I want to talk to you today about two conflicting yet linked concepts in Taiwanese romance shows: sincerity and competition.
Now you may be asking yourselves, what do these two things have in common? Well, before talking about their similarities, let me first define them. Let’s start with concept #1: sincerity. After watching countless US shows and many Taiwanese dramas, I’ve noticed a distinct feature to Taiwanese dramas that is prominent: the concept of sincerity.
I’d like to summarize the sincerity trope with this statement: As long as Person A is sincere in their romantic feelings for Person B and persistent in their sincerity, Person B will eventually be moved by those feelings and reciprocate them.
In an earlier post, I mentioned that saying “I like you” in a Taiwanese show tends to have a deeper meaning that is closer to love than in US shows. So, if a person is confessing to their liking someone, chances are they are pretty serious about it. Because of their sentiments, many characters (especially male characters) are committed to showing the sincerity of their feelings.
Being sincere in liking someone is a beautiful concept indeed. Who wouldn’t want a partner who is dedicated to showing how much they care?
But, let’s look at the second half of this trope: Person B will eventually be moved by those feelings and reciprocate them. They are many instances in Taiwanese dramas where this rings true, especially when it comes to men pursuing women (because heterosexuality is the most common type of sexual orientation in these shows). She may not be initially interested in him, but over time she becomes charmed by his expressions of love. And in some cases, this makes sense. After a person gets to know someone for a while, they might realize that they have a lot in common and share the same types of values and interests. These are definitely the building blocks to compatibility. In those specific types of instances, those relationships tend to work out in both people’s favors.
What about a situation where Person A is sincere, but Person B is JUST NOT INTERESTED? Never wants to be interested? Couldn’t be bothered? You get the idea.
Person B tells Person A over and over again that they are not interested at all. Does Person A have the right, then, to continue pursuing Person B? NOPE!
What is problematic about this sincerity trope is that it completely overlooks Person B’s agency. In other words, the trope does not take into consideration Person B’s feelings and rights to make their own decisions. Person A seems to hold more power in the situation, mainly because they have strong romantic feelings.
There are two underlying issues here. The first underlying issue is the nature of consent. Sure, Person A has the right to like or love Person B. HOWEVER, Person B also has the right to accept and to reciprocate those feelings.
The second underlying issue is the cultural concept of hard work equals success. In school and in our jobs, we are taught to believe that with hard work and dedication, we can achieve our goal. And just like in our careers and in school, that does not always work. Just because we work hard, doesn’t mean we’ll get the promotion or top grade. Someone else ultimately decides our fate. Especially in matters of the heart, we should not overlook someone’s else autonomy.
So, here is where these two underlying issues intersect. If I, Person A, think that by trying hard and being a good, well-rounded person, Person B will eventually like me because I’m a good person, am I justified in my actions? Cause that’s all it takes to be a good relationship partner, right? Um, NO.
Here’s the kicker: Just because you’re a good person, that in itself does not make you the perfect relationship partner. Being persistent in your sincerity also does not change things.
The problem is not that you are sincere, the problem is thinking that sincerity is enough.
Person B has the right to refuse to be with you, even if you are a good person. Why? Because Person B is part of the presumed relationship and has the right to consent to be in the relationship.
Plus, there are many reasons why two well-intentioned people don’t always make a good relationship. People have different values, interest, goals, etc. If Person B doesn’t think Person A is a good fit, for whatever reason, they might decline A’s offer. Person A could ask them why, and they could give Person A a reason (which Person A may or may not like). But then again, if they don’t want to give Person A a reason, Person A shouldn’t don’t push them. That’s the other problem. On TV it may seem like persistence works, but in reality, being persistent can annoy people in the long run. Then the person you originally liked turns into an unwanted enemy.
So you can feel free to confess your feelings, just make sure that in your confession you ask the other person’s permission to pursue them.
How about this for a confession: “I really like you. And if you give me the chance, I would like to take the time to pursue you and show you how much I care. How does that sound?” Tweak with some more romantic synonyms if you’d like, just don’t forget to ask for permission.
Which brings us to the next concept #2: competition. Typically, during the sincerity trope, another person comes into the picture who also wants Person B’s affections. Let’s call them Person C. Naturally, a competition starts between Person A and Person C.
Before I bring it all back to Person B, I would like to highlight a somewhat endearing nature of competition in Taiwanese dramas. I like to think of it in some way as a “gentleman’s competition.” More often than not, the two men are very cordial in their endeavors. And they tend to have good communication skills when it comes to expressing their feelings. They graciously acknowledge each other’s existence in Person B’s life, and how much Person B means to them.
They finish the conversation by saying something along the lines of “may the best man win” and stressing that it is up to Person B to choose the right person in the end. Cue series like Love Cuisine, What is Love, Murphy’s Law of Love, Absolute Boyfriend, and more.
The people in the competition, while appearing to be civil, fair, and cordial, fail to consider one important thing: Person B did not ask for this in the first place. Person A and Person C may want to give Person B the right to choose, but they tend to forget the fact that Person B has the right to choose neither of them. The competition is so focused on someone being the best person for Person B, that it does not consider Person B’s input on what is best for Person B.
A prime example can be seen in Be With You, which aired in 2015.
**MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD** Xia Man Li is forced into an uncomfortable situation where she has to “choose” between her ex-boyfriend, Zhao Li Qi, and another suitor, He Shang De, who both have fallen in love with her. The problem is, she is not interested in either of them. She broke up with Li Qi because he had trouble being honest with her, and he mistakenly believed that she had feelings for Shang De. Now after they had broken up, these two men were still actively pursuing her to the point where she had to confront them in public to back off.
**The fact that Man Li had to consistently tell these two men to leave her alone highlights the suppression of her agency. Fortunately, in the short run, they respected her feelings and left her alone. Unfortunately, they did not stay away for long. What happens next is a major misstep for the show, and for many other similar dramas (Taiwan and US included). Shang De finally wins over Man Li’s heart through his persistence. Yes, he does back away momentarily, but not without his proud declaration of sincerity for liking her. Shang De really believed that his sincerity would eventually get him a relationship with Man Li. (Like he was the poster boy for sincerity.) And in his case, it worked. Man Li eventually gave him permission to pursue her.
**I do like that Man Li was shown giving permission to Shang De, as giving permission in itself is an act of consent. HOWEVER, if the permission was given as a result of constant pressure, then the pressure negates the consent. It is the very similar to a situation where a person agrees to have sex because another person is constantly pressuring them.
**Look, I’m not trying completely bash these types of dramas. After all, there are many good aspects of Taiwanese dramas that I love. I really appreciate how Man Li in Be With You breaks off her relationship with a person who was incapable of being honest and expressing his feelings. Overall, she was a great character who was self-aware and vocal about her interests and her needs in a romantic relationship. Which is why it’s a shame that the show focused so much on Shang De’s sincerity in winning her over as opposed to focusing on Man Li’s agency on finding the love that she wants.
Sincerity in itself is not a bad thing. Sincerity becomes problematic, however, when it supersedes another person’s agency.