants to learn to play the piano after the death of his beloved, in the memory of his deceased wife’s favorite song.

old man playing piano

In Move to Heaven,  we meet several couples who are torn apart by death (the show kind of revolves around death). We encounter two such couples. First, a family who is torn apart by illness, leaving behind a father and a son to live on their own. Second, an old couple who have been married for 77 years with no family left. In the end, they chose to die together when faced with the reality of both being very ill and approaching death. 

This sad but beautiful picture concludes part one of our piece on marriage. In the next part, we dig into the not so happy marriages, the right-out abusive marriages, divorce, as well as life after marriage. We hope you enjoyed part one, please comment your thoughts about the article or marriage as a whole! 

What is your idea of an ideal marriage? Do you have a favorite couple in dreamland? And how do you relate to the concept of marriage? 

Tow hands put together over a blanket

Credits: We do not own any of the images used. Credits go to the respective owners. Images are from the official stills and posters, drama screenshots, and Google search. Screenshots are taken from the drama scenes or have a direct link to their source in them, so does information taken from other sources outside MDL. 

Edited by: devitto (1st editor), YW (2nd editor)

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