I just like you, I don’t know why

Why did you fall in love with your partner? Do you have specific reasons? If somebody asked you that question, could you answer?

One thing I noticed soon after I started watching Korean television was a strange cultural phenomenon when talking about relationships. When a character (usually a man) is asked why they like somebody (usually the female lead), they say “she’s pretty” or “no reason, I just do”.

This struck me as a wholly unsatisfactory answer. It seemed to imply that a woman’s appearance was her most attractive quality, rather than her character or personality.

Clearly, something is quite literally lost in translation here. But it does highlight an issue with the concept of the ‘fated’ OTP. If I don’t know what a couple sees in each other, then no pronouncement of destiny is going to convince me they’re in love.

So I wanted to highlight couples who could answer that question in a much-more satisfying way. I know you’re now anticipating yet another piece on Puppy Couple, and Min-Kyu and Jia. And I could write that piece easily! But I wanted to mention a couple that hasn’t gotten the love it deserves: Chae Young-shin and Seo Jung-hoo from Healer.

This is one of the few dramaland couples that I feel could answer the question, “What do you love about each other?” in a meaningful and satisfactory way.

I still remember the moment Healer really clicked for me. Up till then, I had been distracted by the overbearing OST and the poorly-choreographed fight scenes (although Ji Chang-Wook could do an entire show of just Parkour and I would watch that on a loop till I die).

Jun-hoo is sitting on his favourite rooftop and musing in voiceover about a leopard in a documentary he’d once watched. It had come upon a pack of hyenas while its leg was broken. Despite knowing it would lose the fight, the leopard had nonetheless attacked first. To him, Young-shin was that leopard. It’s not that she was ignorant of fear, he continued, it was that she chose bravery despite it. He then admits the documentary made him cry.

To this day, I don’t think I’ve seen a male lead in a kdrama so completely express why he fell in love with somebody. Throughout the show, right from the very first time he encounters her, Healer sees Young-shin completely and loves her for every flawed bit of her. He doesn’t judge her for her crippling anxiety, nor does he need her to be damselled to prove his manhood. In fact, he repeatedly calls on her to take charge in dangerous situations. And while that is partially because he wants to maintain his cover, it’s also because he knows that if she has somebody to protect, she becomes that leopard – fighting back even when it looks like she can’t win.

For somebody like Young-shin – a person whose multiple childhood traumas would have broken another person a hundred times over – to have found a person who loves and respects her even when she’s struggling to breathe is an incredible privilege. For the first time since her adoption, when she reaches out her hand there’s somebody to hold it, somebody who asks nothing than that she be herself.

As Young-shin tells Park Bong-soo, she feels a kinship with Healer; a kinship that comes from shared loneliness in the darkness. Both abandoned and unwanted children, both dealing with trauma, rejection and loss, and both finally finding somebody to stand with them against the world.

They may not be fated or a product of destiny, but these are two people who have a very satisfying answer to the question, “What do you like about each other”.

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