The idea for this post came to me while I was ragging on about the secondary romance for You Are My Hero. The second male lead there, Shu Wenbo seemed to be incomprehensibly unwilling to make a move on the woman he likes despite the fact that she has bent over backwards to show her interest in him. It isn't as if he's averse to her either. That's the most frustrating part of the entire scenario. Two people who like each other but one party is holding back. Shu Wenbo though epitomizes a traditional kind of positive masculinity isn't exactly the sharpest tool in the box. But Xiao Xia who has done everything to show that she likes him -- not exactly backwards in coming forwards -- is rebuffed... or as the cool kids today would say "friendzoned". So it does beg the question: what is Mr Macho Man afraid of exactly? In the early episodes I didn't buy into their potential romance as I thought that Xiao Xia was a bit over-the-top with her overtures. "Leave the man alone" is what I was thinking but after the earthquake arc, I was sure he started show genuine liking and interest in her. She's a shrewd sort of girl and picked up on that fast. As soon as they were back in the Big Smoke she restarted their push-pull. For some reason even while it's abundantly clear to the entire planet that he likes her, he persistently keeps his distance.
In more recent days Xiao Xia has made what I consider the wise decision of moving on, not only because she's done "enough" but because I don't think a woman who is normally shrewd and likeable should humiliate herself in such fashion. No man, however amazing he might be, is not worth demeaning oneself for. Moreover it's seldom a good look... it doesn't take long before persistence and courage start looking like obsession.
There's been a long history in Asian dramas of female characters primarily those designated "second female lead" trying too hard to win men who are seemingly disinterested and/or are in love with another woman. Since I started watching K dramas a decade ago, this kind of tropey female has been a permanent fixture of the landscape. More often than not she turns villainous as a result of not getting her way. Now I don't object to the fact that the unfortunate female falls in love with some guy who is indifferent to her -- that's not always within one's ability to control -- but it's truly mind boggling that she plots and schemes to such an extent that she not only debases herself but denigrates the object of her desire because he becomes something akin to a trophy to be won. She's seldom interested in his opinion about what he wants.The thinking that accompanies that sort of attitude stems from the belief that hard scheming alone can get her the man of her dreams.
In more recent episodes of You Are My Hero, a couple of sisters who are down on their luck have their eye on male lead, SWAT officer extraordinaire Xing Kelei. To their unerring dismay they discover that he is now attached to Mi Ka. Not only is their timing rather bad on that front but their schemes to separate the couple aren't particularly effective. They are also women who are trying too hard because they're looking at the male lead as a figure of financial security. Plus they take full advantage of the fact that he feels obligated to their dad who isn't around to care for them any longer. It feels cheap obviously. The erroneous assumption seems to be that if they succeed in separating the lead pair, he will somehow automatically fall in love with the older sister and voila... become their sugar daddy. It's a form of entitlement at work. The kind that starts with the line -- "But I saw him first" and it's entirely irrelevant what Xing Kelei thinks about all of this.
All of this also reminds me of one of the concubines of the Xu household from The Sword and the Brocade, Qiao Lianfang. She spends the better part of 26 episodes plotting to becoming the lady of the manor doing the most depraved sorts things certainly unbecoming of a female of her stature. Much is made of the fact that she's the daughter of a primary consort. Her entire claim to the Marquis' affection comes from her status and the fact that she's been head over heels for him for over a decade. She takes exception to the fact that the new wife is only a concubine's daughter and is the product of the late wife's machinations. Both might be understandable objections from the point of view of the people in that context but the Marquis aka Xu Lingyi himself was a party to this outcome.
Frankly speaking I'm not one who is very sympathetic to these sorts of female fictional archetypes. They usually end up being villains of some sort in the storyline for the protagonists to have to contend with. Even in the Ming dynasty with all its polygamy/harem structure there is still some kind of moral code that the inhabitants adhered to. Much of which bears some resemblance to prevailing orthodoxy. It's not hard to distinguish between the good guys and the bad guys. Xu Lingyi doesn't care much for his personal harem. He's no fool about what goes on behind his back with regards to his wives. They are a burden rather than a pleasure. The new wife, sister of his previous consort, with all her baggage piques his interest because she doesn't try too hard except from time to time to keep her head above the water. She's more concerned with finding her mother's killer. Qiao Lianfang entire ambition is to win the heart of the marquis and keeps herself busy hatching plots to displace her biggest rival.
Well of course not everything in life can be gained by sheer hard work or even ingenuity. Call it providence or chemistry or character, relationships aren't achievements in the normal sense of the word. So the woman who tries too hard "for love" often crosses all kinds of lines -- moral, social and relational. It's a completely self-absorbed endeavour with barely a thought for the beloved. She claims to love the man and yet all her stratagems are abhorrent to him (if he holds to strong ethical values) and causes problems to his loved ones. In the end despite her pleas, he rejects her flatly. Sometimes he might even throw in philosophically as is the case with many C dramas that "love cannot be forced". Or there's something inexplicable about why anyone falls in love.
I don't think falling in love is as inexplicable as the dramas make it out to be. While I'm not a huge fan of biological deterministic arguments, there might be something to them even from my own personal observations. Furthermore after the initial attraction, there has to be something more about the other party that holds the other's interest. I suspect it's far more complex even while possibly being esoteric. In the case of The Sword and the Brocade which is centred around a contract marriage between two people who are initially distrustful of each other, there is a really strong indication that love is much more than attraction. It is absolutely about character too.