Dating in North Korea: How Citizens Find Love Under the Eye of the Regime

No matter what country you’re from, there seems to be this general consensus: Dating is tough. From the awkward first rendezvous to meeting the parents, searching for Mr. or Mrs. Right is no easy task.

Many find dating apps and websites helpful in seeing who’s out there and getting to know new people. But how does dating work in other countries — particularly in places where free speech and romantic expression is limited? It turns out dating in North Korea is most likely quite different than anything you’ve experienced. Here’s what it’s like to seek out romance while under Kim Jong Un’s rule.

The regime wants lovers to have traditional and conservative values

North Koreans walk along a street in the winter.

Romance is kept under wraps, especially in public spaces. | Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

You won’t find any wild displays of romance on the streets of North Korea, that’s for sure. As one North Korean in exile tells The Guardian, the regime wants citizens to look at their romantic partners as “revolutionary comrades” rather than lovers. But this never really worked, the exiled North Korean states. While they were forced to think of dating in this transactional sense, most people didn’t try too hard to shove away their real romantic feelings. notes the regime likes young women to stay innocent as well. This means there’s no sex education, as remaining pure and abstaining from sex until marriage is expected.

The best place to meet someone to date? A social club

An audience watches a musical performance.

Dating apps and websites are not an option. | Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

Living under the watchful regime means living a life under surveillance, too. And according to writer Joseph Cox for Motherboard, finding a date using an app like Tinder in the heavily-populated capital of Pyongyang is near impossible. When he visited North Korea and set his Tinder profile to pick up users within 85 miles, no results came up.

So, how do citizens meet other potential bachelors if online dating is a no-go? The North Korean exile tells The Guardian he met girls at social clubs, which were large events hosted for the masses during holidays. It was here where young men and women would dress up in hopes of meeting other singles.

And dating on school campuses is largely forbidden

A young man uses a cell phone to take a photo.

You won’t see many couples on collage campuses. | Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images

In the U.S., it’s common to see young college couples holding hands and showing plenty of public displays of affection. In North Korea, however, this is absolutely not the case. DailyNK reports defectors from the country say dating is banned on college campuses. And if students are caught displaying their affections toward anyone, they’re heavily criticized and sometimes even expelled.

Because campus rules are so strict, many students leave school grounds with their dates and hang out elsewhere. Couples often go to markets to browse together, or to restaurants to chat and eat.

Women marry young to avoid mandatory work

A group of women walk alongside a city block.

Women are often expected to marry young. | AFP/Getty Images

As NK News says, women aren’t expected to marry at a certain age — but if they’re still single by the time they reach their late 20s, they’re considered spinsters. And there’s a reason most women in the country marry between the ages of 21 and 24. In North Korea, where employment is required for all citizens, married women are actually exempt from mandatory work. They’re able to commit their lives to being housewives for their husbands instead of working long hours elsewhere.

Men are still required to complete 10 years of military service, however. This means many end up marrying the first woman they date upon completing service around 30 years old.

Arranged marriages still exist, but citizens are adopting more progressive views of love now

A group of young women applaud.

Arranged marriages are considered normal, but dating is also becoming an option.|  Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

Having your future husband or wife arranged by your parents or matchmakers used to be the norm in North Korea. While certain aspects of the country remain incredibly conservative, people are now accepting more progressive ideas about love. Now, more citizens are going on dates of their choice and proposing to long-term boyfriends and girlfriends with or without their parents permission. While the highly-conservative moms and dads still exist, most are accepting of this new practice.

When it comes to choosing the perfect man, though, there’s still some competition involved amongst the women. Men who have completed military service, have gone to a notable college, and are part of the Workers’ Party are seen as the most desirable bachelors.

And weddings are seriously bizarre

A group of people walk with flowers.

These wedding traditions won’t change anytime soon. | Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images

When the wedding bells ring in North Korea, the ceremony is certainly different than anything you’ve ever experienced. The Guardian reports weddings are heavily monitored by the government, and newlyweds are to bring flowers to pay respects to the statue of Kim Il Sung.

While dating may be getting more progressive, the bride and groom still typically wear traditional clothing on their wedding day, and certain customs live on. Having live chickens present at the ceremony is an age-old practice that still occurs. And after the celebrating, newlyweds are to return to work the following day. The concept of a honeymoon or partying beyond the one day of the wedding is a foreign idea.

Many elite men have mistresses — and they’re willing to show them off

A group of men in suits walk towards a theatre.

New dating trends are on the rise. |  Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

While ordinary citizens are required to keep any public displays of affection under wraps, it seems the same rules do not apply to the rich and powerful. Top experts tell elite businessmen in the country are actually expected to keep mistresses and show them off in public, regardless of whether they’re married or not.

This wasn’t always the case, however. Under Kim Il Sung’s rule, men in power certainly had multiple mistresses, but it was kept under wraps. Now under Kim Jong Un’s rule, it seems discretion is less of a priority. Prostitution remains outlawed, but women still participate in the practice in exchange for goods and services from the men.

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